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July/August 2019Vol. 20, No. 6Spotlight on Building Evidence and Using Evidence-Based Practices in Child Welfare

This issue of CBX highlights how building evidence and utilizing evidence-based practices can improve the programs, services, and tools used to support families served by the child welfare system. Read a message from Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, and David Kelly, Special Assistant to the Associate Commissioner, about the need to balance evidence in child welfare to ensure that the child welfare system not only acts in response to trauma but focuses on ways to prevent trauma. The issue also includes a variety of resources and publications featuring evidence-based practices and how they improve the capacity of agencies and organizations to identify, assess, and implement strategies supported by research.

Issue Spotlight

  • Extraordinary Work Requires Extraordinary Evidence

    Extraordinary Work Requires Extraordinary Evidence

    Written by Lee Porter, chief program officer, Children's Trust of South Carolina

    Using evidence-based programs (EBPs) and building evidence to support family strengthening isn't only for well-known or sophisticated organizations. This is a story of how a small organization utilized existing data resources and intentionally built its internal evaluation capacity so that it could demonstrate program impact and contribute meaningful evidence to the child welfare field.

    In 2008, Children's Trust of South Carolina, which exists to strengthen families and lead communities in preventing child abuse and neglect, was a small office with a big vision: to significantly reduce child maltreatment in the state through evidence-based approaches. This journey into EBPs began with the utilization of federal Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention grant funding to support EBPs in five counties for primary prevention efforts. Due to its success in this modest endeavor and its growing reputation as a trusted intermediary organization, the Children's Trust was designated as the state's federal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) grantee, which allowed it to take a deeper dive into using EBPs and building evidence. During this timeframe, the organization also became the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT designee for the state, opening new doors for building capacity around data and its use. This convergence bolstered Children's Trust's reach, visibility, and credibility.

    The small staff at Children's Trust began MIECHV implementation in 2011 with three evidence-based models and utilized a contracted university research team for the required evaluation elements. Organization leadership opted for a comprehensive, rigorous measurement plan from the beginning. For service delivery, a "hub-and-spoke" geographic approach was utilized to identify strong partners that could also facilitate service in contiguous counties. The South Carolina MIECHV profile has since grown to 17 community partners that are contracted to serve 42 of the state's 46 counties in 2019. From 2012 to 2018, there were 78,861 home visits. The continuous quality improvement model utilized by South Carolina MIECHV is now used as the model for national home visiting innovation and improvement, and Children's Trust provides support for the first Pay for Success initiative for home visiting in the country.

    While acknowledging the growing success of home visiting efforts around place-based EBPs, Children's Trust also recognized the need to build capacity for population-level approaches to programming and for measuring population-level outcomes. Children's Trust then secured a capacity-building grant from a regional foundation, which enabled the hiring of its first research and evaluation staff. Concurrently, implementation of the evidence-based Strengthening Families Program (SFP) was launched at the request of the state's Department of Social Services. This was followed by the creation of the South Carolina ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Initiative. The implementation of SFP allowed Children's Trust to test a more intentional coaching model for supporting EBP effectiveness and fidelity, and the ACE work allowed the new research and evaluation staff to begin collecting and mining multiple years of South Carolina ACE data for meaning and application.

    The confluence of the additional research staff capacity with the initiatives around SFP and ACEs allowed Children's Trust to grow its own expertise in EBP implementation and in data collection and evaluation, respectively. Like a domino effect, these new internal capacities then led to additional funding opportunities, which in turn allowed for the addition of more staff to support research and evaluation efforts. This department in Children's Trust now provides white papers, journal articles, briefs, and consultation at the state and national levels.

    Following the growth of SFP into nearly 30 counties with its coaching support model, Children's Trust is now using its capacity in implementation and evaluation to pilot a population-level implementation of the evidence-based Positive Parenting Program. Children's Trust has the internal expertise to design and execute the evaluation and continuous quality improvement process for this project, as well as apply its knowledge of coaching EBPs for program fidelity. Small organizations that are intentional and determined can find ways to use and grow evidence that builds resilient families and healthy communities. You might even say, the evidence is in.

    For more information on the Children's Trust of South Carolina, visit scchildren.org.

     

  • The Need to Balance the Evidence in Child Welfare

    The Need to Balance the Evidence in Child Welfare

    Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly

    In recent years, talk of evidence has dominated the field of child welfare. During this time, grants have been awarded, research has been conducted, and evaluation has become a hallmark of most federal, state, and philanthropic efforts to support work in the field. These efforts have made important contributions. We have gained knowledge about the effectiveness of specific interventions with specific populations. 

    The quest to understand what works, for whom, and under what conditions is critical and will help us better serve children, youth, and families. It is a quest that is closely associated with ensuring the judicious use of resources. It can also be a mechanism for limiting investment in families before the need for expensive, intensive remedial services are needed, which, as such, can lead to greater expenditures of limited funds.

    The language of evidence is central in the most recent child welfare legislation enacted by the congress, which limits federal financial participation in prevention services only to those that meet certain levels of evidence, as defined in the statute (promising, supported, and well-supported) for three types of services families may need (substance use treatment, mental health, and in-home parent skill building).  This approach to using evidence promotes technical considerations of issues such as dosages and time limits in an effort to ensure just the right levels and lengths of service are offered, and nothing more. It opens the door to overvaluing cost control and budget efficiencies over prevention and familial needs.  

    Despite their value in certain situations, and they will likely always be needed at some level, clinical interventions supported by evidence do not represent the whole picture of what children and families need. Child welfare data are clear that the majority of families that make contact with the child welfare system do so on allegations of neglect, not abuse. There is also evidence that poverty is often a major contributor to neglect. 

    This is a different kind of evidence. It is evidence of the need to take on the root causes of what leaves families vulnerable to more serious difficulties requiring more serious and expensive interventions. It is compelling evidence that not every family who comes to child welfare, or is at high risk of coming to child welfare, needs a clinical intervention. It is strong evidence that many families need help making ends meet, that they need basic supports, such as housing, food, and legal assistance. It is plainly apparent that many vulnerable families need people and places to turn to in times of need to boost their resilience and help them enhance their protective capacities.

    This type of evidence must not be ignored or forgotten in our quest to focus on what works.

    I fear we have entered a time where this human evidence has become undervalued. I fear we have become fixated on treating symptoms of the trauma we allow to develop, instead of intentionally and aggressively acting to prevent it. I believe our reluctance to do so reflects a deeply concerning challenge of conscience as opposed to a challenge of science.

    Neglect is something that is within reach to prevent. The problem is, under the current evidence regime, most of the supports that vulnerable families struggling with poverty need do not and may never have a randomized control trial study to justify their provision. Our current child welfare funding structure perpetuates this gap.

    Yet, as a field we continue to deeply  entrench ourselves in ways of thinking and funding that are wed to reacting to trauma and damage alone, instead of working to prevent as much of it as we possibly can. In the process, we risk pathologizing families' vulnerability and reinforcing stereotypes about families who are served by the child welfare system. 

    There is evidence that can, should, and does help us understand what families need to maintain their protective capacities and to care for their children in safe and healthy ways. Yet, our values and judgments regarding parents who need help may make it more palatable to fund rescue missions and clinical services designed to fix the damage rather than acting on the evidence of what families need to avoid the damage.

    We need to balance the evidence in child welfare. 

     

  • Exploring How We Build, Understand, and Apply Evidence in Child Welfare: The 2019 National Child Wel

    Exploring How We Build, Understand, and Apply Evidence in Child Welfare: The 2019 National Child Wel

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    How do we determine which practices and programs are most likely to produce the best outcomes for the children, youth, and families we serve? And once a program or practice is in place, how do we know that it's working? The child welfare field continues to make important strides using data, research, and evaluation to inform practice and decision-making. We've made great progress and look forward to more opportunities to learn, expand, and improve in this area.

    In 2009, the Children's Bureau (CB) convened the first National Child Welfare Evaluation Summit (Evaluation Summit). Child welfare policy makers, administrators, and evaluators from around the country gathered to learn about ways to build and disseminate evidence about effective child welfare services, programs, and policies; strengthen evaluation practice; and promote the use of findings for sound decision-making in child welfare programs and systems. A second Evaluation Summit was held in 2011.

    Building on the momentum of the second Evaluation Summit, CB launched three research and evaluation workgroups to tackle challenges that emerged during the conference. Each workgroup brought together national experts to develop practical resources, including the following:

    • A framework to guide the process of building evidence and implementing evidence-supported interventions in child welfare
    • A vision and guide describing how to collaboratively perform culturally and scientifically rigorous evaluation with tribal communities
    • A guide for integrating cost-analysis with program evaluation to promote a better understanding of key program components, implementation, and unit costs

    The workgroups developed a collection of useful publications and videos to assist child welfare agency leaders and evaluators.

    CB also released the Child Welfare Evaluation Virtual Summit Series in 2013. The series includes 17 brief and engaging videos featuring perspectives and tips from national experts on a wide range of evaluation-related topics. CB will host its third Evaluation Summit on August 20-21, 2019, at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC. The 2019 National Child Welfare Evaluation Summit, with the theme of "Leveraging Data and Evaluation to Strengthen Families and Promote Well-Being," will provide an opportunity for 800 child welfare leaders, members of the research and evaluation community, and their partners and stakeholders to explore how we build knowledge and evidence responsibly and use results to ensure children and youth thrive in strong, healthy families. Participants will learn about emerging research and evaluation findings and have the opportunity to discuss dilemmas, challenges, and opportunities related to research, evaluation, and continuous quality improvement. (Click here to register for the Evaluation Summit.)

    The Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative will host its annual 1-day online event, the Child Welfare Virtual Expo (Virtual Expo), on September 19, 2019. This year's event will complement the Evaluation Summit. The theme, "Effectiveness in Child Welfare: Our Role in Improving the Lives of Children and Families," will offer participants the chance to build knowledge and skills to boost their ability to participate meaningfully in building evidence of "what works" in their own practice and within their agencies and communities. The Virtual Expo will feature concurrent presentations, exhibits, and networking opportunities for up to 1,500 state and local child welfare leaders, including sessions for agency and legal professionals working directly with children, youth, and families. (Click here to register for the Virtual Expo.)
     
     

  • New Study Shows Providing Parents With Multidisciplinary Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases

    New Study Shows Providing Parents With Multidisciplinary Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases

    Written by Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law and co-director, Family Defense Clinic, New York University School of Law

    The child welfare canon holds that children should only be placed in foster care when necessary. This reflects the universally recognized understanding that the needless separation of children from their families can profoundly harm them. Among the more contentious aspects of the child welfare system in the United States is whether, as some claim, too many children are needlessly placed in foster care or remain there longer than needed to protect them from harm.

    A major study (Gerber, Pang, Ross, Guggenheim, Pecora, & Miller, 2019) makes a compelling contribution to this inquiry. Although it did not address whether children are needlessly removed from their homes, it showed that children can be safely returned to their families significantly sooner than commonly happens by the simple device of employing the right kind of legal representation for their parents.

    Efforts to prevent the unnecessary separation of families are notoriously difficult to study because so many factors complicate the risk analysis. Researchers from New York University, Action Research, and Casey Family Programs took advantage of a unique opportunity to compare the outcomes of cases involving more than 18,000 children in which child abuse or neglect was alleged. The study examined what happened when, in 2007, New York City began contracting with holistic family defense offices to provide parents with representation in child welfare cases.

    Until that time, New York City, like most jurisdictions in the United States, exclusively appointed solo-practicing lawyers to represent parents from a rotating panel of lawyers. Panel lawyers in New York are highly experienced practitioners who must apply to be accepted to the panel and are reviewed annually to ensure they take their job seriously and perform it well. Since 2004, these lawyers receive $75 per hour for both in- and out-of-court work. In most cases, there is no cap on the total amount of compensation they can receive once the court is satisfied that the hours they billed were necessary to represent the parent effectively.

    The study focused on the outcomes of cases based on which kind of lawyer parents received by comparing the most popular form of representation used in the United States—solo-practicing panel lawyers—with a reimagined legal representation team that includes lawyers, social workers, and parent advocates. The idea behind multidisciplinary parent representation is that the solo practitioner model is poorly suited to the unique tasks of representing parents in child welfare cases. Because child welfare cases proceed simultaneously along two tracks—the courthouse and the agency—truly excellent parent representation requires that parent lawyers or other members of the parent representation team actively participate with their clients in all aspects of the case. When parents attend team meetings and conference with caseworkers and other agency personnel, parents deserve to be represented on those occasions.

    That, in any event, was the basis upon which New York City gave contracts beginning in 2007 to three parent representation offices. These offices—Brooklyn Defenders, Bronx Defenders, and the Center for Family Representation—began by representing about half of all cases filed in the New York City Family Courts. Today, a fourth office, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, also has a contract to represent parents. Together, these four offices currently represent the vast majority of all parents in child welfare cases in New York City.

    What all New York City family defense offices have in common, besides employing staff attorneys whose salaries are not based on the number of cases they carry, is that the offices employ social workers and parent advocates who partner on teams with the lawyers to offer their clients a broad range of support well beyond the courthouse. The lawyer member of the team provides legal representation in court. The social worker helps the client access stabilizing services, such as housing, employment training, drug treatment, and domestic violence counseling. Parent advocates—trained professionals who have personally experienced the child welfare system and can empathize with vulnerable families—provide emotional support and help parents engage in services.

    The study's principal purpose was to determine whether the kind of representation provided to a parent makes a difference in terms of keeping families safely together and reducing the time children spend in foster care. The researchers took 3 years and developed a rigorous statistical design that effectively compared outcomes and screened out potential distortions. This meant carefully matching cases based on more than 20 variables, including age, race, number of children involved, county, judge, severity of allegations, and prior involvement with the child welfare system. It also meant that the researchers were able to say that differences in outcomes between the two kinds of representation were attributable to the representation the parents received.

    The results are staggering. The family defense offices were able to secure the safe return of children to their families approximately 43-percent more often in the first year and 25-percent more often in the second year than the solo lawyers. The effects were felt from the very beginning of a child's placement. The researchers found that 17-percent more children would be reunified within a month and 27-percent more children would be reunified with their families within 6 months if their parents had multidisciplinary representation rather than assigned panel attorneys. 

    Providing parents with family defense teams allowed children to be permanently released to relatives more than twice as often in the first year of a case and 67-percent more often in the second year. Of those children who could not be returned to their families, 40-percent more children ended up with permanent dispositions of guardianship when their parents had multidisciplinary representation compared with children whose parents were represented by panel lawyers.

    This study makes clear that many children are kept in foster care simply because their parents were not provided with the right kind of representation and key support services. The study's ultimate finding is that even while the family defense offices helped parents regain the custody of their children months or years sooner, children were at no greater risk of any type of abuse or neglect than their counterparts whose parents were represented by solo attorneys. This means that providing the parents an interdisciplinary legal team dramatically reduces the trauma of family separation without any increased risk to child safety.

    New York City is a national leader in employing interdisciplinary family defense as the preferred method of providing legal representation for parents. It has helped reduce trauma experienced by families and children. It has also saved an enormous amount of money that would otherwise have been spent on children remaining in foster care. The study found that full implementation of a multidisciplinary representation model would reduce the foster care population by 12 percent and annually reduce foster care costs by $40 million as compared with exclusive reliance on solo practitioners.

    The finding that family defense offices achieved a significant reduction in foster care is all the more striking because New York City places children in foster care at one of the lowest rates in the country. In much of the rest of the country, foster care is significantly overused.

    The study was announced at a particularly auspicious time because the federal government recently issued new guidance that will allow reimbursement to states and localities for half the cost of lawyers for children and parents in eligible cases. We now have clear evidence of how to prevent unnecessary family separation in child welfare. Based upon the 12-percent reduction in out-of-home care shown in the study, providing parents with this new kind of legal representation throughout the country suggests we can safely reduce the national foster care population of 440,000 by more than 50,000 children.

    Reference

    "Effects of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Parental Representation in Child Welfare," by Lucas A. Gerber, Yuk C.Pang, Timothy Ross, Martin Guggenheim, Peter J. Pecora, and Joel Miller (Children and Youth Services Review, 102), is available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019074091930088X.
     
     

  • Evaluating the Allegheny County Family Support Center Network

    Evaluating the Allegheny County Family Support Center Network

    Written by Marc Cherna, director, Allegheny County Department of Human Services

    Allegheny County, PA, is home to a network of 28 family support centers (FSCs) serving approximately 3,600 families each year. FSCs, located in economically disadvantaged communities, are community-based, participant-driven hubs of programs, services, and supports designed to improve outcomes for children (birth through age 5) and their families by increasing the strength and stability of families as well as parents' confidence in their parenting abilities.

    Since opening the first FSC in the early 1990s, significant federal, state, and foundation funds have been committed to the operation of the FSCs. In 2016, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) conducted a multicomponent evaluation designed to answer a number of questions concerning their operation and impact. As one component of the evaluation, the Center for State Child Welfare Data at Chapin Hall analyzed case management and administrative data to determine the impact of FSCs on the neighborhoods in which they are located and whether a neighborhood FSC is associated with lower rates of child welfare maltreatment investigations.

    Key Findings

    • Preventing child abuse and neglect: The FSC neighborhoods showed lower-than-expected rates of child abuse and neglect investigations than the matched neighborhoods without an FSC.
    • Fostering supportive relationships: Family members active in FSCs were found to be establishing informal support relationships and networks through their participation in the FSC.
    • Engaging high-risk families: Two-thirds of families participating in the Parents as Teachers program met the definition of high risk.

    About Family Support Centers

    By design, every FSC is unique, reflecting the needs and interests of the individual community. However, all are based on the philosophy that parents are a child's first and most important teachers. At a minimum, every FSC works with parents and children to provide prenatal care, early childhood development, school readiness, parental skill building, and parent support in a safe and welcoming environment.

    FSCs provide drop-in and scheduled programming and socialization opportunities as well as evidence-based home visiting. Centers may also offer or partner with agencies that provide one or more of the following activities: afterschool and summer programs for youth, career readiness training, concrete goods, counseling, child care, Head Start or Early Head Start, English as a second language and literacy programs, food bank access, transportation, and father support groups.

    The Evaluation

    The evaluation utilized both quantitative and qualitative data-collection methods and included five domains: family engagement, connections to social services, early childhood development and school readiness, maternal and infant health, and child abuse and neglect.

    A full report on the evaluation (An Evaluation of the Family Support Center Network), including a summary of the findings from the Center for State Child Welfare Data's analysis, was published by DHS in 2016. It includes an extensive discussion of the FSC network as well as the purpose, function, and structure of family support. Evaluation findings are provided in each domain, with positive findings found in three key areas: preventing child abuse and neglect, fostering support relationships, and engaging high-risk families.

    More recently, a detailed report about the impact on child maltreatment was published by the Center for State Child Welfare Data (Do Family Support Centers Reduce Maltreatment Investigations? Evidence From Allegheny County). The investigators examined administrative data at the neighborhood level to determine whether the presence of an FSC was associated with lower rates of child welfare maltreatment investigations. Looking at first investigations from 2009 through 2013, they asked three questions:

    1. How is the investigation rate related to the level of social disadvantage?
    2. How is the investigation rate related to the presence of an FSC?
    3. How are the investigation rate, the level of social disadvantage, and the presence of an FSC interrelated?

    Because the connection between child welfare investigation rates and social disadvantage is well established in the literature, we would expect the investigation rate to be higher in areas with higher levels of social disadvantage. In the simplest terms, we expect lower rates of investigation in areas with an FSC because the FSC alters the balance of risk and protective factors at the community level such that communities with an FSC are less dependent on the front door of the child protection system as a mechanism of child protection. The evaluation supported these assumptions; areas within Allegheny County served by FSCs had fewer maltreatment investigations once the level of social disadvantage and population size were considered.

    Conclusion

    The evaluation provides evidence that FSCs are associated with lower rates of child welfare investigations. It also demonstrates that FSCs are effective in reaching the highest-risk families in specific evidence-based programming and in helping families develop natural support networks that enhance their stability. These findings alone provide a rationale for continued investment in the FSC network. Nevertheless, additional research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms at work and to assess whether FSCs have a further role to play in reducing the length of child welfare involvement or decreasing the number of subsequent reports of maltreatment.
     

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News From the Children's Bureau

We highlight a handbook by the Prevention Services Clearinghouse that describes the standards for identifying and reviewing prevention programs, guiding principles for court teams working with young children involved in child welfare, and the latest updates to the CB website.

  • Guiding Principles for Court Teams Working With Infants, Toddlers, and Families in Child Welfare

    Guiding Principles for Court Teams Working With Infants, Toddlers, and Families in Child Welfare

    The Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams developed a series of principles for infant-toddler court teams—and for the wider child welfare field—to incorporate into their practice. These principles are meant to help create a caring and thoughtful environment for children and families involved in the child welfare system, particularly as they move through the courts, and provide professionals with a solid framework to improve their practice.

    This resource highlights the following 10 guiding principles:

    • Build strong families and healthy communities for very young children.
    • Respect and honor family and community strengths, vulnerabilities, and diversity.
    • Ensure equity for infants, toddlers, and families.
    • Commit to social justice for all infants, toddlers, and families.
    • Demonstrate an attitude of self-awareness, respect, and humility toward diverse points of view.
    • Build genuine relationships based on mutual trust and respect.
    • Practice openness in a dynamic learning system with an understanding that everyone has a contribution to make.
    • Maintain transparency in research and evaluation that is relevant and useful for the community.
    • Empower communities to improve programs and transform systems.
    • Improve practice by bringing the science of early childhood development into the courtroom.

    Many of the principle descriptions also include questions to answer, vignettes that provide a clearer picture of how implementing the principles can guide practice, and links to useful resources. Professionals can use the questions related to each principle to help guide discussions within groups and organizations.

    From Standard to Practice: Guiding Principles for Professionals Working With Infants, Toddlers, and Families in Child Welfare is available at https://bit.ly/2uhUCic (363 KB).



     

  • Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook Details Standards for Identifying, Reviewing Programs

    Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook Details Standards for Identifying, Reviewing Programs

    The Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse, created by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issued a handbook that describes standards for identifying and reviewing prevention programs and services and outlines procedures for clearinghouse staff.

    The Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse—mandated by the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) of 2018—was created to conduct systematic reviews of the programs and services intended to support children and families and prevent foster care placements. It was developed to be an objective source of information on evidence-based programs that might be eligible for funding under title IV-E of the Social Security Act, as amended by FFPSA. The Prevention Services Clearinghouse rates programs and services as promising, supported, or well-supported practices.

    The handbook lays out the following review processes:

    • Identify programs and services for review using an inclusive process that invites recommendations from stakeholders to ensure comprehensive coverage across program or service areas.
    • Select and prioritize programs and services for review based on the program or service eligibility criteria.
    • Conduct literature searches to locate relevant research on prioritized programs and services.
    • Study eligibility screening and prioritization. Studies identified in the literature searches are screened against the study eligibility criteria. Those deemed eligible for review are considered against prioritization criteria to determine the order and depth of review.
    • Review evidence. Eligible studies are reviewed by trained reviewers using the Prevention Services Clearinghouse standards and labeled with one of three ratings: high, moderate, or low support of causal evidence.
    • Rate programs and services. One of four service ratings (well-supported, supported, promising, or does not currently meet criteria) is assigned to studies that are rated as having high or moderate support of causal evidence.

    The Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook of Standards and Procedures is available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/resource/the-prevention-services-clearinghouse-handbook-of-standards-and-procedures.

    To learn more about the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse, visit https://preventionservices.abtsites.com/.
     

  • Children's Bureau Honors MaryLee Allen

    Children's Bureau Honors MaryLee Allen

    MaryLee Allen, director of policy at the Children's Defense Fund, passed away on June 13, 2019. For over 40 years, Ms. Allen led the way in shaping advocacy for children's welfare, health, and safety. She also strongly influenced federal child welfare policy, including the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. Her most recent work involved ensuring the passage and effective implementation of the landmark Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018.

    In 2017, Ms. Allen received the Child Welfare Leadership Prize from the Juvenile Law Center. The Leadership Prize recognizes individuals who have done outstanding work in fighting for the rights of children and youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

    To honor Ms. Allen's tireless efforts, the Children's Defense Fund created the MaryLee Allen Fund for Child Advocacy for those who wish to contribute to the continuation of Ms. Allen's important work of putting children first and making sure their voices are heard. 

     

  • 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.
     

Child Welfare Research

Read about how interdisciplinary law approaches can help families both inside and outside the courtroom and improve child welfare outcomes, how afterschool programs help to strengthen protective and promotive factors for youth, and how innovative technologies can help increase an organization's capacity.

  • The Use of Innovative Technologies in Child Welfare Services

    The Use of Innovative Technologies in Child Welfare Services

    Agencies and organizations are increasingly turning to technology to better meet the needs of and improve outcomes for children and families involved in child welfare. New technologies and innovations can increase an organization's capacity; however, they also come with their own unique challenges, often requiring substantial changes to systems, casework practice and protocols, policies, and more.

    The Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS) final rule promotes using technology for innovation and agility and has given title IV-E agencies more freedom in the technology they use, including off-the-shelf products. Previously, information technology systems went through lengthy design periods and were difficult to change and update.

    A research summary from the Southern Area Consortium highlights the use of the following technologies:

    • Cloud and web-based information systems and case management tools—These include the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System and CCWIS tools, the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise, and child maltreatment online reporting systems for receiving child abuse and neglect reports.
    • Mobile technologies—Mobile tools can help families involved in child welfare understand, access, use and maintain their benefits. In addition, mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, support child welfare professionals by improving the timeliness and accuracy of documentation and ensuring access to critical information while in the field. Tablets and apps are also being optimized for use in child welfare.

    The summary includes examples of emerging and existing technologies being used in foster parent recruitment and retention efforts, predictive analytics, online resource portals for youth and families, and more. Child welfare professionals and agencies can use this research summary to learn about what their peers are doing in the field, gain insight into what is successful, hear about lessons learned, and learn how to access some of the tools and technologies.

    Research Summary: Innovative Technologies in Child Welfare Services is available at https://theacademy.sdsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/innovative-technology-in-cw-may-2018.pdf (1,510 KB).

     

  • Research Addresses Afterschool Program Practices That Support Positive Youth Development

    Research Addresses Afterschool Program Practices That Support Positive Youth Development

    Child Trends issued a white paper for policymakers in afterschool programming that looks at evidence-based practices that support positive youth development and affect substance use patterns, potential problem behaviors, and academic performance in children and adolescents—issues that are often magnified in youth with child welfare involvement. The goal is to show how afterschool programs can promote practices that will benefit youth. 

    The paper summarizes findings related to a literature review, evidence-informed practices, and the development of a conceptual model for afterschool programs. Child welfare stakeholders can use the model to strengthen the protective and promotive factors associated with positive youth development and improve outcomes related to substance use, behaviors, and academic performance.

    Based on the literature review, the following protective and promotive factors showed the most promise in supporting the development of positive outcomes:

    • Community and school factors (e.g., a sense of belongingness, participation in structured youth programs and extracurricular activities)
    • Peer factors (e.g., association with positive peers, supportive and nonjudgmental friendships)
    • Parental or other caregiver support (e.g., positive parenting, clear and consistent rules and expectations)
    • Individual factors (e.g., self-esteem, self-regulation, self-efficacy/agency, problem solving, interpersonal skills)

    The evidence-informed practices that showed promise for building these factors in the afterschool context included intentional organizational practices that support the daily implementation of high-quality programs; high-quality learning environments that provide youth with a safe, supportive environment as well as a variety of high-quality learning opportunities within the afterschool setting; supportive and nurturing youth-staff interactions; and a focus on youth skills development that further supports the development of youth's individual level factors. 

    Findings from the review suggest that afterschool programs that engage in practices that support high-quality learning environments, build supportive and nurturing relationships with youth, and engage in activities that focus on youth skills development can help youth avoid negative outcomes, such as substance use and behavior problems, as well as promote positive outcomes, such as improved academic performance.

    LA's BEST: Protective Factors Afterschool Project April 2018-December 2018, White Paper 1, Promising Practices for Building Protective and Promotive Factors to Support Positive Youth Development in Afterschool is available at http://www.cgu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Berry_LAsBest_WhitePaper.pdf (1,020 KB).
     

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.

  • Webinar Highlights Funding for Interventions Through Family First Law

    Webinar Highlights Funding for Interventions Through Family First Law

    A webinar from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the William T. Grant Foundation highlights the funding streams available under the Family First Prevention Services Act to implement and maintain evidence-based child welfare programs. The Family First Act provides funding for evidence-based family preservation services to prevent children from entering foster care. The law shifts funding from foster care to prevention and family preservation services and prioritizes family-based placements when children require out-of-home care.

    "Funding Evidence-Based Programs in Child Welfare: Implications of the Family First Prevention Services Act" is the second webinar in a four-part series called Leading With Evidence: Informing Practice With Research. The webinar highlights implementation efforts and lessons learned from nine child welfare systems (New York City; Allegheny County, PA; Catawba County, NC; Colorado; Connecticut; New Jersey; North Carolina; Ohio; and Washington) that have funded and sustained evidence-based programs. The most common type of evidence-based programs implemented by these systems pertain to prevention (e.g., Triple P, Safe Care, Strengthening Families), behavior management (e.g., functional family therapy, multisystemic therapy), and therapeutic services (e.g., child-parent psychotherapy, parent-child interaction therapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy).

    The webinar also presents a case study of a North Carolina program that has allocated an increasing amount of resources to help families stay together.

    The webinar is available at https://www.aecf.org/blog/funding-evidence-based-programs-in-child-welfare-with-the-family-first.
     

     

  • Sustaining Evidence-Based Programs

    Sustaining Evidence-Based Programs

    The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare produced a factsheet intended for senior child welfare leaders and managers that focuses on ways to sustain evidence-based programs (EBPs). Based on the Exploration, Preparation, Implementation, and Sustainment framework, which proposes that sustainability is the ultimate goal of implementation efforts, the factsheet outlines the following five components of sustainability:

    • Plan for sustainability at the outset of implementation—Agencies should conduct a needs assessment and identify EBPs that can meet those needs. Those EBPs are then assessed to ensure that they are the right fit for the agency and that the agency can meet the requirements of the programs.
    • Develop a strategic climate for implementation—Leaders should be knowledgeable about the EBP being implemented, anticipate any roadblocks to implementation, be supportive of direct service providers, and persevere through any obstacles encountered during implementation.
    • Collaborate with external partners—Agencies should pursue effective collaborations in which partners share values, goals, and the commitment to the EBP and allow for problem solving and resource sharing.
    • Expect, support, and reward EBP use—Leaders should positively reinforce the use of EBPs within their organizations by developing strategies and policies that actively create the expectation that the EBP should be used, provide the support needed to use it, and reward staff who use it.
    • Address staff turnover—Because EBP sustainability is highly influenced by staff turnover, leaders should address issues that lead to turnover and support factors associated with lower turnover, such as higher self-efficacy, lower emotional exhaustion, supervisor and coworker support, salary, and benefits.

    The factsheet also addresses continuous quality improvement and links to relevant recorded webinars and technical assistance materials.

    Considerations for Sustaining Evidence-Based Programs is available at https://www.cebc4cw.org/files/CEBCConsiderations4Sustainability.pdf (1,246 KB).
     

  • Using Data and Evaluation to Drive Decisions and Make Improvements During a Change and Implementation Process

    Using Data and Evaluation to Drive Decisions and Make Improvements During a Change and Implementation Process

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    People use data everyday: They use it to search for online reviews before selecting a restaurant; compare features and functionality when buying a car; and track steps, calories burned, and progress toward fitness goals.

    Data—particularly reliable and accessible data—can contribute to informed decision-making. As with everyday activities, this is true in the course of implementing programs or practices to serve children, youth, and families. Data help implementation teams uncover the root causes of agency problems or needs so they can fully understand the issues. Data also help teams compare program options when selecting an appropriate solution to address the problem. Moreover, data can be invaluable during implementation as part of evaluation to help teams understand if their efforts are on track and guide needed adjustments.

    A new brief from the Capacity Building Center for States, Change and Implementation in Practice: Monitoring, Evaluating, and Applying Findings, offers step-by-step guidance for collecting, analyzing, and using data effectively during a change and implementation process.

    Three Key Considerations

    The brief underscores three themes related to using data and conducting evaluations of new programs and practices:

    • Continuous learning. Data analysis and evaluation can contribute to feedback loops that highlight lessons learned, which in turn can contribute to program improvements. Continuous learning requires an agency culture that is open to taking a close and transparent look at what's working and what's not.
    • Collaboration. Child welfare teams often need to partner with experienced evaluators or data analysts. Evaluation assistance may be available from agency continuous quality improvement or data leads, local universities, or the Center for States (see the Center's site for contact information for liaisons). In addition, teams benefit from considering multiple perspectives and working collaboratively with varied stakeholders—including system partners, community providers, and families and youth—to identify questions of interest and interpret findings and their implications.
    • Capacity. Agencies will typically need to build data and evaluation capacity over time. This may include increasing staff knowledge and skills on data and evaluation topics (find some resources below), forging partnerships, developing easy-to-use processes and tools, and fostering a culture that embraces data and learning.

    Formative Evaluation

    Formative evaluation uses data and feedback loops to refine an intervention and promote effective implementation of the program or practice. It applies systematic methods to collect, analyze, and use data for the purpose of guiding improvements. Formative evaluation can help program managers and implementation teams explore what is working well, what is not working, and what needs to change. For example, if data indicate that program activities are not being implemented as intended, what added supports might help (e.g., practice guidelines, training, coaching)? If services are not reaching family members, how can identified barriers be addressed?

    As part of a formative evaluation, teams can work with evaluators to identify which data sources can best answer their questions (e.g., administrative data, feedback from staff delivering services or family members receiving them), how to collect data (e.g., through case reviews, surveys, focus groups), and how to analyze and share data to provide credible and meaningful evidence. From there, teams apply findings, particularly in making decisions about what to continue doing, when to adapt, or when to stop.

    While formative evaluation requires deliberate steps, it does not have to be a lengthy process. Some agencies are looking at faster ways to collect data and apply findings within rapid cycle learning approaches.

    See the following for more information on using data and evaluation to inform improvements:

     

  • Sustainable Change Is Built on a Foundation of Well-Aligned Culture and Climate

    Sustainable Change Is Built on a Foundation of Well-Aligned Culture and Climate

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    To protect the well-being of children and families, child welfare agencies must adapt to meet new challenges and the changing needs of the families and communities they serve. The stakes are high, and decisions made by child welfare agencies have far-reaching and long-lasting implications for all involved. For these reasons and more, the health of child welfare agencies should be a top priority.

    One aspect of organizational health is an agency's culture and climate. Organizational culture refers to the shared behavioral expectations and norms in a work environment (Glisson, 2015). This is the collective view of "the way work is done." Organizational climate represents staff perceptions of the impact of the work environment on the individual (Glisson, 2015). This is the view of "how it feels" to work at the agency.

    Examining an organization's health through the lens of culture and climate provides vital information on an organization's ability and readiness to take on new initiatives, partner with families, and collaborate effectively with stakeholders to improve outcomes and better meet family needs (Capacity Building Center for States, n.d.b.).

    Subdimensions of Organizational Culture and Climate

    Three subdimensions of culture and climate, highlighted below, can provide child welfare agencies with important context for thinking about how culture and climate can support or hinder a new program or initiative (James Bell Associates & ICF, 2015; Capacity Building Center for States, n.d.a.).

    • Leadership vision and commitment—This refers to the view provided from the top, including agency leaders' commitment to a new practice or program and their communication of intended change to stakeholders. For example, imagine an agency decides to add a program with peer-to-peer support for parents. Have agency leaders prioritized this program? Have they communicated the benefits of involving parents formerly receiving child welfare services in a program to support parents currently receiving services? Have they aligned it with other ongoing initiatives?
    • Organizational norms, values, and purpose—This refers to written and unwritten guidance and expectations for how workers behave and how things are done in the organization. Does the new peer-to-peer support program align with the agency's stated mission and goals? Do staff value parents' voices and expertise? If not, what can be done to shift the culture to support the new program?
    • Workforce attitudes, morale, motivation, and buy-in—This refers to staff perceptions of the agency environment, programs, and practices. Is there frontline worker buy-in and motivation for the new program? Why or why not? What impact will that have on the program's success?

    Aligning Culture and Climate

    Looking at culture or climate alone only shows part of the organizational picture. Culture and climate must be understood in relation to each other.

    For example, if the organization values innovation and continuous improvement (culture) and agency staff feel they have a voice at all levels of the organization (climate), the organization is well positioned to implement new programs and practices effectively. Conversely, if the organization values innovation and continuous improvement (culture), but agency staff feel leaders and managers do not value their ideas and input or they are overwhelmed by existing workloads (climate), the organization will struggle to implement and sustain new programs and practices.

    Culture and climate are well aligned when agency leaders and managers create a culture that achieves the following:

    • Reflects core values
    • Sets clear expectations for how the work of the agency will be done and provides the resources needed for staff to do the work (e.g., training, manageable caseloads)
    • Recognizes excellence among staff

    As a result, the climate shifts so staff feel the following:

    • Clear about what is expected of them
    • Prepared to do the work
    • Appreciated for the work they do

    For more information on assessing and addressing culture and climate, visit the Becoming a Family-Focused System webpage on the Center for States website.

    References

    Capacity Building Center for States. (n.d.a.). A guide to five dimensions of organizational capacity. Retrieved from https://capacity.childwelfare.gov/states/topics/cqi/organizational-capacity-guide

    Capacity Building Center for States. (n.d.b.). Change and implementation in practice: Readiness. Retrieved from https://capacity.childwelfare.gov/states/topics/cqi/change-implementation/readiness

    Glisson C. (2015). The role of organizational culture and climate in innovation and effectiveness. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 39(4), 245-250. doi: 10.1080/23303131.2015.1087770

    James Bell Associates, & ICF. (2015). Identifying, defining, and assessing child welfare organizational capacities. Unpublished work, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau, Cross-Center Evaluation of Children's Bureau Capacity Building Services.
     

Resources

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

  • Top Parenting Resources From Psychologists

    Top Parenting Resources From Psychologists

    Parents are eager for information that can help them better raise their children and address their concerns. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find reliable, accurate information on the internet. Child welfare professionals are in a unique position to point parents toward good information as part of their prevention work for at-risk families. The American Psychological Association (APA), compiled a list of evidence-based, scientifically supported sites, programs, and books for parents.

    Highlighted resources include the following:

    • Infoaboutkids.org is a clearinghouse for behavioral science information about children and adolescents and provides resources vetted by psychologists to ensure bias-free and accurate information.
    • Effectivechildtherapy.org is a website developed through a partnership between the APA and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies that offers information on symptoms and treatments for behavioral and mental health problems in children and youth. It helps parents answer the question, "Is this normal?"
    • The ACT Raising Safe Kids Program is an 8-week course developed by the APA's Violence Prevention Office that teaches parenting skills that create nurturing family environments and help prevent children's exposure to abuse. There is also a program for professionals.
    • ABCs of Child Rearing is a free, online parenting course that consists of 20 how-to videos with techniques to help parents address problem behaviors.
    • Resilience Booster: Parent Tip Tool is a website that provides tips for parents on building resilience and dealing with negative experiences.
    • Magination Press, which is part of the APA, offers more than 180 children's books for practitioners, parents, and caregivers to guide children though some of the challenges they may face growing up. While some are meant for professionals to use during practice, many are meant for children and parents to read together.

    Visit the Top Parenting Resources From Psychologists webpage at https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/04/parenting-resources.

     

  • Prevention Tool for Families at Risk of Child Welfare Involvement

    Prevention Tool for Families at Risk of Child Welfare Involvement

    The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTAC) offers practice guides for families to assist practitioners and families supporting young children with, or at risk for, developmental delays or disabilities. Because children with disabilities are three times more likely to experience abuse and neglect than their peers without disabilities, the guides may be a useful primary prevention tool for families at risk for child welfare involvement. The practice guides contain checklists and guidance materials for practitioners to share with families.

    ECTAC's comprehensive, evidence-informed practice guides for families cover the following topics, as recommended by the Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children: assessment, environment, family issues, instruction, parent-child interaction, teaming and collaboration, and transition (e.g., from hospital to home, from early intervention to preschool special education services, from preschool to kindergarten). They include guidance related to learning activities, family supports and resources, behaviors, mutual play, and special education.

    The guides also explain the importance of the practices, illustrate practices with vignettes and videos, describe how to do a practice, and include indicators to know if a practice is working.

    The Practice Guides for Families series can be found at http://ectacenter.org/decrp/type-pgfamily.asp.
     

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.