Governors Can Help Kids and Families by Promoting Child Welfare Improvements

Posted October 4, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog governorscanhelpkidsandfamilies 2015

As Jack Markell rode through the streets of Dover, Delaware, on a crisp evening a week before Christ­mas 2013, he wasn’t there just to see the sights — and he wasn’t just any Delaware resident.

Gov. Markell (pic­tured above, cen­ter) want­ed to see how chil­dren and fam­i­lies were far­ing in this small city, includ­ing in a sec­tion of town with a his­to­ry of drug crime. The governor’s com­pan­ions were Jen­nifer Ran­ji, sec­re­tary of the state’s Depart­ment of Ser­vices for Chil­dren, Youth and Their Fam­i­lies (DSCYF) and a DSCYF case­work­er. The three­some vis­it­ed a grand­fa­ther car­ing for his grand­chil­dren, a domes­tic vio­lence shel­ter and a home in which a child had been adopt­ed by fos­ter parents.

The case­work­er not­ed that the gov­er­nor asked a lot of ques­tions,” says Car­la Ben­son-Green, a DSCYF admin­is­tra­tor. He seemed con­cerned about the bar­ri­ers the grand­fa­ther was expe­ri­enc­ing because he did not yet have guardian­ship of the chil­dren.” “[The gov­er­nor] heard a lot about the division’s increas­ing focus on keep­ing chil­dren with fam­i­ly,” says Ben­son-Green, includ­ing a new pro­gram designed to keep teens out of fos­ter care by meet­ing their needs while they live at home with their families.

Gov­er­nors spark cru­cial improvements

When gov­er­nors get involved in focus­ing their child wel­fare agen­cies on how chil­dren and fam­i­lies are doing — their out­comes — it can mean real improve­ments,” says Tracey Feild, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group, which pro­vides assis­tance to agen­cies look­ing to improve their ser­vices and outcomes.

Feild points to key improve­ments made in sev­er­al states, includ­ing those in which Casey has part­nered with child wel­fare agen­cies, such as Delaware, Con­necti­cut and Vir­ginia, and those in which Casey has not been involved but that have improved their out­comes, such as New Jersey.

We have seen time and again that a gov­er­nor lead­ing the way can bring sub­stan­tive improve­ments for a state’s child wel­fare sys­tem,” says Feild. Gov­er­nors, may­ors and com­mu­ni­ties want results. They want to help chil­dren and do so at a sus­tain­able cost. And they want chil­dren to be safe.”

She notes, for exam­ple, that for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s lead­er­ship led to inno­va­tion and improved out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies in that state. Vir­ginia cut the num­ber of chil­dren in group care, pro­vid­ed 60% more local ser­vices for chil­dren and fam­i­lies and decreased child wel­fare costs by 5.8%.”

When child wel­fare improve­ments are thought­ful­ly cho­sen, sequenced and installed,” chil­dren and teens are more like­ly to live with fam­i­lies and not in group place­ments, Feild says. They are also more like­ly to hit impor­tant devel­op­men­tal milestones.

New guide pro­vides met­rics and promis­ing practices

Gov­er­nors, agency lead­ers and advo­cates now have a new tool for shap­ing their improve­ment agen­das. Casey’s new pub­li­ca­tion, A Child Wel­fare Leader’s Desk Guide to Build­ing a High-Per­form­ing Agency, presents 10 prac­tices to moti­vate com­mu­ni­ties and lead­ers to make pos­i­tive changes and com­mit to bet­ter out­comes for chil­dren and families.

Feild points to Prac­tice #1 in the desk guide, which is to sub­stan­tive­ly increase agen­cies’ focus on child and fam­i­ly out­comes. Gov­er­nors can let agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ties know that they are expect­ed to focus their prac­tices, poli­cies and con­tracts on doing a bet­ter job meet­ing chil­dren and fam­i­lies’ needs,” she says, not­ing, The guide describes spe­cif­ic prac­tices and met­rics to do that.”

Met­rics in the desk guide pro­vide agen­cies with nation­al bench­marks on, for example:

  • Increased time­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion. The desk guide notes that the top 10% of child wel­fare agen­cies help 51% of chil­dren who enter their sys­tem to live with their par­ents or kin with­in a year.
  • Increased time­ly per­ma­nen­cy. In the top 10% of agen­cies, 61% of chil­dren who enter care achieve per­ma­nen­cy with­in two years.

The desk guide also points to proven prac­tices that agen­cies can install to improve how chil­dren fare upon com­ing into con­tact with the child wel­fare sys­tem. Spe­cif­ic approach­es to mea­sur­ing and address­ing racial and oth­er dis­par­i­ties are pre­sent­ed, along with an entire vol­ume of research cita­tions and links to promis­ing approaches.

The desk guide aims to inspire an urgent com­mit­ment to con­tin­u­al improve­ment,” Feild says. Why the urgency? Research is reshap­ing our knowl­edge of what works and it is imper­a­tive that pub­lic sys­tems, led on by gov­er­nors and agency lead­ers, act on that knowledge.”

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