Child Welfare and Well-Being

Policy & Practice, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Child Welfare and Well-Being


Accomplishments

Children, Youth, and Families Served by Public Child Welfare

The public child welfare system serves the nation's most vulnerable children and families. Those helped by America's child welfare system include children and youth who are abused or neglected; children living in foster care and other alternative care settings; and those who are not in custody, but who are receiving in-home services, sometimes mandated by the court. Child welfare programs not only coordinate services for families in distress, but they also recruit families to care for abused and neglected children and youth as well. Those who work in the child welfare system are witnessing first-hand how the most recent downturn in the economy is negatively affecting families, especially families of color, who are disproportionately represented in child welfare caseloads. A brief glance at the program as it stands today demonstrates the considerable challenge that child welfare administrators face each day, a challenge that will only become more complicated as the nation's economy remains unstable.

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Child welfare professionals interact with significant numbers of children and families:

* About 900,000 children are annually substantiated as having been abused or neglected.

* In 2007, approximately 783,000 children were served by the public child welfare system, and nearly 293,000 children entered care due to abuse and/or neglect.

* Approximately 130,000 children and youth are waiting to be adopted and for other permanent arrangements.

* In 2000, African-American children made up less than 15 percent of the U.S. child population, but represented 27 percent of the children who entered foster care in fiscal year 2004 and 34 percent of the children remaining in foster care at the end of that year.

* In 2004, about 283,000 children left foster care to return home, to live with a relative, to be adopted, or were emancipated at the age of 18.

* Between 2001 and 2006 the number of young people, mainly minority youth, aging out of the child welfare system without safe, permanent homes has grown 42.6 percent.

Supporting the well-being of children, youth, and families is a shared family, community, and government responsibility. Public child welfare acts as a catalyst with the family and in the community to engage and empower children, youth, and families to reach their full potential.

Focus on Good Practice

States and counties are making great strides in serving children, youth, and families by making changes in practice and service delivery that enable children to remain safely in their own homes. Several states are incorporating family team decision-making and family group conferencing. With this practice, families are invited to participate in the decisions that affect the child's life, including type of placement, services, and other key decisions.

Many states and counties are now using alternative (differential) response for lower-risk cases. This method of service delivery enables caseworkers to strengthen families by connecting them to community resources and services that ultimately serve as a safety net. Research on these alternative response strategies has found lower levels of abuse and neglect as well as increased family stability.

However, despite the efforts of creative state and county leaders and dedicated staff, too many children today still remain in harm's way.

Recent Legislation: Good Step Forward for Child Welfare Goals

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (P.L. 110-351) was signed into law in the fall of 2008. This law provides federal support for relative placements and supporting youth past the age of 18, among other things. These reforms, when fully phased in, will have a positive impact on disproportionality, a pervasive issue throughout the child welfare system.

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