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March 2008Vol. 9, No. 2Exploring the Role of Privatization in Child Welfare: The National QIC

The final article in a series on the Children’s Bureau’s Quality Improvement Centers.

What is the status of privatization in child welfare today, and how do privatization efforts compare with traditional government-managed systems in effecting positive outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system? To answer these questions, the National Quality Improvement Center on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services (QIC PCW) developed a two-phase approach to research and testing to provide evidence on the effectiveness of privatization. Funded by the Children's Bureau in 2005 and developed as a partnership of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work and Planning and Learning Technologies, the QIC PCW's mandate is to provide the kind of objective data that will help government agencies make judicious decisions about how and when to contract for services with private agencies.

The QIC PCW identified three specific goals:

  • Promote and support an evidence-based approach to child welfare system development and organizational improvement
  • Facilitate a collaborative network among the Children's Bureau, its Training & Technical Assistance Network, public and private service providers, and other stakeholders
  • Build consensus on models of reform for child welfare, including roles for public and private agencies, and suggest areas of focus for child welfare policy and evaluation

During Phase I, the QIC facilitated forums and discussions with stakeholders to determine the approaches currently in use in public/private child welfare partnerships across the country. This research, along with an extensive literature review, helped establish the status of privatization as well as knowledge gaps and research questions that need to be answered.

Phase II, currently underway, involves the funding of three projects (in Florida, Illinois, and Missouri) to test innovative strategies for implementing performance-based contracting and quality assurance systems within a privatized context. Each 36-month project will compare public and private delivery of services to children in out-of-home care. Researchers will look for each system's ability to promote positive child welfare outcomes for children and families, quality service delivery, accountability, and collaboration. A strong evaluation component will be facilitated by the QIC PCW, which also will conduct cross-site analysis, provide training and technical assistance, and disseminate research results.

The QIC PCW has already begun knowledge dissemination activities, as evidenced by its extensive website content. Results of Phase I research, including the literature review and a report on the knowledge gap and needs assessment are available on the website. Interim research results from Phase II will be posted as these become available.

The QIC also is engaged in a number of activities to facilitate dialog regarding public/private partnership in child welfare service provision. Crystal Collins-Camargo, Ph.D., Director of the QIC PCW, reported, "All States fall somewhere on the continuum of public/private partnership in their child welfare service delivery system, whether they are involved in moving large portions of the service array to the private sector, or more traditional subcontracting. The entire field can benefit from knowledge development regarding how these relationships can best be developed and maintained in order to yield the best possible outcomes for children and families." Lessons learned and promising practices emerging from this research will be shared to help States and localities make informed decisions about the place of privatization in their child welfare system.

To find out more about the QIC PCW, visit the website:

Or contact Crystal Collins-Camargo, Project Director, at