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September 2019Vol. 20, No. 7Using Child Welfare Data to Improve Federal Permanency Targets, Other Outcome Measures

As the third round of the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs) ended and final reports became available, data showed that states continue to struggle with meeting federal permanency targets for children and families. To help states, the Children's Bureau awarded a 5-year grant (HHS-2018-ACF-ACYF-CO-1360) to five recipients to develop, implement, and evaluate strategies for improving specific areas related to permanency, safety, and well-being of children and families. These include timely permanency outcomes, preservation of family relationships and connections, family capacity to provide for children's needs, and keeping children safely in their homes when possible and appropriate. The Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States is providing programmatic technical assistance for the grant while James Bell Associates is providing technical assistance for the evaluation.

This discretionary grant cluster is unique because of the intensive focus on collaboration with court systems to eliminate legal and judicial barriers to adoption and other permanency options and on improving basic social work practice. This cluster is also unique because four of the five grantees are external to the child welfare agency, although they are still required to work with child welfare agencies to improve CFSR outcomes.

The five grantees (program titles in parentheses) include the following:

  • Judiciary Courts of the State of New Mexico (Strengthening Child Welfare Systems Through Interdisciplinary Practice)
  • Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Permanency From Day One Initiative)
  • Community Based Care of Central Florida (Strong Foundations)
  • University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc. (Kansas Strong for Children and Families)
  • Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin (Texas Permanency Outcomes Project)

Grantees are exploring their state child welfare system's most recent CFSR report, Program Improvement Plan, Child and Family Service Plan, Annual Progress and Services Report, Court Improvement Program (CIP) plan, CIP self-assessment (where applicable), and other state and federal data. This problem exploration and root cause analysis is helping grantees better understand the challenges and barriers associated with improving permanency outcomes for children and families (permanency outcome 1 in the CFSRs).

The following are some of the identified challenges and barriers:

  • The need for partnerships between states and court systems. Although such a connection may exist through CIP-related work, there is not always data sharing or true collaborative teaming across state systems.
  • Engagement with parents. Parents—both mothers and fathers—are not always being engaged. Systems should explore how much effort is being made to engage them and the cultural value assigned to this work?
  • Workforce. Staff and leadership have expressed worries about having the time and support needed to successfully implement new strategies on top of the work they are already doing.

Following the data exploration, grantees will use an implementation science-informed approach to identify strategies to improve outcomes for specified target populations and to develop evaluation plans, develop implementation teams for the grant work and assess related readiness.