A Framework for Planning, Implementing, and Evaluating Child Welfare Reforms

Article excerpt

The summary assessments of some researchers and policy analysts are not very encouraging about the state of the child welfare system. Pelton [1990] concluded simply that "public child welfare is in chaos." Similarly, although they acknowledged exceptional local programs, Kamerman and Kahn [1990] drew the following conclusion after completing a national study of services to families and children:

Abuse and neglect investigations have become the overriding component of public child and family services and a barrier to serving other cases. Children experiencing long-term chronic neglect in multi-problem families are not being served, or are given very inadequate attention, in most of the country. (emphasis in original)

Others have discussed the situation in terms of changes in society that impinge on the child welfare system. For example, in comparing the current situation to the 1930s, Woolf [1990] concluded that the system now must serve "children and youths who have severe emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems due primarily to abuse within their own families."

A more specific conclusion about the state of the child welfare system is that the demand for out-of-home care, reflected in caseloads and expenditures for out-of-home care, adoptions, and independent living programs, is increasing rapidly [Committee on Ways and Means 1993]. This growth is occurring in spite of what seems to be widespread acceptance of the principle established by law and enunciated in statements of professional standards and practice that many families could be served in their homes without placing their children elsewhere [for example, see Child Welfare League of America 1991a, 1991b; Cole & Duva 1990]. Thus, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers are seeking to understand how the convergence of changes in "child welfare practice, government legislation, and cultural lifestyles has created a situation in which we...need to make critical choices regarding the provision of...services to children in foster care" [Woolf 1990].

In the absence of federal leadership to reshape child welfare services during the late 1980s and early 1990s, states and localities embarked on a variety of reform initiatives to respond to these forces. Our purpose here is, first, to provide an overview of current reform initiatives, and second, to describe a conceptual framework for planning, implementing, and evaluating such reforms.

CURRENT REFORM EFFORTS

With the support of various philanthropic foundations, a number of states and communities have made commitments to develop and implement new approaches to serving vulnerable families and children. Some initiatives emphasize early intervention and prevention while others address specific aspects of the traditional child welfare system, such as out-of-home care and the permanency planning process. For example, family support programs seek to improve child health and development and to enhance family functioning and stability [for examples, see MacDonald 1994]. In contrast to other efforts, such programs attempt to reduce the risk of families becoming involved with the child welfare system.

Family to Family: Reconstructing Family Foster Care is an initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation [1992] that promotes enhancements to family foster care. Recognizing its place within the broader continuum of child welfare services, however, the Foundation sees family foster care as representing an entry point for broader reforms of all programs and systems that serve families and children. The five states involved in this initiative (Alabama, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) are seeking to accomplish the following:

1. Develop a family foster care network that is neighborhoodbased, culturally sensitive, and located primarily in the communities in which the children live.

2. Assure that scarce family foster home resources are provided to all those children (but to only those children) who in fact must be removed from their homes. …