This month's issue of CBX highlights National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the importance of supporting and strengthening families. Read a message from Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, and David Kelly, special assistant to the Associate Commissioner, that emphasizes channeling the energy garnered by special initiatives and awareness efforts into actions that strengthen families in ways that enable them to care for their children safely. The issue also provides important guidance from the Children's Bureau regarding the coronavirus pandemic, including messages from Jerry Milner to child welfare and legal and judicial leaders focusing on ensuring the safety and well-being of children during these trying times.
- How Can Civil Legal Aid Help Keep Families Together and Kids Out of Foster Care?
By Karlee M. Naylon, research associate, and Karen A. Lash, practitioner in residence, American University, Department of Justice, Law, and Criminology, The Justice in Government Project
To answer the question posed in the title, there are many ways civil legal aid can keep families together. Legal interventions can offer often untapped tools to address abuse and neglect and reduce its prevalence in families at risk of child welfare involvement.
See the law in the problem. The most common problems families face—such as eviction, domestic violence, barriers to employment, family law problems, and lack of access to or erroneous denials of public benefits or health care—often have legal solutions. But studies show that most people see these problems as personal problems or bad luck. They don't recognize the good that a lawyer's intervention could do.
A parent's inability to resolve complex legal issues associated with poverty too often presents as "failure to act" in the neglect context. When children are removed from their homes, studies show that legal representation can improve the rate of family reunification, double the speed to a child's adoption or legal guardianship, and result in better outcomes for children and families as well as substantial savings for government coffers. Studies also demonstrate how civil legal aid can prevent removal by proactively addressing families' underlying legal problems before they cascade into crises.
Use legal help to prevent neglect. The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 aims to resolve issues that destabilize families in order to prevent children in those families from entering or remaining in foster care. In December 2018, the Children's Bureau clarified its support for state and local child welfare agencies opting to incorporate legal services alongside other supportive services. The new Question and Answer 30 found in the Child Welfare Policy Manual allows title IV-E state agencies to seek partial reimbursement for legal representation "for a child who is a candidate for title IV-E foster care or in foster care and his/her parent to prepare for and participate in all stages of foster care legal proceedings, such as court hearings related to a child's removal from the home." This revision can help ensure that reasonable efforts are made to prevent removal.
What the researchers say. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System report for fiscal year 2018, neglect (62 percent) was the top circumstance associated with children's removal from the home. Neglect generally refers to the inability of a parent or caregiver to meet a child's basic needs, putting them at risk of harm. The following are examples of studies and data showing how legal aid can help prevent or redress some legal problems that may otherwise lead to removal:
- Many states have published reports documenting legal aid organizations' effectiveness in helping people access benefits by helping families apply for or appeal erroneous denials of services and benefits, such as the Children's Health Insurance Program, home energy assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- Studies show the effectiveness of civil legal interventions to stabilize a family experiencing domestic violence, such as helping survivors file a protection order, secure child custody, finalize a divorce, and obtain employment and housing.
- Effective reasonable efforts related to housing may include offering legal representation to parents at risk of eviction or foreclosure or pushing landlords to redress unlawful unsanitary conditions to improve a child's related health problems.
- Research shows that legal help to open pathways to mental or behavioral health services can prevent removals due to behavioral problems and caretakers' inability to cope.
- Studies show that lawyers can help parents with alcohol or substance use disorders access treatment through medical-legal partnerships or by challenging improper Medicaid denials.
- Researchers found that providing legal aid to help people expunge or seal their criminal records increased employment rates and wages and reduced recidivism. It can also improve job prospects by helping to reinstate a suspended driver's license or prevent the need for wage garnishment by modifying a child support order to reflect an individual's actual ability to pay.
Federal funds are available. Title IV-E funds can become a lifeline to legal representation that can help prevent removal, shorten a child's stay in foster or kinship care, and stabilize low-income families. Other federal funding options can also tackle legal needs related to health, education, employment, housing, and domestic violence that can trigger child welfare involvement.
States receive a significant influx of federal grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Labor to implement particular policies and programs that allow states to fund civil legal aid. These state-administered "pass-through" funds are curated and collected in The Justice in Government Project's Grants Matrix.
Funding that intersects with the needs of families involved with or at risk of entering the child welfare system include the following:
- HHS says state and local TANF administrators can use funds for legal aid for low-income families in ways that further TANF's goals.
- HHS's State Opioid Response grants, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program, and Community Mental Health Services Block Grant program have all been used to support legal aid that facilitates prevention and treatment services, as well as to support children who have a parent with a substance use disorder.
- The rule for DOJ's Victims of Crime Act Victim Assistance Formula Grant Program clarifies that state administrators can use funds for legal assistance for victims of child abuse and neglect and their kinship caregivers, as well as for elder abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes that may precipitate removal.
Bottom line: You can do this. Passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act and the Children's Bureau's landmark allowance for legal representation reimbursement signal transformational change for parents, children, and the child welfare professionals who serve them. They bring child welfare financing into alignment with research-informed practices to keep children in their homes whenever safe and possible. If a child must be removed from their home, these policies keep reunification and permanency within reach by supporting legal representation. We must now ensure that all states rise to the Children's Bureau's challenge and take full advantage of title IV-E legal representation reimbursement and other federal funding opportunities so that every family in need of high-quality legal representation can get it.
This article was adapted from "Using Legal Aid to Keep Families Together and Prevent Child Welfare Involvement," published in the spring 2020 edition of The Guardian, the National Association of Counsel for Children's quarterly law journal.
- Choose Compassion When Supporting Parents
Written by Shrounda Selivanoff, social service specialist and birth parent advocate, Washington State Office of Public Defense, Seattle, WA
Keeping families together should be of paramount importance to us all. The old way of thinking that children do better in out-of-home care has shifted. Now we recognize that the majority of families do far better when children stay in their homes rather than enter foster care, which can lead to additional trauma.
The latest Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System statistics show a downward trend in children entering care from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2018 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau, 2019). This may be attributed to the availability of federal funding assistance that can help make resources, such as substance use and mental health treatments, more accessible to families that need them. While various supports and services may be more accessible, some parents are hesitant to access them, as they may find it difficult to trust a system that historically removes children and find the contact they have with it lacks the compassion and empathy they seek.
Based on my experience, the hardest thing for anyone to do in life is ask for help. For many, asking for help feels like there is an implicit admission that you have failed or are otherwise lacking in some way. We must recognize the imperative need for a complete overhaul of the way we interact with people who find themselves in a state of crisis and in need of assistance. Families are resilient, and with the proper assistance, a vast majority can recover without crisis-driven interventions that produce and exasperate trauma.
Families involved with child welfare do not need to be fixed; they need to be healed. A healing approach recognizes that people are often overwhelmed by their circumstances and prioritizes their emotional stability. Crucial to this approach is acknowledging that circumstances are often out of a family's control and refusing to shame or blame parents in need. By granting dignity to a parent, we avoid creating more stressors and trauma for people who are already in crisis.
Although it can be easy to focus on addressing a family in crisis by presenting concrete resources, it is also essential to fulfill their basic human need to experience compassion, understanding, and positive engagement. Recognizing and tending to families' emotional needs, in my opinion, is more effective than providing concrete goods or funds. The people families encounter on their journey—such as providers, clinicians, and other professionals—should be viewed as valuable resources in helping improve well-being.
During my journey through the child welfare system, clinicians and professionals were the change agents that produced a permanent alteration in my beliefs and behaviors. Their tireless efforts in helping me see my value transformed the way I saw myself as a mother and as a significant and valuable contributor to the world around me. I learned to see myself as a purposeful mother, grandmother, employee, community member, and advocate. These professionals helped me end a generational cycle of abandonment, poverty, neglect, and abuse and prevented the next generation from enduring such conditions. The cycle ended because I was able to access treatment and, in doing so, encounter those who would provide me with the connections I had been missing for a substantial part of my life.
When families seek resources, let us remove punitive barriers and challenges in favor of accessibility that takes into consideration the hardships of the individuals seeking help. Let us change the way we see and talk about helping families and ensure that our efforts build their capacity for hope. If a child asked for support, we would comply without any hesitation. Why does our activation change so drastically when asked by the child's mother or father? Let us be as motivated for parents as we are for children and acknowledge the importance of keeping families together.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau. (2019). The AFCARS report: Preliminary FY 2018 estimates as of August 22, 2019 (No. 26). https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/afcars-report-26
- The Need for a Prevention Throughline in Family Policy
Written by Melissa D. Carter, Emory Law School, Barton Child Law and Policy Center
Child maltreatment is preventable. Yet, according to the Children's Bureau, an estimated 4.3 million reports of suspected child abuse and neglect were made to state child protective services agencies across the United States in 2018, and more than 437,000 children are in foster care across the country. The Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First Act) attempts to change the child welfare narrative by inviting state governments to take a more robust prevention role, but that law alone will not guarantee different results. The Family First Act is celebrated for its targeted focus on some of the leading drivers for removal and entry into foster care—parental substance use, lack of parenting skills and child development knowledge, and child and parent mental health. The act does not, however, offer a strategy for combating poverty-related child neglect. Parents will still need financial support, child care, and affordable housing. So, as advocates for parents, children, and families, we cannot be content with the Family First Act. To improve outcomes for children and families, the overall strategic direction for preventing maltreatment must carry through all policies affecting vulnerable families, particularly those that address economic security.
Economic security policies positively impact the health and functioning of families by offsetting poverty and financial stress. This impact may be the greatest for young children, as demonstrated by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and work exploring the long-term effects of early adversity on lifelong health conducted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and others. Put simply, increasing families' incomes helps them meet their basic needs and promotes child health and well-being into adulthood. Economic security policies can change the broad social conditions that affect the susceptibility of children and families to the stressors of poverty. And, when those environmental conditions improve, so too does the quality and health of relationships between parents and children. Children's needs for basic necessities, supervision, and nurturance are better able to be met.
As it turns out, 62 percent of children in foster care were removed for neglect. That data point has remained relatively consistent over time. Because of the breadth and vagueness of the neglect category, we may not know how much of that neglect is related to poverty, but we do know, more often than not, that the inability of parents to meet the basic needs of their children has a financial dimension. Yet, while the Family First Act is opening up federal funding to support certain evidence-based strategies for prevention for children at imminent risk of entering the foster care system, family economic security programs are becoming more restricted. A leading example is the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program.
In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Opportunity Reconciliation Act (popularly referred to as "welfare reform") replaced the former Aid to Families With Dependent Children with the TANF block grant. The aim of the program is to help families achieve self-sufficiency, and it provides direct benefits to families in financial need. Because of the program's design, states have significant control over certain implementation aspects, including work requirements, work waivers, eligibility criteria, and time limits. Thus, state regulation affects the percentage of people who qualify and receive benefits, as well as the services available. As you might imagine, some states are more restrictive than others. Even accounting for those differences, benefits in every state are at or below 60 percent of the poverty line, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Over time, TANF's reach has declined, providing benefits to fewer families in poverty due to state-imposed restrictions and loss of purchasing power due to inflation. And additional cuts and further programmatic restrictions have been proposed at the federal level. As this and other critical pieces of the economic safety net for families have been shrinking, more of the burden to support families falls to the child welfare system.
In its formation, all public policy is ultimately about people, perspectives, and politics. It is about how evidence, data, reason, and values translate to the knowledge that informs expectations for behavioral and social norms. For stakeholders of the child welfare system, public policy sets the parameters for outcomes for families and children, the capacity and functionality of service-delivery systems, and the integrity of the court process. The present outcomes of the child welfare system are not inevitable, and the families served by the child welfare system are not loopholes to be closed. A growing body of evidence is available to inform strategies and practices to prevent child abuse and neglect, but our results will continue to be limited by our policy pathways without a consistent prevention throughline.
Research points to particular characteristics of individuals and families and certain conditions of community and society that, when strengthened, reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. These protective factors, as they are called, correspond to and counteract the individual, relational, community, and societal factors that are known to create risk of harm for children. Parents and children need supportive family environments and social connections that foster resilience, provide emotional and informational support, and help them manage stress and navigate adversity. Parents also need some understanding of child development and strategies for supporting their children to grow, communicate, and form healthy relationships. They also need concrete supports and access to services to help them meet the needs of their family. In a way, this growing body of research offers no new insight. We are all parents, partners, and members of families, and lived experience has taught us the same truths. Those truths are what power the prevention narrative, and to achieve the prevention goal, those truths must resound in all policies impacting families.
- My Community Cares: A Multitiered, Multidisciplinary, and Neighborhood-Driven Approach to Preventing
My Community Cares: A Multitiered, Multidisciplinary, and Neighborhood-Driven Approach to Preventing
Written by the Honorable John C. Davidson, 9th Judicial District Court, Alexandria, LA, and Michelle Gros, J.D., special projects coordinator, Pelican Center for Children and Families and Louisiana Court Improvement Program
Parents with lived experience with the child welfare system are informing and codesigning prevention efforts in four Louisiana parishes (Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Rapides). They are being asked, "What would have helped prevent the child welfare agency from getting involved with your family?"
Two parents replied with the following:
- "Before they went and just took my kids, I just needed someone to sit down with me and help me problem solve how to get out of the cycle of poverty, substance abuse, and depending on the government and get my life on track so that I could care for my kids."
- "Resources are hidden in the community even though there seems to be a lot out there. If you're lucky enough to find one, you either don't have transportation to get there or aren't bad enough off yet to be eligible. I wish I would have had something like a CASA for parents before my kids were taken from me. Someone who could relate to me and help me find what I needed to have a good home for my kids."
When setting out to prevent child abuse and neglect, it's tempting to choose a one-size-fits-all prevention program that works in one place or pile on the services communities appear to lack. But in Louisiana, local judges, the court improvement program (CIP), the Department of Children and Families (DCFS), and child welfare stakeholders decided to take a different approach through an initiative called My Community Cares (MCC). MCC allows parents with lived experience with the child welfare system, foster parents, youth formerly in foster care, and residents of neighborhoods with the highest concentration of entries into foster care to inform and codesign strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect in their community.
MCC is one of Louisiana's innovative program improvement program strategies created in response to the Children's Bureau's challenge to shift from a child welfare system that is reactive to one that is proactive in addressing child abuse and neglect. The overall mission of MCC is to prevent child abuse and neglect and the entry of children into foster care by partnering with communities to build their capacity to connect Louisiana's most vulnerable children and families to the supports and services they need to be safe, stable, and self-sufficient.
MCC is a multitiered, multidisciplinary, and neighborhood-driven approach designed to give equal power and decision-making to all community members at neighborhood, parish, and state levels. Evidence shows that the safety, permanency, and well-being of families is improved when the community itself becomes a resource, and community members are stakeholders in prevention efforts and child welfare system improvement. MCC is premised on assumptions that communities know the best solutions to their unmet needs and problems, each community has unique barriers to accessing services and supports, and one prevention approach will not work for all communities.
Judicial leadership is critical to the success of MCC. Judges are in unique positions of authority to convene and rally the communities they serve. The following is an account of MCC's impact in Rapides Parish from the Honorable John C. Davidson of the 9th Judicial District Court:
Even though the support of DCFS and the CIP is essential, in Rapides Parish, we are taking personal ownership of MCC to prevent child abuse and neglect from the ground up. Too many of our children are removed from their homes for abuse or neglect, and we are tired of not having the resources in place to address the true needs of the families that end up in our court. Once families are in court, the choices to help them are more restricted, and, in many cases, our best efforts are too late. For these reasons, our main focus is primary prevention. While foster care proceedings are confidential, MCC allows judges to bring the safety and health of children to the forefront of the community. It allows them to raise awareness around the root causes of child abuse and neglect seen over and over again in court and to do something about it.
MCC provides a structure for anyone to partner with us. Our partners have included DCFS, local government, mayors, police, parish and city council members, the Rapides Parish School System, the Louisiana Department of Health, service and health-care providers, nonprofits, district attorney's offices and other legal partners, the faith-based community, court-appointed special advocates, service providers, community members, and many more. MCC is impacting our discussions in court and in the community and changing our philosophy around how to truly serve and help preserve families before they hit that critical point that results in child abuse or neglect.
We are identifying needs by listening to people in neighborhoods where children are most vulnerable to child abuse and neglect. We ask them about the gaps in services and accessibility barriers they face; the unmet needs they have; and what they know families in their neighborhoods need to be safe, stable, and self-sufficient. We do this by conducting family needs assessments with residents and hosting block parties and community events and conversations in these neighborhoods.
From there, we identify service providers and community partners who can partner with the neighborhood residents to connect the needs of the community to the services, resources, and supports that can fill those gaps. We are also focusing on and codesigning one to two strategies and solutions with neighborhood residents and community partners to address gaps in services and accessibility barriers. In essence, we are starting small so that the community can look back and confidently say, "Yes, we did that together." At the same time, we set up a centralized and shared online platform to provide a resource directory, helping us identify gaps and providing collaborative space for community partners to organize teams, plan activities together, and communicate with one another.
Part of the success of MCC is the commitment of numerous partners to step up to the plate. A nonprofit called Fostering Community volunteered to help coordinate MCC, and the Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office and United Way of Central Louisiana volunteered to lead in implementing MCC in our priority neighborhoods. The superintendent of the Rapides Parish School System opened up the schools for the project to conduct family needs assessments and facilitate community conversations and events and started piloting a program in schools so that services and supports are readily available onsite for children and parents.
The most rewarding part of MCC is listening to the needs of the community—asking, "what can we do to help you?"—instead of telling them what they need. While preventing child abuse and neglect is an enormous goal, our efforts cannot fail because we are building trusting relationships with community partners and residents from the ground up, breaking down silos, and working more collaboratively and strategically than ever before to prevent child abuse and neglect in Rapides Parish.
If you haven't yet, it's time for you and your community to partner together and start somewhere.
- Buying a Bracelet Will Not Prevent Child Abuse
Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly
Designating a day or a month to draw attention to a cause has become a trend over the course of recent years. These days or months can be celebratory or somber. Depending on the intention and thoughtfulness of how such observances are designed, they can serve as important public service announcements that educate the public and inspire people to volunteer for a cause—or, yes, buy something to demonstrate their commitment. It's a strange merger of commerce and cause.
Rubber bracelets lead the way—one for each color of the rainbow, each representing something that somebody believes in or wishes to fight against. There are also days when we ask people to wear a certain color to demonstrate solidarity with an issue. These efforts make us feel good, and we congratulate ourselves for doing them. So, who or what, then, are we really helping?
Efforts such as these can lead to something valuable if they are accompanied with clear messaging of how to help or if they generate income that can go to making a difference in the lives of children and families. However, unless carefully constructed, such efforts can also lead to further demonization of poor families as well as the furthering of unhelpful narratives driven by emotion instead of data. These narratives can generate continued judgement and othering of vulnerable families and may impede the likelihood of moving our child welfare system in a new direction.
There is no question that awareness days or months can spark temporary action. We have seen studies that show marked increases in visits to websites following events or campaigns. There is no question that funds can be raised and that donations are made. It would also seem likely that volunteerism may increase. These are all beneficial actions and results. But, ultimately, our goal should be long-term, sustainable behavior change, and we should be very specific about whose behavior we want to change and how.
We fear that all too often such efforts begin and end with a fashion statement.
We need to do more than draw attention if we want to prevent child abuse. We also need to do more than wear or do something symbolic that broadcasts a caring image. If we are serious about preventing abuse (and not just drawing attention to the tragedy and trauma or asking people to look for it), we must actually do something to make it less likely to occur.
The single most important thing we can do is strengthen families in ways that enable them to care for their children safely, before their circumstances become dire and maltreatment is a possibility. We need to focus on the root causes of maltreatment, which is often linked to a family's poverty, and address those root causes in our supports to families.
We have an abundance of information about what leaves families vulnerable to maltreatment and an abundance of information about how to make it less likely to occur.
The behaviors we must seek to change are our own and those of elected officials who determine what resources we have available and how they can be used. To make child abuse less likely to occur, we need to invest in communities and invest in families. The writing is on the walls, and it is clear in our data and what we have learned through science. Yet, instead of making the necessary investments that will keep families and comminutes safe, resilient, and strong—and reduce the likelihood of so many of the vulnerabilities and challenges we work to address across systems—we remain stuck in the domain of stickers and bake sales.
Think of the difference we can make in the lives of children and families if we organize around the idea that all families need support sometimes and then make it available in nonstigmatic ways—in places that are not associated with government agencies. Governments can and should be very meaningful financial contributors to such efforts, but they should not be the face of them. In order to make those financial contributions and be serious about preventing child abuse and neglect, we need flexibility in our funding streams that will allow communities to provide needed supports to families before tragedy occurs.
We know that maltreatment most likely occurs when parental protective capacities are degraded or undeveloped. We know that lack of parenting experience and lack of knowledge and concrete supports leave parents more vulnerable to failing to adequately meet the needs of their children. We know that social isolation increases the likelihood that maltreatment may occur, and we know the stressors associated with poverty can also leave parents overwhelmed. Taken together, any combination of these factors can leave even the most loving parent vulnerable to poor decision-making, neglect, or worse.
Rather than short-term, episodic public attention to a cause de jour or cause of the month, we can make families and communities our constant cause; we can truly put them first. Putting them first means that we must address societal attitudes and values around parents and families who find themselves involved with the child welfare system—values that often lead us to devalue their worthiness of fundamental supports. Imagine if we changed our commemorative month celebrations and public displays from a negative prevention focus to a positive strengthening focus. When we can see families in a more humane way, we are more likely to prevent maltreatment by strengthening families' protective capacities than to persist in a child-rescue mentality. Making this change is not a 1-month-per-year activity. It is a full-time commitment.
If we channel half the energy that goes into well-intentioned, temporary causes and awareness efforts into a full-time coordinated effort to create the conditions for strong and thriving families and communities where children are free from harm, we will no longer need bracelets to signal that something is important and that we care about it. If we put a modicum of the effort we put into treating trauma into preventing trauma, our impact would be profound.
Our actions speak louder and more authentically than anything we can possibly display on our wrists or social media.
The question is whether we can break out of these patterns and ways of being. If we truly come together across causes, roles, and family-serving systems with a unified voice that demands it is time to address the root causes of family vulnerability and commit to unified action toward this common goal, we can move from drawing awareness to challenges to addressing them and from lip service to true service and from public displays to public action.
To do so, we must be comfortable with causing discomfort and stand up for families. If we do not have the courage to do so, we will continue to accumulate drawers and boxes full of bracelets and other useless trinkets to remind us of our unwillingness to act.
- Maintaining Emotional Connectedness While Physically Distant
Written by Melissa T. Merrick, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer, Prevent Child Abuse America
April showers signal new life, prosperity, and sunshine for the months to come. It is the perfect month to plant pinwheel gardens for child abuse and neglect prevention and to don our blue ribbons in support of our commitment for a bright, thriving future for children and families. Certainly, this April feels different—because it IS different. Images of an empty Times Square and National Mall seem like blockbuster movie sets, and the news of death counts and insufficient tests and medical supplies are equally cinematic (and barely conceivable just a few weeks ago). But, as we create social distance for the public's health, we must do something else for the public's health: we must not allow our physical distance to create emotional distance from our loved ones, support systems, and communities. Now, more than ever, we must stay emotionally connected if we are to truly protect children and strengthen families and communities.
Undoubtedly, in times of extreme economic and emotional stress and uncertainty such as these, the risk to our children for experiencing child abuse and neglect is quite high, and the likelihood that such experiences will go undetected is possibly even higher. Without the safe spaces and caring, supportive hearts, eyes, and hands that protect them from harm, children and families find themselves in an unprecedented, overwhelmingly precarious scenario. School and workplace closings increase stress in parents' and caregivers' lives. These closings can result in loss of income due to lack of paid leave and job loss; an unexpected or irregular need for child care, let alone affordable and available child care; and food insecurity when school meal programs and other valuable social resources become unavailable. With routine and consistency interrupted, our caregivers are trying to navigate virtual learning environments—if they even have access to such technology—while simultaneously performing remote work duties—if they are afforded such opportunity—while also trying to remain emotionally regulated and stable not just for themselves but for their children. And, our children find themselves with more unstructured, idle time or with developmentally naÃ¯ve understandings about what is happening in the world around them or, worse, an exact understanding of the unpredictability, instability, and fragility of life and circumstance.
We all want what's best for our children—for them to be happy, healthy, and safe. We want this for our communities and neighborhoods, too. Unfortunately, we have not always shared these same hopes and dreams and commitments to action for everybody's children, communities, and neighborhoods. While we are flattening the curve of this global public health pandemic, we are simultaneously exposing the gross inequities in our systems that give rise to the urgent public health crisis that is child abuse and neglect and other forms of adversity that plague our families, communities, and society at large.
When we create conditions for health and health equity—through supporting economic supports for families, for example—families and communities are strengthened and better equipped to be resilient and thrive after encountering even a sustained stressor, and our children are protected from harm. When we truly embrace the fact that we all have a role to play in assuring the public's health and well-being, everyone wins, not just children in my community or in my family but everyone. Indeed, we are more likely to achieve multiple public health goals if our children are healthier, and our children are more likely to be healthier if their parents are healthier. This intergenerational assertion can be supported through expansion of evidence-based home visitation programs, through family-friendly policies such as paid family and sick leave, and through providing concrete supports to families. Of course, we can all play a role, too, in checking in on family, friends, and neighbors; encouraging and maintaining routine and normalcy where we can; and taking a deep breath and a timeout when we need it amidst the chaos.
In recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let's physically distance yet remain emotionally connected to protect our own mental health and well-being—and our children's. Let's get creative to harness the collective impact we need to prevent early adversity and set our youth on a trajectory of lifelong and intergenerational health and prosperity, making them more resilient in the face of the global pandemic of their day.
Together, we can prevent child abuse, America, because childhood lasts a lifetime!
Prevent Child Abuse America's resources related to COVID-19, or coronavirus, can be found in the article, "Prevent Child Abuse America Provides Coronavirus Resources for Families and Professionals," in this issue's Resources section.
Spotlight on National Adoption Month
Spotlight on Creating a More Equitable Child Welfare System
News From the Children's Bureau
Read about the Children's Bureau's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including guidance on how to continue to support families during a time of social distancing and the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also included in this section are what's new for this year's National Child Abuse Prevention Month initiative and the 2019/2020 Prevention Resource Guide, a handbook explaining how the prevention services clearinghouse will review programs to determine their eligibility for title IV-E funding, a webpage that provides up-to-date information on title IV-E programs, and a brief listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.
- Virtual Town Hall for Older Youth in Foster Care on COVID-19
On March 19, 2020, the Children's Bureau, in collaboration with Think of Us, hosted a virtual town hall for older youth in foster care and child welfare leaders, including state commissioners and their staff. The virtual gathering focused on the immediate and pressing issues older youth in foster care are facing during this challenging time, including the closing of schools, colleges, and universities; meeting basic living needs; accessing medical and mental health services; navigating financial assistance issues; and obtaining or maintaining transportation, child care, and housing or shelter.
Dr. Milner assured the youth that they are at the front-and-center of the Children's Bureau's efforts in responding to the pandemic and that they will not be left in unsafe situations as a result of procedures and precautions states and local agencies adopt. To further these efforts, the Children's Bureau has called on state child welfare agencies to reach out to any young person who is faced with inadequate housing as a result of the closure of dormitories. The discussion also highlighted various other "flexibilities" that can help mitigate the hardship some older youth may experience as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Title IV-E Prevention Program Information Available on the Children's Bureau Website
The Children's Bureau website has the following pages that feature information on the Family First Prevention Services Act and the title IV-E prevention program:
- Title IV-E Prevention Program—This page includes a description of the program; the full text of the Social Security Act, as amended by P.L. 115-123; federal guidance in the form of Program Instructions, Information Memorada, and technical bulletins; the Child Welfare Policy Manual, which contains policy questions and answers applicable to child welfare programs operated by the Children's Bureau; and information about the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse, the title-IV prevention program 5-year plan, and Program Instructions related to the independent systematic reviews to claim transitional payments for title IV-E prevention services.
- Status of Submitted Title IV-E Prevention Program Five-Year Plans—This page provides information on evidence-based interventions that have been submitted by states.
- Status of Submitted Independent Systematic Reviews to Claim for Transitional Payments—This page provides information on the approval status for states' submitted programs.
These pages are regularly updated to provide the most up-to-date information.
- Federal Handbook Sets Standards for Reviewing Programs Designed to Keep Families Together
A handbook from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, which is housed within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explains how the federal prevention services clearinghouse will review programs for their eligibility for reimbursement. The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 directs ACF to establish the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse to systematically review research on programs and services designed to support children and families and prevent foster care placements. The clearinghouse was designed to rate programs and services—such as treatment and interventions for mental health and substance use disorders as well as kinship navigator and in-home parenting skills-based programs—as promising, supported, or well-supported. The clearinghouse is intended as an objective and transparent source of information on evidence-based practices that may be eligible for funding under title IV-E of the Social Security Act, as amended by the Family First Prevention Services Act.
The handbook lays out the following systematic review process:
- Relevant programs and services are identified (chapter 1).
- Programs and services are evaluated for eligibility and prioritized for review (chapter 2).
- Research studies of the prioritized programs and services are identified through a comprehensive literature search (chapter 3).
- Research studies are screened for eligibility and prioritized for review (chapter 4).
- The evidence in the eligible studies is reviewed (chapter 5).
- The following ratings are assigned to programs and services: well-supported, supported, promising, or does not currently meet criteria (chapter 6).
- Operational procedures for reviewing prevention programs and services are discussed (chapter 7).
Each study is assigned a trained reviewer who uses the design and execution standards described in the handbook. The reviewer assigns one of three ratings to the study to include in the clearinghouse database: high, moderate, or low support of causal evidence. The initial ratings will dictate the follow-up response (e.g., when a study receives a low causal evidence rating, the reviewer elevates it to a senior reviewer to confirm the rating or call for a second review).
For more information, refer to the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook of Standards and Procedures (PDF - 4,200 KB).
- Letter From Jerry Milner to Child Welfare Leaders Regarding COVID-19
Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, issued a letter for child welfare leaders (PDF - 444 KB) that provides adjustments that can help child welfare professionals continue to serve children and families while being mindful of and adhering to current public health guidelines.
The letter provides guidance on the following aspects of child welfare work:
- Although monthly caseworker visit requirements remain in place, these visits are to be conducted by videoconferencing.
- States currently implementing program improvement plans (PIPs) to address the results of their Child and Family Services Review may be eligible for extensions of their PIP deadlines of up to 1 year if compelling documentation of the need for such an extension is provided.
- For the health and well-being of all prospective reviewers and the general public, onsite title IV-E eligibility reviews are rescheduled.
- State and local child protective services agencies should follow the guidance of state and local public health officials with respect to conducting investigations at this time, including whether caseworkers should initiate in-person contact.
- Message on COVID-19 From the Children's Bureau
The Children's Bureau created a webpage with the latest information on COVID-19, which is caused by the coronavirus, that includes everyday preventive actions to avoid infection as well as the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how schools, caregivers, and the workforce can prepare and take action for COVID-19.
The Children's Bureau webpage also includes links to additional resources that provide guidance for social workers dealing with families affected by the virus and for caregivers to help them think about how an infectious disease outbreak might affect their family:
- COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families (Generations United)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) (National Association of Social Workers)
- Coronavirus Resources and Tips for Parents, Children & Others (Prevent Child Abuse America)
- Coronavirus: What Child Welfare Systems Need to Think About (The Chronical of Social Change)
- Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
- Coronavirus - COVID-19 Updates (Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families)
- April Is National Child Abuse Prevention Month
Every April, the Children's Bureau observes National Child Abuse Prevention Month (NCAPM) to raise public awareness of child abuse and neglect, recommit efforts and resources aimed at protecting children and strengthening families, and promote community involvement through activities that support the cause. The theme of this year's NCAPM initiative continues to mirror the theme of the 22nd National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect: "Strong and Thriving Families."
This year's campaign features several enhancements to the NCAPM website. The Spread the Word section added a suite of graphics that includes an NCAPM Facebook photo frame. The section also includes information such as key facts and statistics about child abuse prevention, and sample social media posts. The Video Gallery has been replaced with a Multimedia Gallery highlighting videos from Children's Bureau prevention efforts as well as a new podcast series that spotlights the work of several Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention grantees. Other additions to the NCAPM website include a feature that allows users to self-subscribe to receive NCAPM updates.
This year's initiative also highlights the 2019/2020 Prevention Resource Guide, which is intended to support community service providers in their work with parents, caregivers, and children to strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. It was developed through a partnership between the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect within the Children's Bureau, Child Welfare Information Gateway, and the FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention. The Prevention Resource Guide continues to focus on the protective factors and offers helpful tip sheet—available in English and Spanish—for parents and caregivers that build on family strengths and promote optimal child and youth development.
The information and resources available in the Prevention Resource Guide can be used all year to help professionals and families prevent maltreatment and work toward child and family well-being. For more information on NCAPM, or to view or order a copy of the 2019/2020 Prevention Resource Guide, visit the NCAPM website.
- This Is the Moment for Community
Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly
We are hearing about families and young people facing incredibly difficult situations every day. The public health crisis is exacerbating poverty and vulnerability. Families are more at risk as stress and anxiety rise and social isolation grows. Although we are working as diligently as we can to free up resources and permit new flexible federal funding, these efforts will be inadequate and too slow to meet the immediacy, depth, and breadth of need we know families are experiencing. It is deeply frustrating and deeply worrisome. The federal government will play an important part in meeting the challenge, but it cannot do it alone. We need more, and we need it sooner rather than later.
The frustration and despair can seem overwhelming. But, amid this crisis, there is reason for hope, and there are examples of individuals, communities, and organizations demonstrating the best we have among us.
It will require communities coming together to get through this, and it will require community efforts to prevent many of the challenges we are facing now from happening again. We will get through this together. We must learn from it together so we can be effective in supporting each other during times of crisis and normal times alike.
As is often the case in times of emergency and disaster, we are hearing about remarkable people doing whatever they can to help—things large and small. One example is a legal services attorney using her Amazon account to send food, diapers, formula, and other essentials to the families she represents to help them stem the tide of food insecurity while isolated and told to stay home from work. Another example is a church congregation working to find a home for a mother and her two young children following a very recent eviction—something that is made more difficult when we've been told to be socially distant and avoid contact with one another.
We have heard about community-based prevention programs finding innovative, safe ways to keep food pantries open while abiding by current public health protocols. We have heard about home visitors continuing contact with young mothers via FaceTime. We have heard of programs making sure that parents have internet connection and devices so that their children can continue attending virtual school and so the family can receive telemedicine. We have heard of judges taking the initiative to locate and begin using free teleconferencing technology to conduct critical hearings and reviews to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people in care. We have heard about family time occurring in parks with 6 feet of distance between parents and children, allowing parents to share comforting words and reassurance face to face.
We have heard about counselors and substance abuse treatment providers using technology to continue supporting the parents that have been working hard at recovery. We have heard of neighborhood listservs—existing and newly formed—that are helping to connect people in need with people who can help. And we have heard about doorstep and hallway visits, where neighbors check in on elderly neighbors and other folks who may be isolated and disconnected even under normal circumstances.
Each and every one of these efforts is making a difference. Each and every one of these efforts provides some level of comfort or support, helping people feel less alone—the stuff we all need in times like these, and some have more of this than others. These efforts reinforce family protective capacities. They are community protective factors in action. They are also the exact efforts needed to help prevent child abuse and keep families strong and resilient in normal times. We are grateful and inspired by these efforts.
We know such efforts will continue to be made by caring people all over the country.
While informal acts of kindness and individual efforts by organizations are critical and needed, there is an opportunity to come together at the federal, state, county, and local levels in more coordinated ways. The fastest and most effective efforts we have learned of are truly community driven. We are calling on community leaders from child welfare, the courts, child care, prevention partners, public health, the schools, churches, and all other critical civic and philanthropic groups to hold a virtual conference call or teleconference. All it will take is one group to step forward to organize the initial call. The initial effort could be made by a school principal, a judge, a pastor, business owner, or so many others. Organize around these five very simple questions:
- What are the needs of each section of our community?
- Where does the need exist?
- Who is currently doing something to address any of these needs and for what populations?
- What do we have to offer from our group, agency, congregation, or organization?
- What do we know how to do that could help meet these needs?
We believe you will be amazed at the skills, resources, and talents that exist within the group you assemble.
We can use this challenging moment to become the system that we all would like to be, one that is able to do what will help families individually, that is not divided into silos but one that treats families holistically and with respect, one that will keep children safe, one that will be agile and creative to support parents and help strengthen their protective capacities, and one that is fair and just. We need a system that sees ourselves in one another, a system that is rooted in kindness.
Community has always been the neglected solution. It has been overlooked, undervalued, and cast aside in this day of "doing only what works," which equates in certain sectors as only evidence-based clinical interventions. But anyone who has ever known what community is knows firsthand the power of community to protect, support, and heal.
We have never needed community more. If we can be there for vulnerable families now, we can be there for families in the future.
We can demonstrate what community makes possible now.
- Letter From Jerry Milner to Child Welfare Legal and Judicial Leaders
Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, issued a letter to child welfare legal and judicial leaders (PDF - 324 KB) that provides guidance to those in the legal community on whether the Children's Bureau can waive statutorily required judicial proceedings and for the continued need for family time in the wake of COVID-19.
The Children's Bureau expects courts and states to work together to determine how best to balance statutory requirements related to child safety against public health mandates. Courts can and should be flexible in how they convene required hearings and refer to previous guidance issued by the Children's Bureau after Hurricane Katrina (PDF - 33 KB).
The letter also provides the following guidance for attorneys, courts, court improvement programs (CIPs), and administrative offices:
- Refrain from making sweeping, blanket orders ceasing, suspending, or postponing court hearings.
- Ensure that important decisions about when and how hearings are conducted are made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the facts of each individual matter.
- Encourage attorneys to file written motions raising issues of immediate concern.
- Make maximum use of technology to ensure due process where in-person hearings are not possible or appropriate.
- Ensure parents and youth have access to technology, such as cell phones, tablets, or computers with internet access, to participate in hearings or reviews and maintain important familial connections.
- Consider utilizing CIP funds to support and enhance virtual participation for parents, children, youth, and their attorneys in hearings and reviews.
- Encourage attorneys to resolve agreed-upon issues via stipulated orders. For example, if all parties agreed that a child in foster care can be reunified with his/her family immediately, that issue should be resolved via a stipulated order, rather than waiting weeks or months for an in-person court hearing.
In addition, Dr. Milner urges the legal community to be mindful of the need for continued family time, especially in times of crisis and heightened anxiety; understand that interruption or cessation of family time and parent-child contact can be traumatic for children; continue to hold the child welfare agency accountable for ensuring that meaningful, frequent family time continues; and encourage use of technology such as video conferencing, phone calls and other readily available forms of communication to keep children, parents, and siblings connected.
- 2019/2020 Prevention Resource Guide
The 2019/2020 Prevention Resource Guide is now available on the National Child Abuse Prevention Month (NCAPM) website. Focusing on strengths and supporting families, the Prevention Resource Guide was primarily developed to support community service providers in preventing maltreatment and promoting well-being. The guide also has 23 tip sheets—in both English and Spanish—to share directly with parents and caregivers. The guide, including the tips sheets, also may be helpful to community partners and anyone who works with children and families.
The Prevention Resource Guide includes chapters that cover the following:
- Protective factors that strengthen individuals, families, and communities
- How workers and programs can use these protective factors in practice
- How to use protective factors when building community partnerships
- Warning signs of maltreatment
- How trauma-informed practice can improve outcomes
Download the 2019/2020 Prevention Resource Guide and explore the rest of the NCAPM website for activity calendars, interactive scenarios, and additional resources.
- Children's Bureau 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.
The following pages were recently added or updated:
- COVID-19 State Child Welfare and Related Health Resources
- Children's Bureau Regional Program Managers
- Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR) Round 3 Statewide Data Indicator Data Dictionary 2020
- PI-20-02: Summary of the Actions Required for Submission of States' Annual Progress and Services Report for Fiscal Year 2021, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act State Plan Update, and the CFS-101, Part I, II, and III
- National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) Report to Congress
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Announces Funds to Help Youth Aging Out of Foster Care
- HHS-2020-ACF-ACYF-CZ-1840: National Child Welfare Capacity Building Center for Courts Discretionary Grant Opportunity
Visit the Children's Bureau website often to see what's new.
We highlight a special section in the journal Prevention Science about research on community-based child maltreatment prevention programs and an article that focuses on the importance of parent education in preventing child sexual abuse.
- Looking at the Research on Community-Based Child Maltreatment Prevention Programs
While many prevention programs are research informed and evidence based, others have been developed outside of prevention science and have unknown impacts. These programs are typically implemented by community members working with local partners and have been sustained through private and public funding. To learn more about such programs, the Children's Bureau launched a discretionary grant program in 2009 known as Rigorous Evaluations of Existing Child Abuse Prevention Programs (REECAP). REECAP awards were made to fund four randomized control trials of fully operational programs not previously evaluated, three of which include a home visiting component. The researchers involved in the evaluation came from a variety of fields, including social work, public health, nursing, developmental and clinical psychology, biostatistics, and prevention science.
The journal Prevention Science recently released an issue with a special section titled, "Special Section: Moving Randomized Controlled Trials Into the World of Child Maltreatment Prevention Practice: Results From the Administration for Children and Families' REECAP Initiative" that focuses on REECAP. The following articles are included in the special section:
- "Impact of a Child Abuse Primary Prevention Strategy for New Mothers"
Kay M. G. O'Neill, Fallon Cluxton-Keller, & Lori Burrell
- "Effects of Home Visiting Program Implementation on Preventive Health Care Access and Utilization: Results From a Randomized Trial of Healthy Families Oregon"
Beth Green, Mary Beth Sanders, & Jerod M. Tarte
- "A Randomized Controlled Trial of Healthy Families: 6-Month and 1-Year Follow-Up"
Craig Winston LeCroy & Darlene Lopez
- "Randomized Controlled Trial of the Promoting First Relationships Preventive Intervention for Primary Caregivers and Toddlers in an American Indian Community"
Cathryn Booth-LaForce, Monica L. Oxford, & Celestina Barbosa-Leiker
- "Family Support and Connection Groups: Long-Term Benefits for Inner-City Children?"
Patrick Tolan, Michael Schoeny, Deborah Gorman-Smith, & David Henry
- "Sociodemographic and Psychosocial Predictors of VIP Attendance in Smart Beginnings Through 6 Months: Effectively Targeting At-Risk Mothers in Early Visits"
Elizabeth B. Miller, Caitlin F. Canfield, & Pamela A. Morris
- "Controlling Gun Violence: Assessing the Impact of Australia's Gun Buyback Program Using a Synthetic Control Group Experiment"
Bradley J. Bartos, Richard McCleary, & Lorraine Mazerolle
- "Has Cannabis Use Among Youth Increased After Changes in Its Legal Status? A Commentary on Use of Monitoring the Future for Analyses of Changes in State Cannabis Laws"
Greg Midgette & Peter Reuter
- "Impact of a Child Abuse Primary Prevention Strategy for New Mothers"
- Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Involves Teaching Parents to Take a More Active Role
An article in Child Maltreatment looks at the risk of child sexual abuse (CSA) suggests effective prevention must go beyond child-focused education and teach parents how to actively protect their children through supervision and involvement. Prevention and parent education are important in keeping children safe and families together.
The article advocates a twofold approach parents can take to protect their children from sexual abuse. The first is to provide adequate parental supervision and involvement. The second is to promote child self-esteem and competence to make children less likely targets for abuse. The article also explores the family circumstances that might make children less safe and recommends future approaches for child safety.
The article identifies several conditions that are necessary for CSA to occur:
- A perpetrator who is motivated to sexually abuse a child
- The perpetrator's ability to overcome personal internal inhibitions toward such abuse
- The perpetrator's ability to overcome external barriers to committing sexual abuse (e.g., supervision)
- The perpetrator's ability to overcome a child's resistance
The authors focus on helping parents and caregivers understand their role in preventing the last two conditions through strengthening a child's external barriers to abuse and their self-competence. They warn against an overreliance on child-focused education and recommend that CSA prevention be integrated into mainstream evidence-based parenting programs.
The authors recommend the following to further protect children from CSA:
- Additional evidence on the effectiveness of current interventions to prevent CSA
- Enhanced understanding of parental behaviors related to CSA prevention
- Design and evaluation of innovative approaches to prevent CSA, including those that focus on parenting-focused protections
To learn more, read the article Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Opportunities: Parenting, Programs, and the Reduction of Risk (PDF - 201 KB).
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.
- Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have a negative impact on a person's health and opportunities and even impact future generations. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a report, Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (PDF - 654 KB), dedicated to the prevention and reduction of ACEs and features strategies states can implement. According to the report, from 2011 to 2014, 62 percent of U.S. adults reported having at least one ACE. While it is impossible to eliminate all stress, the stress of ACEs—especially during the early developmental years of a child's life—is especially harmful.
The three strategies this report details are building resilience, supporting parental stress reduction, and increasing screening and treatment. These are further broken down into actionable strategies that states can use. For example, to build resilience, the report explains the importance of developing strong family bonds through home visiting programs and expanding access to early childhood education. Policymakers can use the state examples featured throughout the report to help assess their own practice and inform future efforts.
- Start With What's Going Right: Supporting Families With Protective Factors
Written by the Capacity Building Center for States
When a state agency team began reworking its child safety assessment, it found that two pages of questions were dedicated to risk factors, while only two questions focused on protective factors. The team realized this was a problem—they were asking families about everything that was going wrong and almost nothing about what they were doing well, potentially skewing caseworkers' perceptions of the families they were working to support. To address the issue, the team worked on revising and reframing the assessment questions to focus more on protective factors.
Protective factors—such as strong social connections and parental resilience—are conditions of individuals, families, communities, and the larger society that reduce or eliminate risk and promote healthy development and well-being of children and families (Capacity Building Center for States, 2016; Development Services Group, Inc. & Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015). When considering effective ways to keep families and children safe, enhancing protective factors plays as important a role as reducing risk factors. Not only can protective factors help ensure that children, youth, and families thrive, they may also act as safeguards against abuse by equipping parents with the tools they need to parent effectively under stress (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau, Child Welfare Information Gateway, & FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, 2019).
At the first meeting with the family, it may seem like a good idea to start with a discussion of the risk factors—conditions the family may be experiencing that are linked with child maltreatment. However, leading with the risk factors may leave caseworkers with a negative impression of the family. These negative impressions may also be recorded in the case notes and can follow the family throughout the life of a case, making the family feel pigeonholed.
Initiating a discussion of protective factors when beginning to work with a family can help to do the following:
- Reduce the initial defensiveness family members might feel when interacting with the caseworker or other child welfare agency staff
- Develop positive relationships and trust between family members and the caseworker
- Identify a positive foundation on which the family and caseworker can build going forward
Managers and supervisors can help caseworkers by setting the expectation that discussions will start with protective factors and then reinforcing that expectation in follow-up discussions and coaching sessions. Agency leaders can also encourage staff to focus on protective factors first. This can begin shifting child welfare culture toward a strengths-based approach to working with families that provides a strong platform for child welfare agencies to establish collaborative relationships with community providers who support children and families.
When a caseworker opens the meeting with a discussion of protective factors, the conversation can help identify where a family is already strong, build trust for further cooperation, and lay the groundwork for collaborative case planning. For example, after talking with the family about their use of kin networks and community resources to provide enriching activities for their children, a caseworker might shift the conversation to how these and other resources can help families spend more quality time with their children or offer a parenting class to help them more productively interact with their teenagers.
Engaging families using protective factors can help child welfare agency staff positively interact with families and youth and better understand their needs. This, in turn, can help agencies provide services that may positively impact family safety, permanency, and well-being.
Capacity Building Center for States. (2016). Protective capacities and protective factors: Common ground for protecting children and strengthening families. https://bit.ly/2sRMnLT (232 KB).
Development Services Group, Inc. & Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015). Promoting protective factors for victims of child abuse and neglect: A guide for practitioners. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/victimscan.pdf (235 KB).
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children' Bureau, Child Welfare Information Gateway, & FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention. (2019). 2019/2020 Prevention resource guide. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/guide_2020.pdf (2,719 KB).
- What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children
Together for Girls, in collaboration with the Oak Foundation and the Equality Institute, created a summary of evidence that discusses which strategies are effective in preventing sexual violence against children for advocates, decision-makers, program implementers, and anyone involved in guiding efforts and policies to improve child safety and well-being. What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children (PDF - 8,929 KB) highlights the ongoing challenges and gaps in this area as well as what is working from various case studies from around the world—with special attention to low- and middle-income countries. This review is beneficial for those working with families who have been or who are at risk of child welfare involvement as a result of child maltreatment.
This resource also explores risk factors and data on the issues, including the most common ages by country, incident locations, perpetrators, what supports children have, and the impact of the internet.
This evidence review uses the INSPIRE framework to organize and categorize interventions and rates each strategy as effective, promising, prudent, conflicting, no effect, or harmful:
- Implementation and enforcement of laws
- Norms and values
- Safe environments
- Parent and caregiver support
- Income and economic strengthening
- Response and support services
- Education and life skills
For each of the seven strategies, the review highlights a case study and includes experts' perspectives and additional 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.
- Prevent Child Abuse America Provides Coronavirus Resources for Families and Professionals
The coronavirus, or COVID 19, can put additional pressures on families as the nation and the world experience a loss of employment, shortages of necessities, and overall fear and anxiety. To address these issues, Dr. Melissa Merrick, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, released a video emphasizing the need to continue to support vulnerable families during this time of increased stress in order to prevent instances of child maltreatment.
Prevent Child Abuse America's website provides resources for parents, children, communities, schools, and businesses and employers aimed at mitigating fear and anxiety. It offers age-appropriate resources for children on maintaining proper hygiene, population-level strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, resources for schools on how to address distance learning, ways to minimize exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, and more.
The Prevent Child Abuse America webpage on coronavirus resources will be updated regularly as new information becomes available.
- Reducing the Risks of Maltreatment for Children With Disabilities
Children with disabilities involved with child welfare are at greater risk of experiencing maltreatment. Kidpower has a webpage intended for educators of children with disabilities that focuses on how to use protective knowledge, actions, and skills to educate parents and protect children from the risk factors associated with child abuse and neglect within this vulnerable population.
The webpage lists the following 12 risk factors that may apply to children with disabilities and potentially lead to maltreatment:
- Having chronic disabilities that may overwhelm parents
- Not understanding what constitutes maltreatment and that they have the right to say "no"
- Limited communication skills that inhibit their ability to tell others that they have been abused
- Being frequently dependent upon others to meet their basic needs
- Being unresponsive or overly responsive to affection
- Being separated from their caregivers for extensive periods of time
- Being expected to interact with a significant number of adults in a variety of contexts
- Not recognizing their own sexuality
- Not knowing how to recognize or protect themselves in a risky situation
- Being socially isolated and lonely
- Not being recognized to be at higher risk of maltreatment
- Not being "valued" as a member of the community
Each risk factor is followed by knowledge, skills, and actions for educators, parents, and other caregivers that can help mitigate the risk to children who exhibit these traits, such as how to coach children on safety rules, as well as actions children and youth can practice, such as how to seek help and setting boundaries.
The protective knowledge, actions, and skills can be introduced, adapted, and reinforced over time and incorporated into individual education programs, individual family services, and section 504 plan objectives.
Visit the Kidpower webpage What Educators of Kids With Disabilities Can Do to Reduce Their Risks of Maltreatment to learn more about how to protect children with disabilities from maltreatment.
- Evidence-Based Strategies in Violence Prevention Efforts
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a violence prevention technical package comprising a collection of strategies based on the best available evidence to prevent or reduce child abuse and neglect, youth violence, adverse childhood experiences, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and suicide. It is intended for use within the education, government (federal, state, and local), social services, health-care, business, justice, housing, and faith-based sectors of the community.
With the intention of helping to improve the health and well-being of communities and families, CDC technical packages are composed of three main parts:
- Strategy—Lays out the direction or actions to achieve the goal of preventing violence.
- Approach—Includes the specific ways to advance the strategy, including through programs, policies, and practices.
- Evidence—Presents evidence for each of the approaches in preventing violence or its associated risk factors.
This technical package includes publications such as Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities (PDF - 3,996 KB), Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Leveraging the Best Available Evidence (PDF - 3,700 KB), A Comprehensive Technical Package for the Prevention of Youth Violence and Associated Risk Behaviors (PDF - 4,194 KB), and other resources to help prevent violence.
Visit the CDC's Technical Packages for Violence Prevention: Using Evidence-Based Strategies in Your Violence Prevention Efforts for more information.
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.
Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:*
- "LatinX Adoptee Voices" [Webinar]
Pact, An Adoption Alliance
April 1, online
- 17th Annual Hawai`i International Summit on Preventing, Assessing & Treating Trauma Across the Lifespan
Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma
April 14-17, Honolulu, HI
- 9th Annual Ready by 21 National Meeting
The Forum for Youth Investment
April 15-17, Louisville, KY
- National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference
Arizona State University
April 20-22, Phoenix, AZ
- "Asian Adoptee Voices" [Webinar]
Pact, An Adoption Alliance
April 22, online
- OVC Applied Research & Best Practice Symposium
Christian Alliance for Orphans
May 6, Dallas, TX
- 27th Annual National Foster Care Conference
May 6-8, Kissimmee, FL
- "Racially Ambiguous, Biracial, and Multiracial Voices" [Webinar]
Pact, An Adoption Alliance
May 13, online
- 2020 National IV-E Roundtable for Child Welfare Training and Education
Western Kentucky University
May 19-21, Bowling Green, KY
- "Schools and Adoption" [Webinar]
Pact, An Adoption Alliance
June 3, online
- 2020 National CASA/GAL Annual Conference
National CASA/GAL Association for Children
June 6-9, Washington, DC
- 27th APSAC Colloquium
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC)
June 7-12, New Orleans, LA
- National Adoption Conference
National Council for Adoption
June 23-24, College Park, MD
- "Newborns, Money, Competition, and Desperation: Promoting Ethics in Adoption" [Webinar]
Pact, An Adoption Alliance
June 24, Online
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many conferences have been postponed, cancelled, or changed to a virtual format. Please refer to the conference website or contact the conference coordinator to verify that the conference or meeting will take place.
- "LatinX Adoptee Voices" [Webinar]
- Connections Matter
The personal connections that children establish during their early years has a direct impact on their future outcomes. Connections Matter, a community-based organization striving to promote resilience through these connections, offers basic, whole-day, or half-day evidence-informed workshops featuring an interactive, discussion-based curriculum centering on understanding and developing meaningful, positive connections for children who have experience maltreatment and other trauma.
Connections Matter workshops are available for general professionals and education professionals. Both types of workshops provide attendees with a better understanding of the effect trauma has on brain development; concrete knowledge about adverse childhood experiences; and strategies, resources, and tools to improve connections and strengthen resilience. The education-focused workshop ties in how this understanding can affect learning environments and a child's ability to succeed in school.
This training can be beneficial for child welfare professionals who serve families with children who have experienced trauma or other adverse childhood experiences.
To learn more about the workshop options and to sign up, visit the Connections Matter workshop webpage.