Pilot CWS-R-SAP – v. 1 Current CWS, 14.1. 2019 Child Welfare League of America National Conference


Pilot Child Welfare System Redesign

Strategic Action Plan


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14.1 2019 Child Welfare League of America National Conference


This conference highlighted successful strategies and practices organizations and communities are using that can be leveraged to meet the challenges and opportunities of the Family First Prevention Services Act and help ensure that children and families flourish.  It featured evidence-informed/evidence-based programs, services, and practices which result in improved outcomes for children, youth, and families. The conference was held from April 9-13, 2019 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.


Some of the major findings of the National Conference are included in this section. NOTE: All quotes and information provided in this section are from the report from the 2019 Child Welfare League of America National Conference.[1]


Workforce Issues

“Feeling overwhelmed and lacking confidence, without strong supervisors to whom they could turn for help, workers reported being more likely to substantiate abuse and neglect cases, making decisions based more on their fear of administrative repercussions than on their training and experience.”


  • several factors related to the workforce were critical to both worker retention and satisfaction, and effective service delivery to children and families
  • administrative support and encouragement, supervision and oversight, strong peer relationships, and manageable caseloads
  • administrative support and adequate supervision are especially important during times of high stress or media exposure when workers reported feeling great pressure to make quick decisions regarding complicated cases
  • creating a strong leadership team, bringing in key administrative staff from the outside who had experience in specific areas (e.g. clinical work with families and children), reorganizing existing staff in order to accomplish new mandates, creating staffing teams so that families would remain in the same units, and integrating specific service areas (e.g. foster care and adoption)
  • in the sites where such administrative changes were occurring, the management staff (and in some cases the front-line staff) reported that the quality of child welfare service delivery had improved greatly.


Staff Training and Experience

  • to be effective in dealing with more diverse and more troubled families than in previous years, child welfare staff require greater breadth and depth of education and training than in previous years, before the influx of immigrant groups and the proliferation of drugs into society
  • as the child welfare system has come under increasing scrutiny from society and the media regarding its ability to effectively serve children and families, recruiting and retaining competent, well-trained staff has become more difficult
  • in some states, budget cuts have forced agency administrators to lay off or retire their most experienced (and highly paid) employees, and replace them with younger, less experienced (and less expensive) workers
  • for workers to stay abreast of new policies and procedures and strategies for dealing with such client-specific issues as mental illness, addiction, and different and varied cultures, it is important that ongoing, agency-sponsored training remain a priority
  • current training often is insufficient
  • training would be more salient if it was frequent, ongoing, and of sufficient substance that new skills could be acquired and problems, such as racial bias in decision making, addressed and changed
  • need more training in cultural awareness and sensitivity, especially in light of the number of participants who reported having experienced worker bias toward children and families of color
  • workers sometimes made decisions based on the race or socio-economic background of a family rather than on the specifics of the case
  • differential decision-making often results in African American and impoverished families being more likely to have children removed from the home or parental rights terminated
  • training focused on cultural issues are frequently short-term or one-time events that may be insufficient to address such difficult issues as racial or class bias



“Agency administrators can provide the strongest support possible to their staff, and also can ensure that only the most highly qualified candidates are hired. If resources are lacking, however, practice will be compromised.”


  • need access to resources both internal and external to the agency
  • need more resources to support foster and adoptive families, including kin
  • the number of children needing foster care and adoptive placements has increased but the resources available to support finding and maintaining such placements have not
  • necessary resources include financial incentives for foster and adoptive families, including more post-adoptive services and more foster and adoptive families
  • need more external resources to serve clients, including financial resources to pay for, and agencies to provide, mental health and substance abuse services
  • need additional resources to keep families together, including relationships with agencies that could provide such basic necessities as food, housing, employment opportunities, and childcare options
  • recognizing their limitations to provide comprehensive services to children and families, agencies have started cultivating more formal and informal relationships with other service providing agencies, including those based in the community
  • to broaden service options for child-welfare involved families, agencies are moving towards contracting out services to local service providing agencies, outsourcing child welfare staff to community-based agencies, and building collaborative relationships with private child-serving agencies
  • these strategies also have been effective in meeting the needs of different racial and ethnic groups, as many of the community-based service agencies also have a racial or ethnic affiliation and focus


Strategies for Serving Children and Families of Color

  • none of the service delivery strategies were specifically designed to reduce racial disproportionality in the child welfare systems
  • need brief descriptions of the service delivery strategies, all of which could be adapted for other child welfare systems to address the needs of children and families of color


Kinship Care and Subsidized Guardianship

  • one strength of African American and other minority families, the use of relatives and fictive kin (unrelated persons with whom family has a close relationship) as caregivers for children, is an important measure for increasing permanency for minority children while simultaneously maintaining ties to their family system
  • relatives can become guardians of children; subsidies to these guardians has proven to be beneficial
  • relatives can become foster parents; subsidies to adoptive relatives has been found to be beneficial
  • relatives can become adoptive parents of children; subsidies to adoptive relatives has been found to be beneficial
  • in Illinois, subsidized relative placement has resulted in increased permanency for children and reduced racial disproportionality in the child welfare system


Family Conferencing

  • family conferencing, called the family assessment process in North Carolina, brings together biological parents, relatives, neighbors and friends, religious and other supports, as well as professionals with the goal of averting placement
  • meetings occur frequently and, as part of the program model, are designed to emphasize the safety, permanency, and well-being of the child
  • community is integrally involved in the decision-making about the child, and thus tends to be involved as participants in the child’s care (e.g., a church member providing day care; a grandmother caring for child full-time while mother participates in drug treatment)
  • family conferencing was a major component of the service delivery strategy in a North Carolina county in which racial disproportionality was reduced


Recruitment and Retention of Minority Foster and Adoptive Parents

  • recruitment of minority foster and adoptive parents is an important strategy to reduce racial disproportionality
  • targeting recruitment to minority communities, specifically minority social organizations and institutions (e.g. churches), was emphasized
  • be more flexible regarding the types of families deemed acceptable, given the diversity of family composition and characteristics of minority communities
  • provide culturally sensitive post-placement services in order to retain the minority foster and adoptive families involved with the agency


Concurrent Planning

  • this practice requires child welfare staff to work for reunification while simultaneously seeking another permanent home for the targeted children, so children may not remain in the system as long as when the practices occurred sequentially
  • adoption can be explored with relatives or foster parents while the biological parents are receiving rehabilitative services
  • children do not have to be removed to another placement if the decision is made to change the permanency goal to adoption or guardianship; they are already in their permanent placement
  • despite the thinking that minority families, particularly relatives, may have difficulty with the notion of terminating the rights (TPR) of the biological families, participants in this study reported that minority relative and foster caregivers were not resistant to TPR and adoption


Promoting Permanency

  • an agency-wide focus on permanency for all child-welfare involved families has the residual impact of fostering permanency for minority families, and therefore reducing their numbers in the child welfare system
  • agencies were more likely to emphasize permanency for children from the time they came into care, through prevention and reunification services, family conferencing efforts, and relative placements
  • agencies focus on creating a waiting pool of adoptive families and recruiting families in the child’s environment to be adoptive parents
  • shift toward permanency was perceived to result in higher quality services and outcomes for minority children


Supporting Biological Families (Prevention)

  • preventing minority children from entering the system was crucial for addressing racial disproportionality
  • prevention programs that supported children to remain with their families of origin can be implemented by child welfare agencies, with a particular eye to the needs of minority children and families
  • programs should be culturally sensitive regarding services, and employ staff that is reflective of the culture of the targeted population
  • a broad conceptualization of culture emerged from the findings of this study, and included religious, language, immigration, ethnic, racial, family composition, and class factors
  • several different types of preventive services for biological families were perceived as particularly effective for minority families
  • Alternative Response systems provide preventive casework services to families in the community who are at-risk of child maltreatment to avert entering into the child welfare system
  • family conferencing allows biological parents to receive supports from their own informal social networks for prevention and reunification purposes
  • community-based, family-support programs that are targeted to the needs of the population have also been used to create a system of care for families that prevents their entry into the child welfare system


Community-Based Strategies and Collaborations with Other Agencies

  • the long-held practice in child welfare services to contract out specific services has had particular implications for minority families
  • child welfare agencies have been able to link with programs designed to serve particular ethnic groups
  • collaborations allow for a focus on a particular service strategy, such as prevention and reunification, recruitment of minority and adoptive families, or post-placement services
  • linkages also provide service settings for families that are in their individual communities, versus in the centralized and often bureaucratic setting of the child welfare public agency
  • promote more intimate relationships between the service providers and recipients, as well as the provision of more culturally and otherwise responsive services.


Emphasis on Prevention

  • shifting the philosophy of the child welfare system from one that intervenes after the fact to one that focuses on keeping children out of the system would have profound implications for the numbers of children coming into care, and especially for children of color
  • prevention is less expensive than focusing on the back end
  • in current child welfare policy, foster care is an entitlement. That is, for every eligible child States automatically get partial reimbursement. As a result, between 1999 and 2003, the Federal government is expected to spend nine dollars on foster care for every dollar spent to prevent it (Rosenbaum, 2001)
  • other existing policies, such as ASFA and MEPA, are focused more on foster care and adoption rather than on prevention and family reunification
  • other policies have allowed States to use Title IV-E dollars more flexibly, including providing services and other resources to child-welfare involved families
  • funds are appropriated to support existing policies, including incentives for agencies to implement them effectively, so there are currently very few financial resources for prevention services
  • limited resources that do exist must be used to implement strategies that meet policy requirements


Manner in Which Policies Are Created

  • policy is often driven by public perception primarily, and because public perception is influenced by the media’s portrayal of events, child welfare policies are often developed in response to a perceived problem or crisis
  • creating policies this way sometimes results in policies that are removed from the practices they were designed to guide
  • the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) was passed in 1997 in response to concerns from policy makers that children (mostly minority children) were languishing in foster care, in part, because of the system’s previous emphasis on family preservation, which started in 1993 with the passage of the Family Preservation and Family Support Act. Designed to promote safety and permanence for children through adoptive placements, ASFA provides incentive payments to States to encourage adoption of children out of foster care, and shortens timeframes for initiating proceedings for the termination of parental rights. Although increased adoptions have been observed since the passage of ASFA, some argue that the increase in adoptions has been offset by the number of children now coming into care because of the policy
  • an emphasis on prevention and family reunification, including financial resources to support them, might be a more viable solution to the large numbers of children in care, again emphasizing the importance of keeping families out of the system to begin with
  • important that policies be driven by careful examination of the strengths and limitations of the system rather than political considerations
  • emphasizes the importance of policies that are developed to promote viable options for workers and families at each point along the child welfare decision-making spectrum.


Contracting Out Services

  • emphasis on improving services to children and families by contracting out more services to community-based and private child welfare agencies
  • increased responsibilities and caseloads along with diminishing financial resources, means public agencies are often operating at or over the limits of available resources
  • to find alternative means to provide services for children and families, agencies have turned to contractual relationships with private or non-profit child welfare agencies
  • value of having access to these services, especially community-based services
  • community-based services can meet the needs of children and families right in their own neighborhood
  • community-based services provide child welfare agency staff with viable options for quality service delivery
  • community-based services are more likely to have an ethnic focus, and can deliver services within a culturally appropriate and sensitive context
  • many agency administrators are struggling to discern effective means for developing and implementing these types of contractual relationships with already limited resources, and to maintain high levels of accountability and control for quality service delivery



  • there are a variety of factors influencing who gets reported and for what
  • closer partnerships between child welfare agencies and schools, hospitals, and other common sources of reports could facilitate more accurate and equitable identification of cases of maltreatment at the point of reporting
  • there is a lack of consistency across child welfare agencies regarding standards for what constitutes abuse or neglect
  • to reduce worker bias and uncertainty when making judgments regarding cases, definitions of abuse and neglect could be clarified and standardized
  • standard definitions also might reduce the fear and concern workers have when they are forced to make decisions in the eye of the media.[2]

This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway.




Action Step 14.1.1: Implement the “Best Practices” from the Child Welfare League of America 2019 National Conference.


[1] Child Welfare League of America 2019 National Conference website, found at https://www.cwla.org/cwla2019/, accessed 9/23/2020

[2] Child Welfare League of America 2019 National Conference website, found at https://www.cwla.org/cwla2019/, accessed 9/23/2020


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Jo Calk