Preventing Families From Having Child Welfare Involvement

Posted April 30, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A family sits on the floor of a child's room. Two moms sit behind their two daughters. One daughter proudly holds a drawing of her family.

Dur­ing Child Abuse Pre­ven­tion Month, Lisa Hamil­ton, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, joined Dr. Melis­sa Mer­rick, pres­i­dent and CEO of Pre­vent Child Abuse Amer­i­ca (PCAA), to explore an impor­tant ques­tion: What can be done to bet­ter sup­port fam­i­lies before they reach a point of cri­sis or enter the child wel­fare system?

Hamil­ton and Dr. Mer­rick record­ed their con­ver­sa­tion for Pre­vent­ing Adverse Child­hood Expe­ri­ences,” an episode of PCAA’s new pod­cast series. They dis­cussed how child wel­fare agen­cies, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions and oth­er part­ners can work togeth­er to ensure young peo­ple and fam­i­lies have the resources they need — like access to sta­ble hous­ing and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties — to avoid sys­tem involvement.

This idea of mak­ing sure fam­i­lies have what they need, when they need it, deliv­ered in their own com­mu­ni­ties with love and respect and with­out stig­ma before they are in cri­sis is how chil­dren and fam­i­lies will be hap­py, thrive and be hope­ful for the future,” says Dr. Merrick.

Lis­ten to the episode

In 2022, 62% of entries to fos­ter care were relat­ed to neglect, yet the nation’s child wel­fare sys­tems tend to invest more in inter­ven­tions or respons­es post-neglect rather than in approach­es to pre­vent it. Research has shown that pover­ty is often at the root of refer­rals for neglect. Eco­nom­ic sup­ports, includ­ing the child tax cred­it, Med­ic­aid and the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram, have proven to dras­ti­cal­ly reduce child wel­fare involvement.

We know neglect is defined dif­fer­ent­ly across states, but it real­ly typ­i­cal­ly applies to a lack of basic needs, every­thing from hous­ing to child care to cloth­ing,” says Hamil­ton. All of the things we know low-income fam­i­lies are strug­gling with.”

The two lead­ers also dis­cuss the impor­tance of engag­ing com­mu­ni­ties in design­ing and imple­ment­ing ser­vices that strength­en fam­i­lies. Those who have expe­ri­enced the child wel­fare sys­tem have crit­i­cal per­spec­tives and insights on how to improve children’s well-being.

This work is doable, and that cer­tain­ly gives me lots of hope,” says Hamil­ton, high­light­ing sev­er­al of the Casey Foundation’s pre­ven­tion-relat­ed efforts, including:

  • KIDS COUNT® — state-by-state data on the well-being of children.
  • Thrive by 25® — a set of invest­ments that pro­mote basic needs, per­ma­nent con­nec­tions, edu­ca­tion and cre­den­tials, finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty and youth lead­er­ship for young peo­ple ages 14 through 24.
  • Thriv­ing Fam­i­lies, Safer Chil­dren — a 22-juris­dic­tion part­ner­ship that sup­ports com­mu­ni­ty-based approach­es to pre­vent the need for fam­i­ly separations.
  • Evidence2Success® — tools for sur­vey­ing young people’s expe­ri­ences and using that data to iden­ti­fy evi­dence-based prac­tices and pro­grams that will improve outcomes.

Learn more about the Foun­da­tion’s child wel­fare work

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