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December/January 2019Vol. 19, No. 10Spotlight on the Role of the Legal and Judicial Community in Improving Outcomes for Children and Fam

This month's issue of CBX highlights the important partnership between the legal and judicial systems and child welfare. Because this topic is so important, we are making it the focus of the entire issue and not just the Spotlight section. Read a message from the Children's Bureau's David Kelly, as well as featured guest articles from Vivek Sankaran, Director, Child Advocacy Law Clinic, University of Michigan Law School; Judge Derek C. Swope, West Virginia Circuit Court; and Allison Green, Special Assistant Professional & Foster America Fellow, Missouri Children's Division. This issue also includes a variety of resources on the essential collaboration between attorneys, judges, and child welfare agencies.

Issue Spotlight

  • Leadership From State Supreme Courts

    Leadership From State Supreme Courts

    Written by Vivek Sankaran, director, Child Advocacy Law Clinic, University of Michigan Law School.

    A few weeks back, I had a child protective hearing in Flint, Michigan. At the outset of the hearing, the judge noticed that the agency had failed to arrange for a father who was incarcerated to participate in the hearing. So without hesitation, she adjourned his case and admonished the agency for its failure to bring him to court. Then, she turned to another father, who was in court and was caring for his daughter, and informed him that as a nonrespondent parent (i.e., a parent against whom no allegations had been made) he was entitled to seek custody of his child. Finally, she spent the bulk of the court proceeding inquiring about the case service plan as it related to a cognitively impaired mother. She asked detailed questions about whether the agency had designed a plan that accommodated her disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    The court's inquiry into these three areas did not spark any reaction from the parties. But as I left the hearing, I was struck by a significant realization: Just a decade ago in Michigan, incarcerated parents were not routinely involved in cases. Nonrespondent parents were presumed to be as culpable as the offending parent, and the Americans With Disabilities Act played an inconsequential role in child welfare cases. In other words, my "routine" hearing would have looked a lot different.

    So what sparked these dramatic changes in Michigan? These changes all occurred as a result of leadership from our state Supreme Court. Over the past decade, the Michigan Supreme Court has issued orders and opinions in dozens of child protective appeals, many of them in termination of parental rights (TPR) cases. The court has enforced constitutional rights, federal and state laws, and the requirement that clear and convincing evidence actually support a TPR finding.  Unsurprisingly, during this time period the number of children in Michigan's foster care system, along with the number of parents whose rights have been terminated, have decreased.

    When people speak of judicial leadership in child welfare, they often refer to charismatic trial court judges who have implemented innovative reforms in their courtrooms. But such leadership must also be found on our highest courts. State supreme court justices play a pivotal role in safeguarding constitutional and statutory rights in child welfare cases. They do so by ensuring that child welfare appeals are heard by their court and by issuing thorough opinions that provide clarity and guidance to professionals in the field.

    But they can do so much more. Through their leadership, they can spark long-overdue conversations between different constituencies within our system (e.g., agencies, courts, lawyers) and help craft the priorities of each state's Court Improvement Program. By speaking out about child welfare issues, they draw attention to an area of law often neglected by policymakers and the public.

    The list of crises still confronting the child welfare system is long. Families lack quality trial and appellate counsel. Trial courts fail to routinely enforce the statutory requirement that agencies make reasonable efforts to reunify families. Agencies are slow to evaluate and place children with relatives, especially those living in another state. 

    Those on our highest courts have the unique ability to spark the changes needed to support families in the child welfare system. 

  • Missouri's Multidisciplinary Approach to Child Welfare Systems Transformation

    Missouri's Multidisciplinary Approach to Child Welfare Systems Transformation

    Written by Allison Green, Special Assistant Professional & Foster America Fellow, Missouri Children's Division.

    It's often said that that attorneys and social workers "speak two different languages"—lawyers chatting in "legalese" and social workers using the vernacular of clinicians. In Missouri, the child welfare community decided that this status quo was no longer acceptable. Children and families deserve a system where professionals use a common language, share a joint vision, and persistently work across silos. The Children's Division prioritized several initiatives to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and enhance court engagement:

    • Court partnership teams—The agency worked with Missouri's Office of the State Courts Administrator and judiciary to hold five regional convenings for court stakeholders. These events offered joint training to activate 46 "court partnership teams" across the state. By jointly reviewing data and trends, members engage in an iterative process of continuous quality improvement. Experience shows that these collaborations can have a profound impact. For example, Greene County in Missouri—in partnership with Casey Family Programs' judicial engagement team and the nonprofit, Fostering Court Improvement—used the court engagement process to safely reduce the number of youth in care by over 30 percent in 4 years. During the convenings, teams asked ambitious, exploratory questions (e.g., How might we promote safe visitation for parents who have relapsed?) and returned to their localities prepared to transform ideas into practical solutions.
    • Permanency Attorney Initiative—Although historically unrepresented at most dependency hearings, the Children's Division shifted resources to hire attorneys in several sites to provide zealous representation "from petition to permanency." This model of representation, coupled with robust training, can accelerate permanency timelines by up to 250 days (Herring, 1992). The agency also offered a 5-day training covering relevant laws, trial skills, trauma, cultural humility, and other topics from the cannon of child welfare expertise. The permanency attorneys will serve as advocates and as translators, harmonizing the Missouri Practice Model used by caseworkers with the legal analysis that lawyers and judges expect and rely on.
    • Elevating diverse voices in systemic planning—Missouri has reinvigorated efforts to include a diverse set of voices in the systemic improvement process. For example, its recently approved Program Improvement Plan (PIP) emphasizes adaptive change around parent engagement, including plans for a statewide parent advisory board, expanded Parent Cafés, and amplified engagement with noncustodial and nonresident parents. Similarly, we jumpstarted our Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) advisory process by including parent advocates, guardians ad litem, and judges. When fully maximized, both the PIP and CFSP are effective tools to embed vision and values into the agency's daily work. 

    Child welfare agencies can no longer settle for a system that does not embrace the principles of multidisciplinary teaming, data-driven decisions, and high-quality legal representation. Children's Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner has called for the broader child welfare workforce "to come together in a more coordinated way to harness our collective impact for good" (see Related Item). Missouri has started its journey down this path, and our sights remain set on this "jointly owned vision" (see Related Item). When lawyers and judges learn the agency's language and practice model, they bring rigor and accountability to each recommendation. Working together, we can meet and exceed reasonable efforts, preserve families, catalyze permanency and build a system that is worthy of the children and families it serves.


    Herring, D. J. (1992). Legal representation for the state child welfare agency in civil child protection proceedings: A comparative study. University of Toledo Law Review, 24, 603-687

    Related Item

    Milner, J. (2018). The need for an expanded view of the child welfare workforce. Children's Bureau Express, 19 (7). Retrieved from

  • Prevention as Our Common Goal: A Proposed Community Path to Success

    Prevention as Our Common Goal: A Proposed Community Path to Success

    Written by Judge Derek C. Swope, West Virginia Circuit Court.

    As a West Virginia Circuit Court judge, my most important duty is to protect the children in our community. They are the most vulnerable, and they are our future. Societies are judged by their treatment of their weakest members, particularly their children. Given the reality of modern life, judges must rethink their approach to engagement with community members and resources. We cannot passively wait for cases to come before us; we must proactively help create and implement a system that establishes safety, permanency, and well-being for our children, in a timely manner and within the bounds of our ethical obligations as judges. For the last decade, we have effectively operated our multidisciplinary Court Improvement Program to achieve this goal.

    In July, I attended the State Team Planning Meeting hosted by the Children's Bureau in Washington, DC, as chair of West Virginia's Court Improvement Program. In August, I attended the National Association of Counsel for Children's conference in San Antonio, TX. My education on the need for primary prevention in child welfare and the role of the Family First Prevention Services Act began at these meetings. I was skeptical at first, as I feared this would be another reinvention of the wheel with different terminology. However, at the Washington, DC, meeting, I was pleasantly surprised and inspired by the presentations made by teams from Colorado, Maryland, and New York. These teams had clearly anticipated and acted on the need to redesign child welfare to focus on prevention and better serving families in a coordinated way at the local level. As I listened and learned, I realized we could make this system work in West Virginia if we changed the paradigm and thought creatively. We had previously done this when we established the adult drug court and truancy court in my jurisdiction. I realized that many of the resources and partnerships necessary to create a local system were already in place because of our development of these specialty courts. During these presentations, I resource mapped the various assets we have available to establish a strong prevention approach from our current specialty court partners.

    When I returned to West Virginia, our state planning team (composed of the Court Improvement Program leadership team and key leaders from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources) met to brainstorm how we could align the opportunities presented by Family First with our own resources to achieve better results for children and their families. I attended a meeting in August 2018 to design our local infrastructure. In preparation for that initial meeting with my proposed partners, I met with a West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources community service manager who has already implemented successful partnerships that can meet the mandates of Family First. She generously agreed to share her insights with us as we began our journey. With work and patience, we can create a system that will implement Family First and, to the extent possible, keep our children in family settings and out of state custody.

    We hope to create a template that can be used across West Virginia as a basis for the development of local programs. Our drug courts are successful because they grew from the bottom up using our community resources and were not imposed by other levels of government. I anticipate that our Family First initiative will flourish in the same way and help support a larger commitment to prevention. Family First will succeed if states and communities recognize the opportunities it creates and use them to drive a larger vision for preventing child maltreatment. I am excited to work with Children's Bureau staff who have taken the implementation of Family First to heart and who have provided encouragement to our Court Improvement Program over many years. I look forward to sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly as we plan and implement our vision for the care of our children.


  • Beyond the Table: The Need to Work With Courts and the Legal Community to Improve Child Welfare Outc

    Beyond the Table: The Need to Work With Courts and the Legal Community to Improve Child Welfare Outc

    Written by David Kelly, Children's Bureau.

    For years, the Children's Bureau and our national partners have promoted and supported the notion that courts and the legal community should be involved in child welfare planning and improvement efforts. There has been a common refrain that when it comes to child welfare system improvement work, "courts must be at the table." In many jurisdictions, this has translated into inviting representatives from the Court Improvement Programs (CIP), the Children' Bureau's sole dedicated grant program for the judicial branch of government, to attend meetings, participate in committees or workgroups, and review or react to decisions the child welfare agency has made. Make no mistake: this has been an important developmental phase and contributed value. However, it falls far short of what is necessary to reshape child welfare enough to dramatically improve outcomes for children and families. Simply stated, "being at the table" in its most common incarnation is not good enough, and while the CIP is a critical partner, legal and judicial involvement must be expanded to include attorneys who represent children, parents, the child welfare agency, and judges who hear child welfare cases.

    Rather than simply being at the table, the CIP and legal and judicial community must be actively involved with planning the menu, shopping for the food, cooking, and critiquing the meal.


    The child welfare system is much larger than the child welfare agency alone, and federal statute mandates judicial involvement and oversight. Moreover, attorneys for children, parents, and the child welfare agency all share a common interest in ensuring that reasonable efforts are made to prevent unnecessary removals of children from their families. For children who must enter care, attorneys for all parties help ensure parent, child, and youth engagement and empowerment; engage in joint problem-solving; and work together to ensure no child or youth stays in care a day longer than absolutely necessary. In this light, reasonable efforts are a common goal. It is in no one's interest to remove children unnecessarily or keep children and youth in care longer than absolutely necessary.

    Likewise, judicial decision-making in child welfare is critical and can be a tremendous help or formidable barrier to improving outcomes. Judicial decision-making is largely driven by two factors: (1) judicial philosophy or vision of what child welfare is intended to accomplish and (2) the information presented to the court. Involving judges in crafting the vision for your system—one that that values strengthening families and avoiding trauma to children—is crucial to informing and shaping the former and can help mitigate tendencies to remove children when not necessary. No single factor affects the information that informs judicial decision-making greater than quality legal representation.

    Conversely, failure to involve the legal and judicial community in planning efforts and decision-making can create obstacles and frustrate progress due to misunderstanding, differences in philosophy, or perceptions of the role or the larger purpose of child welfare.

    With this message and this entire dedicated edition of Children's Bureau Express, we urge all readers to redouble their commitment and efforts to work with the legal and judicial community at the state and local levels in all child welfare program planning and improvement efforts.

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News From the Children's Bureau

Read about the reasonable efforts that must be made before children can be removed from their homes; the ways attorneys and judges can make sure those reasonable efforts are carried out; an information memorandum that highlights important research, best practices, and strategies to promote and sustain high-quality legal representation for all parents, children, and child welfare agencies; the latest additions to the CB website; and more.

  • How Quality Representation Helps Strengthen Families

    How Quality Representation Helps Strengthen Families

    In a piece featured in a recent edition of The Guardian, Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner at the Children's Bureau, and David Kelly, special assistant to the Associate Commissioner, talk about the need for families at risk of having a child placed into out-of-home care to have quality legal representation throughout the duration of their involvement with child welfare. Dr. Milner discusses key themes that emerged from the first Court Improvement Program Talks event, which highlighted the need for the legal community to work with partners to better serve at-risk families and improve the child welfare system.

    These themes include the following:

    • Respect personal agency
    • Respect the integrity of the parent-child relationship
    • Remember that the children and families involved with child welfare are likely facing some of the most difficult times in their lives

    Attorneys working with children and families involved in child welfare are instrumental in identifying resources, such as kinship placements and appropriate services and supports; reducing the need and likelihood of removal; and, if removal is necessary, reducing the time a child spends in out-of-home care. David Kelly further underscores the importance of engaging with families to find out what their goals are, what is important to them, and what would be helpful. He also highlights the spaces before and between hearings are critical to preparing clients and ultimately keeping these families together.

    The article stresses the need for the child welfare and legal systems to commit to making reasonable efforts to prevent a child's removal from his or her home by making sure safety concerns are addressed, making kinship placements the first resort, and keeping well-being at the forefront of all decisions.

    Read the article, "How Attorneys and Judges Help Strengthen Families," at (1,450 KB).

  • Improving Child Welfare Through Primary Prevention

    Improving Child Welfare Through Primary Prevention

    A video from the Capacity Building Center for Courts featuring Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, discusses the importance of proactively preventing child maltreatment and investing in the capacity of parents to keep their children safe rather than disproportionately investing in supports and services, such as foster care, after children have already suffered maltreatment. 

    According to Jerry Milner, the legal and judicial system, in collaboration with child welfare, have the responsibility to take measures to ensure children do not have to enter foster care unless it is absolutely necessary. If out-of-home care becomes the only option, attorneys, judges, and child welfare agencies should keep the child and his or her family's well-being in the forefront of their decision-making.

    Dr. Milner gives five examples of ways the legal, judicial, and child welfare systems can work together to keep children out of foster care:

    • Focus on primary prevention
    • Change the foster care system itself by making sure parents and children are adequately represented and that their rights are protected and their voices heard
    • Focus on the overall well-being of children and families
    • Strengthen the capacity of communities to support the children and families who live there and provide the critical services they need before—and after—they become involved with child welfare
    • Make sure those working to serve children and families (e.g., child welfare professionals, attorneys, agencies) take measures to ensure their own health and resilience in order to continue their important work

    To view the video, "Imagine a New Child Welfare System," visit

  • Reasonable Efforts as Prevention

    Reasonable Efforts as Prevention

    A new article written by Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, and David Kelly, special assistant to the Associate Commissioner, highlights how high-quality legal representation for parents, children, and child welfare agencies at all stages of child welfare proceedings is key to avoiding the unnecessary removal of children from their homes and families and overly long stays in foster care, which have been shown to cause trauma to parents and children. In addition, reasonable efforts, such as establishing safety plans and identifying strengths, needs, resources, and supports to help keep parents and children safe and together, should be made before removing a child from his or her home.

    The article suggests that attorneys for families and child welfare agencies can help reduce the number of children removed from their homes by taking the following actions:

    • Being active voices in and out of the courtroom for preventing the trauma of unnecessary family separation
    • Advocating for reasonable efforts to be made to prevent the removal of a child from his or her home or for a finding that reasonable efforts have not been made when that is the situation
    • Where removal is necessary, advocating that reasonable efforts be made to finalize permanency plans and, when not made, advocating for a finding of no reasonable efforts

    Read the article, "Reasonable Efforts as Prevention," at

  • CB Website Updates

    CB Website Updates

    The Children's Bureau website hosts information on child welfare programs, funding, monitoring, training and technical assistance, laws, statistics, research, federal reporting, and much more.

    Recent additions to the site include the following:

    Visit the Children's Bureau website often to see what's new.

  • High-Quality Legal Representation in Child Welfare Proceedings

    High-Quality Legal Representation in Child Welfare Proceedings

    The Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an Information Memorandum (IM) that highlights important research, best practices, and strategies to promote and sustain high-quality legal representation for all parents, children, and child welfare agencies in all stages of child welfare proceedings. The intended audience comprises state, tribal, and territorial agencies administering or supervising the administration of titles IV-E and IV-B of the Social Security Act; Indian tribes and Indian tribal organizations; state courts; and state and tribal court improvement programs.

    Research has shown that quality legal representation for children and their parents leads to the following positive outcomes:

    • Increased perceptions of fairness and a better understanding of the child welfare system
    • Increased engagement in case planning, services, and court hearings, especially if attorneys are appointed early in the case-planning process
    • More personally tailored and specific case plans and services
    • Increased visitation and parenting time
    • Less time in out-of-home care
    • Increased cost savings to state governments as a result of children and youth spending less time in care

    According to the IM, children and their parents and title IV-E/IV-B agencies are all parties to child welfare proceedings and, therefore, all have the right to legal counsel, as they all may be required to provide sworn testimony under oath in court, cross-examined, and subject to court orders. Having adequate legal representation helps to mitigate the trauma families experience during difficult times and keep these families together by making sure they are receiving the supports they need and that their voices are heard.

    To read "ACYF-CB-IM-17-02: High Quality Legal Representation for All Parties in Child Welfare Proceedings," visit (290 KB).


Child Welfare Research

We highlight the advantages of utilizing multidisciplinary advocacy for families in need, best practices to improve legal representation for children involved with child welfare, and more.

  • Multidisciplinary Teams Improve Legal Resolution, Family Preservation in Child Welfare Cases

    Multidisciplinary Teams Improve Legal Resolution, Family Preservation in Child Welfare Cases

    A multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach to representing children in child protection cases results in quicker resolution of more cases and better family preservation than a non-MDT approach, according to a project of the National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System (QIC-ChildRep).

    The QIC-ChildRep partnered with a child advocacy team in Michigan's Genesee County (Flint) in 2014 to evaluate the MDT approach to representing children. The project had three objectives:

    • Describe the process of designing and implementing an MDT approach
    • Evaluate whether children have better outcomes with an MDT
    • Identify the elements of a successful collaboration

    The Flint MDT study provided the lawyer-guardians ad litem (LGALs) with two social workers to collaborate on legal representation and their cases were randomly assigned to be represented by either a social worker-attorney (i.e., MDT) team or just the attorney.

    The evaluation used a randomized control trial and concluded that the MDT cases were more likely to be resolved, and therefore dismissed, before adjudication. This meant the court avoided the adjudications and related hearings of more cases in the MDT group than for those in the control group.

    The MDT approach also resulted in better family preservation outcomes. Children represented by an MDT were less likely to be placed in nonrelative foster care and more likely to be placed with relatives than non-MDT cases, and parents served by an MDT experienced fewer petitions for the termination of parental rights than non-MDT cases.

    The QIC-ChildRep attributes the positive outcomes of the MDT approach to the LGALs trust in, and respect for, the social workers' ability to know what to do on a given case and their advocacy early in the case.

    For more information, see the QIC-ChildRep website at

  • Literature Database Includes All Articles on Child Representation

    Literature Database Includes All Articles on Child Representation

    The National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System (QIC-ChildRep) conducted a needs assessment literature review of academic articles on child representation to establish a database for scholars and policymakers who wish to study and improve existing practice. While the review originally encompassed all articles on child representation since 1994, the QIC-ChildRep website was updated to include all articles since the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974.

    The QIC-ChildRep provided an overview of its findings from the literature review that includes the responsibilities, roles, duties, and preferred practices of child representatives. The overview concludes with a discussion of the systemic challenges and systemic progress for child representation.

    Visit the website at

  • Evaluating Best Practices for Improving Child Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases

    Evaluating Best Practices for Improving Child Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases

    A research and demonstration (R&D) project for the National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System (QIC-ChildRep) is testing the effects of training attorneys in its best practices model. QIC-ChildRep is a joint project of the Children's Bureau and the University of Michigan Law School with the goal of developing empirical knowledge to improve child and youth representation in child welfare cases.

    The QIC Best Practice Model of Child Representation outlines the duties of a child's legal representative in and out of court and addresses the organizational and administrative supports related to training, compensation, and caseload levels. The model is based on current state laws, the project's needs assessment, and a review of the academic literature. Best practices for attorneys include six core skills:

    • Engaging with the child and advocating for him or her
    • Assessing child safety and protecting him or her without overreacting
    • Actively evaluating needs
    • Advancing case planning
    • Developing case theory
    • Advocating effectively

    The R&D project is being carried out by two partners: Georgia's Supreme Court Committee on Justice for Children and Washington State's Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care. The projects includes quantitative and qualitative measures and a comparison control group. Through these data, the QIC-ChildRep seeks to move the field toward a common understanding of what constitutes good representation for children in child protection proceedings and what improves child welfare outcomes.

    For more information about the R&D projects, visit the QIC-ChildRep website at

    Related Item

    For more information on legal resources available on the QIC-ChildRep website, see the CBX article "QIC-ChildRep Posts Resources on Legal Representation," which is available at


  • Individualized Advocacy to Support Families in Detroit

    Individualized Advocacy to Support Families in Detroit

    To prevent the removal of children from their homes and expedite permanency when removals do occur, the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy (CFA), a project of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, provides individualized, multidisciplinary advocacy for families in need. CFA utilizes the services of three individuals to support families: an attorney, a social worker, and a family advocate. The attorney provides legal assistance to help reduce obstacles to permanency, such as establishing a guardianship for a relative, obtaining a personal protection order to keep a mother and child safe, or settling a landlord/tenant dispute that could put a child at risk for removal. The social worker assesses family strengths and needs and provides families with referrals and case management. Lastly, the family advocate, an individual who has experienced the child welfare system, helps families navigate the systems.

    An evaluation of the project found that, between July 2009 and June 2012, CFA achieved its legal objectives in 98 percent of its cases, with no children served entering foster care. Additionally, CFA staff were able to remove barriers to permanency in 97 percent of cases where children had already entered foster care, with 88 percent of cases being closed by the courts.

    To read more about CFA, refer to Promoting Safe and Stable Families: Detroit Center for Family Advocacy at

Strategies and Tools for Practice

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

  • Defining the 'It': Helping Teams Understand, Implement, and Observe Improvements

    Defining the 'It': Helping Teams Understand, Implement, and Observe Improvements

    Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States.

    Imagine that, after exploring several options, a state child welfare agency selects and adapts a program to improve timely permanency for youth in care. When the program is implemented throughout the state, each county interprets key program components in different ways, leading to inconsistent service delivery. When state evaluators begin to assess program implementation and outcomes, they are unable to tell if the program is being implemented as intended. As a result, the agency may be wasting valuable resources. How can agencies avoid facing similar situations?

    To effectively replicate or adapt an existing program or practice, or design a new one, teams must be able to define the "it." This means explaining the intervention and its parts in simple terms so that everyone is clear on what the intervention is and what needs to be done to carry it out (Permanency Innovations Initiative Training and Technical Assistance Project, 2016). When a program or other intervention is well defined, trainers can teach it, staff can deliver it, agencies can consistently expand it, and evaluators can see if it works.

    The Center's brief, Change and Implementation in Practice: Intervention Selection and Design/Adaptation, describes how agencies can select, adapt, or design well-defined interventions to achieve desired outcomes and meet specific needs. Some ideas from that brief are highlighted below.

    A Well-Defined Intervention

    A well-defined intervention is usable and transferable, which means that it has enough information and guidance for individuals to understand, implement, and observe it.

    The National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) recommends four criteria for ensuring an intervention is usable and transferable (Van Dyke & Metz, 2014):

    • A clear description of the intervention, including its underlying philosophy, values, and principles, and the intended target population
    • Core components (essential functions) that define the essence of the program and represent the key building blocks leading to positive outcomes
    • Operational definitions of the core components that include specific actions and behaviors required to carry out the intervention
    • Practical performance assessment to enable monitoring of the intervention

    Together, these criteria contribute to "operationalizing" an intervention. A NIRN (2014) intervention development tool, What's the Way Forward? Usable Intervention Criteria, can help agencies analyze an intervention under consideration for use.

    The Core Components of a Well-Defined Intervention

    Core components are the essential building blocks, principles, and related activities or "active ingredients" that produce the desired outcomes and make the intervention work (Blase & Fixsen, 2013). Ideally, core components are clearly articulated by program developers and supported by research (Blase & Fixsen, 2013). Core components should do the following:

    • Align with the team's theory of change
    • Adhere to the intervention's underlying values, guiding principles, and philosophy
    • Be grounded in research and best practice
    • Reflect stakeholder input
    • Be appropriate for the target population and agency setting

    When adapting an intervention, teams should attempt to maintain the integrity of the core components to the extent possible. Changing core components can result in interventions that do not produce expected outcomes.

    If an agency chooses to design an intervention, development work requires getting specific about how the core components will work in practice. This design process should blend research, practice knowledge, and theory (Fraser & Galinsky, 2010). Whether adapting or designing an intervention, teams should invite program developers, child welfare staff, and representatives from the target population to provide input about the core components. You can find additional information in the Administration for Children and Families' video, "A Framework to Design, Test, Spread, and Sustain Effective Child Welfare Practice: Develop & Test and Compare & Learn (Part 3)."

    With a well-defined intervention, teams set the foundation for implementation. For more information on selecting, adapting, and designing a well-defined intervention and other change and implementation topics, visit the Change and Implementation in Practice web page on the Center for States website.


    Administration for Children and Families. "A framework to design, test, spread, and sustain effective child welfare practice: Develop & test and compare & learn (Part 3)" [Video]. Retrieved from

    Blase, K., & Fixsen, D. (2013). Core intervention components: Identifying and operationalizing what makes programs work. doi: 10.1177/1049731509358424. Retrieved from

    Fraser, M. W., & Galinsky, M. J. (2010). Steps in intervention research: Designing and developing social programs. Research on Social Work Practice, 20(5), 459-466. Retrieved from

    National Implementation Research Network. (2014). What's the way forward? Usable intervention criteria. Retrieved from

    Permanency Innovations Initiative Training and Technical Assistance Project. (2016). Guide to developing, implementing, and assessing an innovation. Volume 2: Exploration. Retrieved from

    Van Dyke, M., & Metz, A. (2014). Usable intervention criteria. Chapel Hill, NC: National Implementation Research Network.

  • Improving Child Welfare Through Judicial Leadership

    Improving Child Welfare Through Judicial Leadership

    Given the court system's critical role in child welfare, a concerted effort by judicial leaders to improve strategies and outcomes can have a comprehensive and long-lasting effect on children and families. In a recent article in IN SESSION, an e-magazine published by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Children's Bureau puts out a call for judges to focus on how they can reshape child welfare through practice in their courtrooms. By focusing on key areas, such as reasonable efforts determinations, judges can help reduce the need to remove children from their families, thereby decreasing the trauma families experience when separated.

    "A Call for Judicial Leadership in Reshaping Child Welfare in the United States," by Jerry Milner and David Kelly (IN SESSION, Fall 2018), is available at

  • Ensuring Quality Family Visits During Foster Care to Promote Earlier, Safer Reunifications

    Ensuring Quality Family Visits During Foster Care to Promote Earlier, Safer Reunifications

    When children are in out-of-home care, quality visits with their birth families can improve the odds for earlier, safer, and more successful family reunifications. An article from the American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children and the Law highlights practices that can help improve the family visit experience for children and families and promote reunification.

    The goal of the article is to promote strengthening legal representation for parents in the child welfare system. The article uses the term "family time" in place of the more frequently used term "visitation" to convey the normalcy of the time a child spends with parents, siblings, and extended family. The article makes the following key points:

    • Family time should be the focus of a family's case plan.
    • The first visit should ideally happen within 48 hours of a child's removal—a judge should order this if necessary.
    • Visits should be convenient and comfortable for everyone.
    • Visits should ideally take place outside the child welfare office.
    • Caseworkers should prepare parents logistically and emotionally for what to expect during a visit.
    • Family time should supervised as minimally as possible, with child safety the primary consideration.
    • Family time should happen as often as possible in circumstances that mimic family life (e.g., the family's church, a favorite park, a relative's home).
    • Parents should be encouraged to participate in their children's normal activities (e.g., attend a child's school concert, sports game) and made aware of a child's doctor appointments and other activities.

    The article also provides resources and examples of how some jurisdictions promote the quality and frequency of family time.

    Family Time/Visitation: Road to Safe Reunification is available at

  • On Legal Representation

    On Legal Representation

    A video produced by the Capacity Building Center for Courts features a presentation recorded for a Court Improvement Program work session. Vivek Sankaran, director, Child Advocacy Law Clinic, University of Michigan Law School, discusses how child welfare agencies and the legal and judicial systems are tasked with helping families in danger of separation stay together by engaging them and supporting them throughout the course of their cases.

    The video provides a brief overview of the key elements of procedural justice, which, in the case of child welfare, is based on treating litigants and their families with respect and giving them the opportunity to share their voices during court proceedings that may determine the future of their families. These key elements include the following:

    • Trust in the motives of the authorities: Do litigants believe that their case worker, attorney, and judge are all being fair? Do litigants believe that those individuals really want to help them reunify with their children? Do their actions match their words?
    • Fairness and control: Are the attorneys and courts utilizing fair procedures in their decision-making? For example, are attorneys fully able to present the families' arguments? Do families feel they have control over the process? Do families feel they have adequate legal representation?

    The video challenges child welfare agencies and the legal and judicial systems to assess whether their jurisdictions adhere to these elements of procedural justice and to find ways to involve families in the case-planning process and beyond.

    Obstacles to these activities include the following:

    • Ensuring these families have access to adequate and high-quality counsel immediately upon the filing of their petition, if not before.
    • Relying less on third parties (e.g., guardians ad litem, court-appointed special advocates) to provide input in decision-making on a case by asking families for their input into their plan for reunification.
    • Giving an opportunity for the parents to tell their stories.
    • Referring to these parents and children with respect during court and while interacting with them (i.e., using their names and not simply "the birth parents" or "the respondents").
    • Engaging parents in the court process as well as in activities outside of court, such as school meetings, and more.

    To view the video, go to


Learn about how quality indicators related to parent representation can ensure that vulnerable families are receiving high-quality representation and how the Court Improvement Program Talks provide information on how the legal and judicial communities can collaborate with partners to better serve vulnerable families and help improve outcomes.

  • Court Improvement Program Talks

    Court Improvement Program Talks

    Court Improvement Program (CIP) Talks provide inspiration and information on how the legal and judicial communities can collaborate with partners to better serve vulnerable families and help improve outcomes.

    CIP Talks aim to achieve the following goals: 

    • Reduce the number of unnecessary removals
    • Engage parents, children, and youth
    • Improve case planning and ensure effective service provision
    • Promote kinship care
    • Increase and enhance family/parenting time
    • Advance child and parent well-being

    Featured CIP Talks include the following:

    • "How Parent Attorneys Help Strengthen Families," featuring Carlyn Hicks, clinical adjunct professor, Missouri First Legal Aid Office, Mississippi College School of Law
    • "How Attorneys and Judges Ensuring Equal Access, Full Participation, and Nondiscrimination Helps Strengthen Families," featuring Dr. Kevonne Small, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights
    • "How Judicial and Attorney Safety Decision Making Practices Help Strengthen Families," featuring Jennifer Renne, director, Capacity Building Center for Courts, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law

    To view these and more CIP Talks, visit


  • Measuring Parents' Legal Representation

    Measuring Parents' Legal Representation

    Competent legal representation by attorneys for parents involved with child welfare can have a profound impact on case and family outcomes. To ensure that appointed attorneys are providing wide-ranging support to families, localities can incorporate indicators related to parent representation into their continuous quality improvement processes. To assist with this, the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law released a report, Indicators of Success for Parent Representation, that provides relevant indicators as well as examples of how these indicators have been used in certain states. The indicators are based on discussions that emerged during a convening of staff from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; states in ACYF region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), and a multidisciplinary group of stakeholders. Indicator categories include attorney appointment, reasonable caseloads, representation in and out of court, parental satisfaction, and others.

    To view Indicators of Success for Parent Representation, visit (819 KB).

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.