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September 2023Vol. 24, No. 7Spotlight on Child and Family Services Review, Round 4

This issue of CBX highlights Round 4 of the Child and Family Services Reviews. Additionally, read a collaborative message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg and Maria Harker, senior advisor for kinship care, about the importance of kinship families and the need to prioritize kin-first child welfare practice. This issue also includes the latest resources and tools for child welfare professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • We Thank You, A Message From the Associate Commissioner

    We Thank You, A Message From the Associate Commissioner

    Cowritten by Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner, Children's Bureau, and Maria Harker, senior advisor for kinship care, Children's Bureau

    Think for a moment about the people who have loved you and cared for you throughout your life—those who have met your physical needs, nurtured your emotional well-being, and comforted you and guided you when you needed it most—whether they are family, friends, neighbors, professors, coaches, partners, or other community members. We all need support. Children especially need care to develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally. They also need unconditional encouragement from family throughout their lives.

    Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings, as well as close family friends, have long stepped up to care for children when parents are temporarily unable to do so. It is estimated that 2.7 million children in the United States live with kin caregivers without a parent living in the household. Extensive research shows that kin placements have a higher likelihood of long-term stability. When placed with kin, children are more likely to preserve what belongs to them: their connections to family, community, and culture.

    Kin caregivers often start caring for children on a moment’s notice. They receive a call, maybe in the middle of the night, asking them to step up. Life suddenly changes. Daily routines, life projects, and family dynamics need to be adapted to take care of that child. Kin caregivers may also find themselves relying on their own financial resources and support network as they navigate new challenges that can range from managing homework assignments to helping the child’s parents with efforts to reunify. Kinship families are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, single-headed, less educated, older, and underemployed when compared with families in which at least one parent is present.

    A “kin-first” approach means prioritizing safe, loving, respectful, and culturally appropriate placements for children with relatives or close family friends while offering comprehensive support to help these families thrive. This approach includes proactively asking parents and youth about their relatives and network, recognizing the various roles that kin can play within the child’s life as main caregivers or as an extended network, and removing unnecessary barriers to access equitable supports. The Administration for Children and Families’ Information Memorandum titled "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding Separate Relative Foster Family Home Licensing Standards" would make it easier for kin to help children in their family by enabling states to adopt separate licensing standards for all kinship foster family homes and requiring jurisdictions to provide kin families with financial assistance that is equitable to nonrelative resource families.

    Children placed with kin are more likely to report that they always feel loved. Kin play a significant role in maintaining family bonds, preserving cultural identity, and promoting familial healing, which is what the child welfare system should prioritize when, in the worst-case scenario, a family is separated.

    To those kin caregivers who have stepped up to hold the world of a child, temporarily or permanently: We want you to know that we see you. We acknowledge you. We thank you.

  • The Child and Family Services Review: Catalyst for Change

    The Child and Family Services Review: Catalyst for Change

    Written by Linda Mitchell, Team Leader (retired), Child and Family Services Review Unit, Children's Bureau and Jennifer Haight, Director, Division of Performance Measurement and Improvement

    Anyone who has worked at any level of child welfare for any length of time will tell you it is incredibly difficult work. Whether in a public or private agency, the demands of keeping children safe, strengthening families, and navigating multiple complex systems are often frustrating and easily dispiriting. The core of everyday work for caseworkers, supervisors, administrators, and judges is the ability to accurately assess the challenges families encounter and to provide necessary and adequate services to create enduring change for those in our communities who are the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.

    Congress wanted an improved oversight process when it passed Public Law 103-432 in 1994. In the 23 years since the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) process was created, the federal government has articulated a clear role for the Children’s Bureau (CB) in assisting states to look deeply into their practice and develop plans and opportunities for meeting federal child welfare requirements and improving critical outcomes for children and families in need. Specifically, the CFSR process has enabled states to develop and improve continuous quality improvement frameworks, data collection standards, and hone their use of data. With these improved capacities, states are able to understand performance, observe where there is notable variation, offer feedback, strengthen communication mechanisms with community partners, build staff training models, and perhaps most importantly, identify leadership strategies to manage the sometimes-overwhelming complexities of the child welfare landscape.

    The 23 years of the CFSR process has taught us the importance of having a common language to discuss where we have succeeded and where we need to do more creative thinking and exercise more collective will to make needed changes. Engaging in a process of mutual respect for each other’s best intentions can open pathways for change and innovation. Using the CFSR process as a diagnostic and planning tool has given state child welfare agencies a durable foundation on which to build and improve. Interpretations of the evidence and opinions on what to do can often differ, but at the end of the day most will agree that a process that provides a format for improvement is better than none at all.

    Through the CFSRs, we have had the opportunity to see first-hand the successes of agencies as they promote innovative practices and implement positive change, often with few resources or uncertain supports. We’ve also seen dedicated frontline staff working to help parents care for their children, while challenged with making difficult decisions that balance the safety of children and with the prospect of removal from home. The CFSRs are part of a process that opens records, engages with case participants, and interviews community partners to identify what’s working—and what is not working—in meeting federal requirements and getting positive outcomes for children and families. During those reviews, we’ve also seen the gaps and the poor practices that need to be addressed in order to achieve better results.

    We’re often asked why, after 23 years of CFSRs, we aren’t seeing better results; the answer is complex. At the end of Round 1 CFSR, CB implemented Program Improvement Plans (PIP) and established national data standards. We undertook qualitative interviews with states that had achieved the most improvement in outcomes to identify PIP strategies employed, as well as contextual factors in PIP development and implementation. This was not a rigorous research project, but it gave the child welfare field an understanding of critical factors, such as: engaging local offices, courts, tribes, and youth in change; the importance of leadership and agency culture; the need to consider budgets and allocation of resources; and intentionally managing and sustaining change. There are also other common and current challenges impacting improvements, including workforce challenges; constant leadership changes; and shortage of appropriate, available, and culturally sensitive mental/behavioral health treatment and other services that address the increasingly complex and variable needs of children and families coming to the attention of child welfare. Improvement can sometimes seem like a slippery slope. When positive change is made, sustaining it can be derailed by economics, politics, leadership change, and other factors.

    There is much more to learn and always improvements to be made. CB can offer guidance and technical assistance to states, but the responsibility to address the findings of the CFSR and implement practice and systems change rests with each state. And the work requires leadership that engages broadly with state and community partners, representative community members, legislatures, and policymakers to provide the necessary supports to improve the lives of families. We are often humbled by the dedication of states and their staff as they diligently and relentlessly work with families and implement innovative practices and changes to improve their outcomes. As part of their PIPs, states have embraced the need to better engage parents in case planning and services, improve outreach and support to relatives, ensure comprehensive training for staff, and include the voice of youth with lived experience. 

    In the end, we’re only as strong as our collective efforts to listen to and learn from the children, youth, and families being served by child welfare. The CFSR continues to be a mechanism that allows us to do just that. But we must have the courage of our conviction to act on what we learn so that we can make positive changes to the system. If we do not, then we are not only failing those from whom we learned, but also, we risk abandoning the improvement principles we say we value.

  • Advancing Equity and Inclusion Through the Child and Family Services Reviews

    Advancing Equity and Inclusion Through the Child and Family Services Reviews

    A new resource from the Children's Bureau provides a framework for using the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) to advance racial equity. Round 4 of the CFSRs will focus on using data and evidence to identify disparities in services and outcomes, understanding the child welfare system's role in those disparities, and using those data to develop systemic improvements. Advancing Equity and Inclusion Through the Child Family Services Reviews recommends applying an equity lens to CFSRs to accurately assess, identify, and address systemwide improvements.

    This publication emphasizes the importance of engaging individuals from diverse backgrounds and with lived experience in the design and operation of the child welfare system. It also calls out the need for awareness of potential evidence of disparities in programs and policies that can contribute to outcome inequities for historically underserved and marginalized populations.

    Because states are at different stages of applying equity and inclusion frameworks and action plans, this publication provides questions centered on equity and inclusion that states can ask during different phases of the CFSR. These questions focus on several areas, including the following:

    • Who is and is not at the discussion table
    • Who is selecting individuals and the process for selection
    • How collected data and findings affect populations
    • Selecting sites that are challenged by overrepresentation and outcome disparities
    • How findings are presented and shared
    • Including those most affected by a problem in developing program improvement plans

    Access Advancing Equity and Inclusion Through the Child Family Services Reviews for more detail on the framework.

  • The Courts and the Child and Family Services Reviews

    The Courts and the Child and Family Services Reviews

    A factsheet from the Children's Bureau written especially for legal and judicial professionals provides an overview of the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs), helps these professionals better understand the important role they play in the CFSR process, and includes suggestions on how they can be active and engaged participants.

    Part of what the CFSRs assess is the court's role in child welfare, presenting an opportunity to examine legal and judicial involvement and make systemic improvements. The partnership between child welfare and legal professionals is crucial to addressing the needs of children who have been maltreated and helping them and their families attain positive outcomes.

    The factsheet examines the seven outcomes assessed and the seven systemic factors reviewed in the CFSRs. It walks judicial professionals through the CFSR process, focusing on legal and judicial representatives' roles during the statewide assessment, onsite review, and Program Improvement Plan development. Additional information and resources on the relationship between the legal community, child welfare system, and CFSRs are also provided.

    To learn more, read Round 4 Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs): Fact Sheet for Legal and Judicial Communities.

  • Engaging Young People With Lived Experience in the Child and Family Services Reviews

    Engaging Young People With Lived Experience in the Child and Family Services Reviews

    In advance of round 4 of the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs), the Children's Bureau developed a brief based on a series of focus groups in which young people with lived child welfare experience were asked about recruiting, engaging, supporting, and retaining young people in all aspects of the CFSRs. Results from the focus groups revealed the following key considerations for states when engaging youth:

    • Intentionality, authenticity, and equal partnership
    • Early and ongoing engagement opportunities
    • Diversity, equity, and inclusion

    The brief outlines young people's potential roles when participating in the statewide assessment and onsite reviews. The voices of young people are critical to improving the child welfare system, so involving them in the CFSRs offers a collaborative way to initiate positive change. The brief suggests several opportunities for state CSFR teams to partner with young people with lived experience.

    The brief also provides recommendations for states working toward engaging youth, such as the following:

    • Create state-level roles for young people
    • Conduct ongoing outreach and recruitment
    • Allow young people to choose their roles
    • Compensate young people appropriately
    • Prepare, support, and train young people
    • Provide multiple ways for young people to give input on the CFSRs
    • Communicate with young people continuously
    • Create training roles for young people to help prepare state CFSR teams

    Engagement of young people with lived experience in the CFSRs should occur through all phases of the assessment and include youth of all ages, when developmentally appropriate; those currently in care; and those no longer in care.

    Read Engaging Young People With Lived Experience in the CFSRs: Key Considerations, Roles, and Recommendations for more details.

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News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training & Technical Assistance Updates

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • Report Provides Data on Older Youth in Foster Care

    Report Provides Data on Older Youth in Foster Care

    Older youth and young adults in foster care have unique needs and require specialized services. A recent resource from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy, examines the experiences of teens and young adults in foster care using the most recent data available from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

    The resource includes an overview brief, state profiles, data tables, and source notes. It is an expansion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s first Fostering Youth Transitions brief, which was published in 2018. Unlike the 2018 brief, this new iteration provides state data profiles that trace the experiences of young people ages 14 to 21 who were in foster care between 2006 and 2021, including how they were faring before and after they left foster care. The brief also includes information about the following topics:

    • The challenges that young people face while in and exiting care
    • How youth in foster care are faring in each state as they transition to adulthood
    • Ways systemic shortcomings lead to young people not having access to resources and opportunities
    • How gaps in service delivery have a negative effect on youth in transition
    • How the state profiles can be used to make improvements

    The resource was designed to help advocates, policymakers, and practitioners raise national awareness of the unmet needs of older youth who experience foster care. Its main takeaway is that systems are not connecting young people to the resources and connections necessary to successfully navigate adulthood. Advocates and policymakers can use the brief and state data to assess their state's performance against national trends and build strategies to help young people lead healthy, happy lives after foster care, regardless of their background and experience.

    Visit the Annie E. Casey website for more information.

  • Using Updated State-Level Data to Understand U.S. Child Welfare

    Using Updated State-Level Data to Understand U.S. Child Welfare

    Child Trends recently updated its comprehensive child welfare resource providing state-level data intended to represent and explain the condition of child welfare in the United States. Data span various aspects of the child welfare system and can be used to help policymakers understand how many children and youth come in contact with the child welfare system and why.

    The interactive tool allows users to select a state and one of five categories: child maltreatment, foster care, kinship care, permanency, and older youth. Within each category, the resource features several data points, some of which are presented visually using graphics. The following are some of the statistics included:

    • Number and rate of maltreated children and children entering foster care
    • Demographics
    • Postresponse services
    • Reasons for entering foster care
    • Number of children placed with relatives
    • Number of children exiting foster care to guardianship
    • Number of children adopted from foster care by relatives
    • Funding for guardianship
    • Placement stability among children exiting to permanency
    • Length of stay in foster care
    • Reason for entering care among older youth

    In addition to the interactive data presentations, Child Trends developed a companion guide and glossary to accompany the resource. The companion guide includes recommendations for ways that policymakers, advocates, researchers, and reporters can use the resource, as well as descriptions of the various data sources used.

    Explore State-Level Data for Understanding Child Welfare in the United States on the Child Trends website for more information.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers: Recommendations for States and Communities

    National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers: Recommendations for States and Communities

    When relatives step in as caregivers to help family members in need, they don’t always receive the resources and support they need. To increase support for kin families, the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Act Family Caregiving Advisory Council and the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren developed the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers.

    As part of the strategy, the advisory councils released a document outlining more than 150 suggested actions that states, communities, and other organizations can take to holistically recognize, assist, include, support, and engage family caregivers. The actions were developed in 2022 based on focus groups, interviews with caregivers, research, surveys, and more. They are neither prescriptive nor all-inclusive and are intended to provide a variety of options for jurisdictions and other organizations.

    The actions are designed to support the strategy’s five major goals identified by the advisory councils:

    • Achieve greater awareness of and outreach to family caregivers
    • Advance partnerships and engagement with family caregivers
    • Strengthen services and supports for family caregivers
    • Improve financial and workplace security for family caregivers
    • Improve actions to expand data, research, and evidence-based practices to support family caregivers

    To learn more, read 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers: Actions for States, Communities, and Others.

  • Engaging Young People and Families in the CFSR and Agency CQI

    Engaging Young People and Families in the CFSR and Agency CQI

    By Mary-Kate Myers and Julia Mueller (Consultants at the Center for States) and Center for States Staff

    Meaningfully engaging young people and families with lived experience in efforts to improve child welfare systems, such as the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) and other agency continuous quality improvement (CQI), helps agencies better identify challenges that communities face, strategize solutions, and draw attention to potential unintended harm. Such engagement represents a unique opportunity for agencies to begin or build on ongoing, sustainable relationships with these partners. (For more information on the CFSR, please visit the Children’s Bureau’s CFSR Information Portal and the Capacity Building Center for States CFSR topic page and review the Center’s Child and Family Services Review Technical Bulletin #12.)

    Despite the benefits of engaging people with lived experience in all aspects of the CFSR and agency CQI, child welfare agencies often face challenges doing so sustainably, including not knowing how to identify or reach out to new partners, preparing agency staff as well as families and young people for engagement, and sharing data and information in a relatable, digestible way.

    Best Practices for Sustaining Engagement of Young People and Families in the CFSR and Other CQI efforts

    The following best practices identified by people with lived experience and examples from child welfare agencies can help you build new relationships and support ongoing engagement with young people and families with lived experience:

    • Engage with partners early and often. Before beginning CFSR tasks as a team, consider who else can be at the table to better reflect the communities served. Also take this time to identify ways to compensate partners appropriately for their time.
    • Prioritize and support ongoing racial equity conversations at every agency level. By doing so, everyone understands the benefits of team representation of people from the racial, ethnic, and intersectional groups in the communities the agency serves.
    • Welcome new partners, diverse perspectives, and honest feedback. While this may mean that the agency sometimes hears negative feedback or opposing views, these are essential to child welfare system improvement efforts. For the same reason, try to not rely on one or two recurring partners with lived experience for most of your feedback—seek out new partners with lived experience and multiple perspectives from all the communities an agency serves.
    • Facilitate goal alignment and transparency within the group, especially regarding the purpose of engagement, expectations, timeframes, and activities. This can include creating team norms, collaboratively identifying team responsibilities and tasks, or setting up time to share expectations, ask questions, and offer considerations.
    • Enable team member participation by offering support. If you are able, offer smaller, local meetings as well as hybrid options for team meetings. Consider whether partners with lived experience have barriers to participation—such as speaking English as a second language; lacking access to transportation, technology, or childcare; or other barriers—and then work together to identify strategies to overcome these barriers. For example, agencies can offer a translator and documents in multiple languages, provide a ride share or transportation voucher, provide internet access and laptop, and allow individuals to bring older children to meetings.
    • Set preparation and group debriefing times as needed and appropriate to encourage authentic engagement. Provide partners with easy-to-understand background information (e.g., CFSR overview video or factsheets for youth or parents and caregivers) to increase their understanding and offer opportunities for discussion with all team members.
    • Create data visualizations and share information in plain language. By showing the data in different ways and using common language, the team can appeal to more participants, increasing engagement and sustainability.
    • Identify an agency and team champion or champions to prioritize ongoing engagement with people with lived experience.

    Engagement Strategies From Jurisdictions

    Several states and jurisdictions currently participating in CFSR Round 4 have implemented some of the above strategies to successfully engage with young people and families. Some examples include:

    • Hosting focus groups to collect qualitative data to support ratings for the Statewide Assessment and to prepare for Program Improvement Plan development—these were available to various partner groups, both internally and externally, at various times of the day and different days of the week to better meet availability and increase participation
    • Integrating partners and creating roles within workgroups to be responsible for different portions of the Statewide Assessment, composed of various internal and external partners, including those with lived experience and those from legal and judicial communities
    • Using accessible methods to collect quantitative and qualitative data to increase participation and response—some states have turned inquiry forms and surveys into QR codes, printed them on fliers, and shared the fliers in public locales such as the laundromat, public transportation terminals, food pantries, local universities or trade schools, agency offices, community boards, and virtually

    Additional Resources

    Initiating and sustaining meaningful engagement of people with lived experience in the CFSR, agency CQI, and other agency processes is key to advancing system change in child welfare. The new Center for States resource, Preparation Checklist for Engagement of Young People and Families in the CFSR, is a fillable tool that can help you identify and put in place needed infrastructure and supports that set the stage for meaningful and ongoing engagement practices. For more information, explore the following resources:

  • Policy Tool on Economic Supports as a Maltreatment Prevention Strategy

    Policy Tool on Economic Supports as a Maltreatment Prevention Strategy

    Lack of equitable access to concrete resources and support is a major contributor to child welfare system involvement. In response to this challenge, many child welfare prevention efforts are focused on providing these resources and services to families so they can get help before child welfare system intervention becomes necessary.

    With the goal of reducing child welfare system involvement, Chapin Hall and the American Public Human Services Association created a new tool featuring both research and potential policy options. The tool, Evidence to Impact: State Policy Options to Increase Access to Economic & Concrete Supports as a Child Welfare Prevention Strategy, was released in June 2023.

    The tool features state policy options and findings from peer-reviewed research for the following forms of support, which are organized by type (macroeconomic supports, concrete supports, and public assistance programs):

    • Earned Income Tax Credit
    • Child Tax Credit
    • Minimum wage
    • Paid family leave
    • Employment and job creation
    • Child care
    • Housing
    • Health care
    • Flexible funds
    • Direct cash transfers
    • Public assistance programs
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

    Jurisdictions can use the tool to assess current policies and consider future opportunities to expand access to economic and concrete supports as a primary prevention strategy.

     

Resources

This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • Factsheet for Families Explores the Impact of Maltreatment on the Developing Brain

    Factsheet for Families Explores the Impact of Maltreatment on the Developing Brain

    Child Welfare Information Gateway recently published the factsheet for families Child Maltreatment and Brain Development: A Primer for Caregivers. This publication provides caregivers—including parents, kin caregivers, foster parents, and others—with an introduction to child and youth brain development. It explores the short- and long-term effects abuse and neglect can have on the developing brain, which can often manifest as academic, behavioral, emotional, and other difficulties. The factsheet also highlights the presence and importance of resilience and gives tips to help caregivers work with child welfare staff and others to make sure their child and family receive appropriate services and supports.

    A complementary issue brief, Child Maltreatment and Brain Development: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals, provides child and family-serving professionals with a similar review of brain development, the varied effects of child maltreatment, and the implications and considerations for child welfare practice.

  • Back-to-School Resources for Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Families

    Back-to-School Resources for Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Families

    Creating a Family, a national adoption and foster care education and support nonprofit, has a new webpage that provides back-to-school resources in a variety of formats for foster, adoptive, and kinship families. For many children and families, especially those who have experienced trauma or are involved with the child welfare system, the beginning of the school year can be an emotional and challenging time.

    To help ease this transition, Creating a Family curated helpful resources for parents, caregivers, and the children in their care. Information is evidence-based and trauma-informed and includes topics such as cultivating resilience, managing intrusive questions, advocating for your child at school, navigating special education and the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) and 504 process, helping your adopted child handle microaggressions, and more.

    Visitors to the website can explore a variety of school-related yet topically broad episodes from the Creating a Family podcast and a selection of related articles. A free, online back-to-school “packaged” course tailored to adoptive and foster parents is also available and includes the following expert-led courses:

    • “Back to School With Foster & Adopted Kids”
    • “Building Resilience: Helping Our Kids Overcome a Traumatic Background”
    • “Handling Screens and Technology as a Family”
    • “Parenting Adopted Teens and Young Adults”

    To learn more, visit the Creating a Family website.

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.