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March 2008Vol. 9, No. 2California Counties' System Improvement Plans

New child welfare reform legislation in California in 2001 prompted the development of a comprehensive, county-based accountability system that requires counties to develop System Improvement Plans (SIPs) as part of a larger systems change effort. A new report by the Child and Family Policy Institute of California (CFPIC) examines the first year of SIP data from California's 58 counties to determine their impact on strategic planning and program improvement.

SIPs incorporate information from data reviews, case reviews, and self-assessments and serve as operational agreements between the county and the State. The plans must be developed in collaboration with the community and other agencies, a systems change that promotes partnerships and greater stakeholder involvement in the child welfare system. SIPs also are used to set milestones and statewide outcome goals (similar to CFSR outcome goals) that counties must achieve to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families. After identifying outcome goals, each county's SIP also identifies the types of strategies it will use to achieve the goals, including:

  • Administrative (e.g., record keeping, staffing structure)
  • Case strategies (e.g., safety assessment, family and youth engagement)
  • Collaborative strategies (e.g., early referral, court processes and relationships)

Preliminary data from the counties' SIPs show significant improvements in most outcome areas for children and families, and they indicate real systems changes in child welfare agencies, including:

  • Data outcome measures are focusing discussions on common goals.
  • Child welfare and other agencies are sharing information and knowledge.
  • Counties are involving communities in problem-solving on behalf of children and families.

An Analysis of California Counties' Child Welfare System Improvement Plans, by Stuart Oppenheim and Joni Pitcl, is available online: (PDF - 474 KB)