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March 2005Vol. 6, No. 2What Makes Citizen Review Panels Effective?

Effective Citizen Review Panels can give a voice to the citizen-volunteers tasked with evaluating State child welfare systems; the extent of their effectiveness in influencing policy, however, depends on a number of factors, including their ability to work collaboratively with Child Protective Services (CPS) administrators.

This was one of the conclusions of a recent study that focused on identifying factors that make Citizen Review Panels effective, as well as those factors that act as barriers to meaningful citizen participation. Survey responses from Citizen Review Panels for CPS in 10 States suggested four ways that review panels and CPS could work together more effectively:

  • Communication between the two groups should be increased and improved.
  • Citizen review members should become more aware of the limitations and roles of CPS.
  • CPS should use the review panels for true collaboration, not just a "feel-good" exercise.
  • The review panels should establish concrete goals for incremental change.

When asked to list obstacles that hinder collaboration between Citizen Review Panel members and CPS, respondents offered four main types of suggestions:

  • Lack of trust between panel members and CPS
  • Time constraints for Citizen Review Panels
  • Lack of knowledge by both panel members and CPS of each other's roles
  • Poor communication

The establishment of Citizen Review Panels for all State CPS systems was mandated by Federal legislation in 1996. These panels are expected to evaluate State CPS systems and offer recommendations for improvements. CPS liaisons are required to be part of each panel to enhance the collaboration between the two groups. Study results suggest that enhanced collaboration between State CPS systems and Citizen Review Panels will help these panels become truly effective in offering feedback to improve services to children and families.

The current study, "Effectiveness of Citizen Review Panels," appears in the December 2004 issue of Children and Youth Services Review. The article is available online at (PDF - 112 KB).