Governors Can Help Kids and Families by Promoting Child Welfare Improvements

Posted October 4, 2015
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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