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February 2021Vol. 22, No. 2Spotlight on Strengthening the Protective Capacities of Families

This edition of CBX highlights the importance of strengthening and supporting families to prevent child maltreatment. We feature spotlight articles on resources, programs, and services that aim to help families persevere and thrive during challenging times and beyond.

Issue Spotlight

  • Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families

    Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families

    The Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families works collaboratively across the state of Colorado to create the conditions for strong families and communities where children are safe, healthy, and thriving. The goal of the partnership is to reduce incidences of child maltreatment by strengthening and supporting families, from pregnancy through the first year of a child's life, with the goal of eventually expanding this up to age 5.

    This initiative emphasizes the importance of a quality education, promising career opportunities, financial stability, physical and mental health, helpful connections to people and community supports, and cross-system collaboration in helping to build families' protective capacities.

    The Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families comprises stakeholders from public health, housing, and social services organizations. It also includes a community norms group, which focuses on promoting community norms around culturally centered social connectedness, and an early touchpoints working group, which focuses on strengthening the family well-being service array and supporting Colorado counties in assessing their existing systems of support with the goal of moving toward a universally available, voluntary, and culturally responsive system that addresses racial, ethnic, or language barriers that may prevent access to these services.

    To learn more about the partnership or to join a workgroup, visit the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families website.

  • New Strengthening Families Resources for Parents and Providers in Response to COVID-19

    New Strengthening Families Resources for Parents and Providers in Response to COVID-19

    For the past year, families have been experiencing increased stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Worrying about health, dealing with unemployment and financial concerns, and supporting school-age children with virtual learning have taken a toll on many.

    To help mitigate this, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) released new Strengthening Families resources: one for parents and caregivers and one for service providers. The resource for parents, Building Resilience in Troubled Times: A Guide for Parents, contains tips that parents can put into action in their daily lives to help build resilience during the pandemic, while many are dealing with social distancing and being home with their children. Tips include the following:

    • Find something you can do to take care of yourself each day.
    • Remember that this too will pass.
    • Check in with each of your children to find out how they are feeling, what they are missing, or what made them laugh today.
    • Look for moments of joy and encouragement, no matter how small.
    • If faith is a part of your life, stay connected to your faith community.

    For providers who work with families, CSSP released Strengths-Based Practice in Troubled Times. This resource is meant to help bolster and strengthen families as they work to overcome today's challenges and thrive. The resource provides the following six strengths-based steps to help providers guide and engage with families during times of stress:

    • Start with empathy.
    • Ask strengths-based questions, such as "How have you gotten through tough times in the past?"
    • Provide perspective as well as information.
    • Strategize with families.
    • Coach families.
    • Lift up families' successes.

    Read more about these new resources on the CSSP website.

  • Keeping Families Strong and Together: Prevention Strategies in Child Welfare

    Keeping Families Strong and Together: Prevention Strategies in Child Welfare

    The winter 2020 edition of Insights highlights child welfare's role in child maltreatment prevention during the pandemic and beyond and the importance of community supports in strengthening families so they can remain together safely.

    The issue features a framework for prevention from the Office of Child Abuse Prevention within the California Department of Social Services that defines and addresses prevention with a public health perspective to "create an integrated statewide system that supports families to provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for their children." The framework is based on three tiers of prevention:

    • Primary prevention. The goal of primary prevention is to keep all families strong and together by raising awareness about the scope of and problems associated with child maltreatment.
    • Secondary prevention. The goal of secondary prevention is to provide targeted supports to further strengthen families that have been or are at risk of becoming involved with child welfare.
    • Tertiary prevention. The goal of tertiary prevention is to mitigate child and family trauma by reducing the negative consequences of maltreatment, preventing recurrence, and helping families build on their strengths.

    The issue also provides key data and trends on child maltreatment and disparities in maltreatment occurrence, including information about implicit bias and systemic racism. Also included is information about how community supports—such as family resource centers, federally qualified health centers, and family justice centers—and protective factors are key to strengthening families and keeping them safely together during this unprecedented time and in the future.  

  • Better Together Helps to Strengthen Vulnerable Families

    Better Together Helps to Strengthen Vulnerable Families

    Better Together is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that is focused on primary prevention and strengthening and preserving families. It provides employment services, encouragement and support, and an alternative to out-of-home care should that be necessary. 

    Better Together features the following two ways to help prevent child abuse and neglect and keep families safely together:

    • Better Families is focused on the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect. However, when out-of-home placement becomes necessary, Better Families' model enables parents to voluntarily place their children with a loving host family for up to a year. The average stay is 41 days, and 90 percent of families are reunited within 90 days or less. Host families are qualified volunteers who focus on caring for the children while a network of Better Families volunteers and partners provide supports to help parents improve their capacity to care for their families. About 98 percent of families in this program stay together and out of the foster care system.
    • Better Jobs is focused on helping parents struggling with unemployment by matching them with prospective employers. Job seekers can consult with Better Jobs volunteers for interviewing tips, resume help, and coaching. Church-based organizers recruit other assistants, such as volunteer hairstylists, and provide business attire to help attendees prepare for interviews.

    To learn more about Better Together, visit its website.


    Recent Issues

  • July/August 2024

    Spotlight on Youth, Authentic Youth Engagement, and Lived Experience

    Spotlight on Youth, Authentic Youth Engagement, and Lived Experience

  • June 2024

    Spotlight on Reunification

    Spotlight on Reunification

News From the Children's Bureau

We highlight a new primer from Child Welfare Information Gateway that discusses differential response and how child welfare professionals can implement this strategy to help families who have come into contact with the child welfare system. Also included is a brief list of updates from the Children's Bureau website.

Child Welfare Research

We feature a recent report from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation on the availability of early interventions and special education services for children in care and a report from Prevent Child Abuse Texas on the rates of child maltreatment during the pandemic.

  • Research Shows Correlations Between COVID-19 Stressors and Maltreatment

    Research Shows Correlations Between COVID-19 Stressors and Maltreatment

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have had to endure a range of negative experiences, including increased stress, social isolation, and economic hardship. These negative experiences particularly affect families involved with the child welfare system and may lead to increased incidences of child maltreatment.

    From April 2019 to April 2020, Texas saw a 50-percent decline in calls to child protective services and a 56-percent decline in online reports, which can be attributed to children not being in school and in the presence of mandatory reporters. However, a recent report from Prevent Child Abuse Texas, Child Abuse and Neglect Risks During COVID-19, describes how, despite these decreases in reports, research in Texas supports the assumption that the stresses of COVID-19 on families is likely increasing the risk of child maltreatment during the pandemic.

    According to the report, stressors such as natural disasters, economic recessions, and mental health issues tend to increase the chances for family violence to occur. The following are some statistics related to these stressors that show how child maltreatment may be increasing despite decreases in reports to child protective services:

    • National estimates on the actual prevalence of child maltreatment in the United States range between 3 and 40 percent. Most maltreatment is unreported and may be known only to the perpetrator and the victim. Researchers suggest that the decrease in child maltreatment reports may have been driven by school closures as two-thirds of child maltreatment reports are usually submitted by professionals such as teachers and other school staff.
    • Intimate partner violence is a risk factor for child maltreatment, and this type of family violence tends to increase following natural disasters. Quarantining and shelter-in-place orders may make it harder for people who might otherwise leave violent relationships to physically leave their environments.
    • Research on previous recessions conclude that increases in unemployment rates tend to increase incidences of family violence. 
    • Well-documented relationships exist between family violence, substance use (particularly alcohol use), and depression.

    The report concludes that, although child maltreatment is a complex issue based on many factors, it is reasonable to assume that child maltreatment increased during 2020 based on previous research about how school closures affect maltreatment reporting, natural disasters affect family relationships (particularly with regard to intimate partner violence), unemployment is correlated to increases in incidences of abuse, and behavioral issues and substance use are related to increases in family violence.

    This research makes it clear that protecting children means supporting and strengthening their families in ways that will help parents provide stable, nurturing, safe environments.  

  • Children in Out-of-Home Care Are Less Likely to Receive Early Intervention or Special Education Serv

    Children in Out-of-Home Care Are Less Likely to Receive Early Intervention or Special Education Serv

    A recent report from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families presents information on early intervention and special education trends among children in out-of-home care. According to the report, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows each state to set the criteria for eligibility for early intervention services for children younger than 3 years old and special education services for children 3 years of age and older. Children who meet the criteria for receiving special education services should have an individualized education plan for receiving special education, and those meeting the criteria for early intervention services should have an individualized family services plan for receiving early intervention. In addition, the Keeping Children Safe Act requires states to implement procedures for referring children under 3 years old who have experienced maltreatment to early intervention services.

    The report goes on to note that, according to the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, which is a nationally representative study of children involved with child welfare in the United States, children ages 0 to 2 who have been placed in nonrelative foster care are more likely to have a developmental delay (37 percent) than those placed in formal kinship care (22 percent) and voluntary kinship care (26 percent). Among children ages 3 to 17, developmental, cognitive, or academic needs were identified for 29 percent of children placed in nonrelative foster care, 36 percent of children placed in formal kinship care, and 21 percent of children placed in voluntary kinship care.

    In addition, among children who have been identified as having a condition that would potentially qualify them for early intervention or special education services, their caregivers reported that half or fewer of those children received an individualized family services plan for early intervention services or an individualized education plan for special education services. Having unmet early intervention and special education needs is particularly prevalent among children who are living in voluntary kinship care, but these deficiencies can be seen in all types of out-of-home care.

    The report, Child Well-Being Spotlight Children Living in Kinship Care and Nonrelative Foster Care Are Unlikely to Receive Needed Early Intervention or Special Education Services, can be found on the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation website.


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.

  • Motivational Interviewing Can Be Used in Child Protection

    Motivational Interviewing Can Be Used in Child Protection

    Parents who become involved with the child welfare system usually experience a significant amount of stress, fear, and hopelessness that can make them less willing to engage with a system they see as threatening. For this reason, caseworkers must be diligent about meaningful engagement with these families. Meaningful family engagement, where parents and children have a say in their case and outcomes, has been shown to promote family well-being and reduce repeat occurrences of maltreatment and the need for out-of-home care. 

    A recent article from Casey Family Programs—How Can Motivational Interviewing Be Used in Child Protection?—highlights the benefits of motivational interviewing as an evidence-based tool for engaging families. Motivational interviewing is intended to help parents assess their willingness to make the changes needed to keep their families safely together.

    The following are the elements needed for successful motivational interviewing:

    • An authentic partnership between the practitioner and the client
    • A nonjudgmental and respectful approach to signal the practitioner's acceptance of the client
    • Compassion for and prioritizing of the client and their well-being
    • Evocation of the client's own desire to work toward change

    The process for facilitating meaningful engagement include the following:

    • Engaging in a working relationship through listening and understanding
    • Focusing on a shared purpose about what needs to change
    • Evoking parents' ideas and motivations to explore ambivalence and understand the "why" of behavior change
    • Planning for change that is led by parents in a way that highlights their strengths and expertise

    The article also includes motivational interviewing training resources as well as an example from the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency, which added motivational interviewing to its title IV-E prevention program 5-year plan.

    Related Item

    Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, recently published Motivational Interviewing: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals.


  • Trauma-Informed Strategies for Supporting Child Welfare-Involved Children and Youth During COVID-19

    Trauma-Informed Strategies for Supporting Child Welfare-Involved Children and Youth During COVID-19

    Children and youth are facing increased emotional stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those involved with child welfare. Child Trends released Trauma-Informed Strategies for Supporting Children and Youth in the Child Welfare System During COVID-19 to provide guidance for child welfare administrators and staff on how to use trauma-informed strategies to promote healing and increase the resilience of children, youth, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic and their involvement in the child welfare system.

    The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to the child welfare system as well as to the families it serves. Disruptions to services and supports, increased financial hardship, increased stress among parents and caregivers, separation from family and social supports, and fear for their health are just some of the obstacles families are facing. It is during these difficult and ever-evolving times that it is as important to promote families' and workers' emotional safety and well-being as it is to make sure they stay physically healthy.

    This brief highlights five trauma-informed ways child welfare administrators can promote emotional well-being, resilience, and healing during the pandemic:

    • Develop and implement comprehensive agency policies that are trauma informed and prioritize the emotional and physical safety of children and youth.
    • Ensure these policies and procedures are culturally informed and represent the unique needs of families.
    • Establish regular contact with children, youth, and their families and help them to maintain the important social connections in their lives.
    • Establish trauma-informed and pandemic-specific contingency plans and policies.
    • Develop a plan to address the well-being of staff.

    The brief also includes additional resources for supporting children and youth involved with child welfare during the pandemic.

  • Using Data to Strengthen Protective Capacities

    Using Data to Strengthen Protective Capacities

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    Child welfare agencies can use data exploration—coupled with family engagement—to better understand protective capacities among families they serve and identify areas where more supports are needed.

    Protective capacities are characteristics of a parent or other caregiver that help ensure the safety of his or her child (Capacity Building Center for States, 2016a). Caregiver protective capacities can be divided into three categories (Action for Child Protection, 2000; Capacity Building Center for States, 2016a):

    • Cognitive: Knowledge and understanding of a child's needs and recognition of threats
    • Emotional: Feelings, attitudes, and attachments that protect against danger
    • Behavioral: Actions that keep the child safe from harm

    Assessment of protective capacities at the case level informs child protection safety plans, placement decisions, and case plan services. At the system level, analysis of protective capacities may provide insight into the ways parents keep their children safe and the areas where additional services are needed.

    The approach outlined below can help agency teams—including child welfare agency leaders, program managers, management information system (MIS) and data staff, and family representatives—explore protective capacities at the system level as a foundation for planning.

    Define Terms and Identify Measures

    A critical early step in examining protective capacities at a systems level is to develop a common understanding across all program, MIS, and data staff about how information on protective capacities is assessed and captured. For example, does the agency use a specific assessment tool, scale, parent survey, or other instrument to identify and capture information about protective capacities? Is this information captured in data fields that can be pulled into reports or does it appear in assessments that may be examined in a case review?

    If protective capacities are not currently assessed or captured in a consistent way, teams will need to clearly define terms and identify how they can be measured. This work may draw language from safety or family assessments. Program, data, and research staff can work together to identify indicators that suggest the presence of the desired characteristics and how they are documented. For instance, this could mean specifying what will show that parents have appropriate expectations for their children (a cognitive capacity) or can demonstrate impulse control (a behavioral capacity).

    Identify Research Questions

    With the foundational pieces in place, teams can turn to identifying research questions. To better understand protective capacities among populations served, agencies may ask questions like the following:

    • Which protective capacities are most common among families in contact with our child welfare system? Which are least common?
    • Are there differences in protective capacities among different population subgroups (e.g., by race/ethnicity, by age, by location)?
    • What services are in place to build protective capacities?
    • When families receive services to strengthen protective capacities, does maltreatment recurrence decline?
    • What barriers exist to strengthening protective capacities?

    Collect and Analyze Data

    To answer their questions, agencies may explore both quantitative (numerical) and qualitative (narrative) data sources. These can include MIS data capturing safety, risk, and family assessments; case plan and case plan reviews; and services data. In addition, surveys, focus groups, or interviews may help provide a more comprehensive picture.

    Disaggregating data—or breaking it down—is an approach that allows teams to dig deeper into whether different groups have different experiences. For example, a state may disaggregate data to explore which groups of children experience repeat maltreatment at the highest rates. Additional case review or interview data may offer insights into the reasons why and help target resources to build protective capacities where they may have the biggest impact.

    Gather Stakeholder Perspectives

    Gathering stakeholder perspectives is a critical part of collecting and interpreting child protection data and information (World Vision International, 2011). Family members can help shape research questions, refine survey questions in culturally sensitive ways, and share views on the findings and the nuanced reasons behind them. In addition, child welfare staff and community service providers can help identify data sources, participate in surveys or interviews, and discuss data findings.

    Make Connections to Prevention-Oriented Efforts

    Agencies can align their efforts to promote protective capacities at the individual level with prevention-oriented initiatives that build protective factors at the individual, family, and community levels (Capacity Building Center for States, 2016b). For example, a parent support program can increase caregiver protective capacities and strengthen community protective factors. By gaining a deeper understanding of the data and then reinforcing prevention-protection connections across the prevention continuum, agencies can work together with families and communities to promote family well-being and ensure child safety.


    Action for Child Protection. (2000). Safety assessment and family evaluation: A safety intervention model by Action for Child Protection.

    Capacity Building Center for States. (2016a). "Protective capacities and protective factors: Common ground for protecting children and strengthening families." [Infographic] 

    Capacity Building Center for States. (2016b). "Protective capacities and protective factors: Common ground for protecting children and strengthening families." [Webinar] 

    World Vision International. (2011). Analysis, design, and planning tool (ADAPT) for child protection



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.

  • Guide for Parents on Preventing Child Sex Abuse

    Guide for Parents on Preventing Child Sex Abuse

    According to recent data, 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before they turn 18, and about 90 percent of victims know their abusers. Child sexual abuse is detrimental to a child's development in many ways, both physically and emotionally, and can have long-term consequences to a child's ability to learn life skills. Children involved with child welfare are more likely to have experienced or experience sexual abuse.

    The guide Step Up to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Parents & Caregivers is intended for parents, foster parents, and kinship caregivers of children and youth under the age of 18. The guide aims to teach parents about what sexual abuse is, signs indicating a child has been sexually abused, who the perpetrators are and the grooming techniques that are often used to lure children, and how to protect the children in their care from being sexually abused.

    Some signs of child sexual abuse include the following:

    • Displays sexual knowledge beyond their age/development
    • Verbalizes what sexual contact looks or sounds like
    • Mimics sexual behavior
    • Acts out sexually and does not respond to limits
    • Displays extreme behaviors, such as lack of emotion or aggressive and risk-taking behavior
    • Suddenly changes their eating habits or refuses to eat
    • Suddenly has nightmares or problems sleeping
    • Has headaches, stomach pain or chronic pain
    • Displays sudden, unexplained personality changes or mood swings
    • Acts out or becomes withdrawn

    The guide also includes information about child protection laws and additional resources on preventing and reporting child sexual abuse.


  • Questions to Ask When Accepting a Foster Placement

    Questions to Ask When Accepting a Foster Placement

    When considering whether to become foster parents or accept a foster placement, it is important to research whether the child or youth will be a good fit and to understand the differences between a child who has just come into the foster care system and one who has experienced multiple placements.

    The AdoptUSKids article "Questions to Ask When Accepting a Foster Placement" lists the following questions foster parents should ask when deciding whether to accept a child who has come into care for the first time:

    • What is the age and sex of the child (or children)? This information can help to determine sleeping arrangements and whether the child will fit in with the rest of the children in the household.
    • Why are they coming into care? Knowing this information can help foster parents understand the child's behaviors and accommodate any previous trauma the child may have suffered.
    • Are there siblings who are also entering care? This information can help foster parents with consider potential visitation schedules with the child's siblings.
    • Will they be changing school districts if they are placed with me? This information will help foster parents manage their time if they need to enroll the child in a new school.
    • What is the caseworker's cell phone number—and what is their supervisor's? Parents should be able to contact the child's caseworker if they need to.

    The following are questions foster parents should ask when considering whether to accept a child who has experienced multiple placements:

    • What is their understanding of the reason they are in foster care? Some children are unaware of why they had to leave their homes and families.
    • Do they have allergies—including to animals? Along with asking about allergies, it is important to ask a child if he or she is comfortable with animals in the home.
    • What are their favorite foods—likes and dislikes? Are they vegetarian? Knowing a child's food preferences can help ease their transition into the family.
    • What are their upcoming and routine appointments? What is their visitation schedule with birth family members—and where do they live?
    • Are they a runaway risk? The answer to this question can help foster parents consider what precautions to take.
    • When is their birthday? How have they celebrated it—and other holidays—in the past? This information can help give the child a sense of normalcy within the family.
    • What are the child's medical needs? This information is important to determine whether the foster family can handle the child's needs.

    The article also includes questions that should never be asked, such as how long the child will be staying.

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.

  • Conferences


    Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:




  • Families Thrive Training

    Families Thrive Training

    The Families Thrive training is intended for child welfare professionals working to implement the tenets of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which aims to reduce the need for foster care by substantially redirecting funds to programs and services that strengthen parents' capacity to safely care for their children at home. The training combines aspects of the Center for the Study of Social Policy's Youth Thrive and Strengthening Families trainings and is based on the protective and promotive factors. However, unlike Youth Thrive and Strengthening Families, it extends the focus from infancy to young adulthood to address the entire lifecycle of families.

    Families Thrive is a 4-day intensive course that devotes one session to each of the protective and promotive factors and teaches practical techniques for applying the framework in programs, practices, and communities. The training is based on five premises that reflect what adults need to do to promote the long-term well-being of the children in their care:

    • Understand current research on neuroscience and adolescent development and its implications for working with young people
    • Understand the impact of traumatic stress on young people and which relationship skills will reduce that impact
    • Recognize relationships as a primary source of growth and learning for young people
    • Provide culturally appropriate services that draw on the strengths of the young person's culture
    • Assess and modify your own beliefs and practices and take care of yourself during difficult times

    Visit the Youth in Focus website to learn more.