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October 2002Vol. 3, No. 8Child Welfare System Featured on National TV

The Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth, and Families (CYF) was featured on the August 14 edition of CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown. The story illustrated how a child welfare system can be improved to better support children and families.

Allegheny County turned its program around (changing from a treatment approach to prevention) by offering support and services before families reach the crisis point, with the ultimate goal of removing the risk instead of the child. As Marc Cherna, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, pointed out, "An investment in services now, to help families before they really fall apart, saves a tremendous amount of money down the road."

In 1995, Allegheny County took a hard look at the current state of their child welfare system. The data showed that changes had to be made. Allegheny County CYF workers faced excessive caseloads and a 35 percent vacancy rate, an adoption backlog with 1,500 children awaiting permanent placement (that number is currently only 500), and an adoption process that took an average of 4 years to complete (adoptions are currently completed in only 9 months).

One way they fixed the system was to set up a network of community-based resource centers to help families deal with the issues that often lead to child maltreatment. These centers offer one-stop support with housing, employment, and drug abuse treatment. CYF provides parenting courses and family counseling programs, most of which are provided in-home and involve all family members. In 2001, CYF provided 11,280 children and their families with these services. This focus on crisis intervention and in-home services has produced impressive results. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of children placed outside of their homes fell a full 30 percent from 3,085 to 2,174: a total of 911 children who did not enter the foster care system.

When children do need to be removed from their homes, kinship care is now the first option considered by CYF. Case workers find that children placed with relatives have fewer behavioral problems and tend to remain in only one foster environment. Also, when children are placed with relatives, the parents visit more often.

The CYF Transportation/Visitation Program offers transportation and supervision services for weekend and evening visits between parents and their children in foster care, with the goal of speeding the reunification process. It has worked. The length of time children spend out of the home dropped 30 percent (from 21 months to 14.5 months) between 1997 and 2002. In 2001, 675 children were returned to their homes out of the 2,161 in out-of-home placement.

For more information on Allegheny County or CYF, visit

For a transcript of the CNN broadcast, visit

A video of the program is also available for $40 by calling 1-800-CNN-News.