In 1983, President Reagan first designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month stating, “Prevention of abuse requires that neighborhoods and communities be attentive to the problems of families in their midst and be willing to help when help is needed. It requires the active concern of educational, medical, mental health, law enforcement, and social service professionals, and the efforts of volunteers and private citizens.”
Much has been done since to raise awareness. Nationwide efforts are currently underway to improve child safety and prevent child maltreatment-related fatalities. One such initiative is being driven by The Three Branch Institute, a technical assistance effort to help states work across the three branches of government to address the most pressing child welfare issues. Eight states were selected to work with the Three Branch Institute: Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. States were selected based on criteria that required applicants to 1) describe the issues facing the state regarding child welfare 2) state their vision of what they hoped to achieve through the Three Branch Institute, and 3) propose a strong state leadership team with the influence and authority to bring about practice and policy change.
The goal is to rethink the approach for improving the social and emotional well-being of children in foster care in multiple practice areas including behavioral and mental health, physical health, psychotropic medications, substance abuse, child well-being, finance, and cross agency collaboration. Areas of interest identified by states in the early planning phase include:
- Predictive analytics to support efforts to identify children at risk of removal and entry into foster care
- Court practices that recognize toxic stress in families and emphasize trauma-informed care with the goal of keeping families intact to the extent possible
- Data sharing and data integration across agencies
- Plans for safe care of infants affected by substance abuse
- Developing partnerships between child protection, law enforcement, education, health care providers and other stakeholders outside of child welfare that interact with children and families
- Adopting a “culture of safety” in child welfare, an environment where systems learn from past mistakes and tragedies rather than simply hitting the reset button
The long-term goal is to promote effective policies and practices that improve the safety and well-being of children, while helping participating states recognize that this is a shared priority objective for each branch of government.
California is currently striving towards child welfare reform through their Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) initiative. CCR is designed out of an understanding that children who must live apart from their biological parents do best when cared for in a committed, nurturing family home. Consequently, CCR provides the framework to ensure that children are provided with comprehensive services and supports that are tailored toward the ultimate goal of maintaining a stable family.
The Fundamental Principles of the CCR Initiative are:
- All children deserve to live with a committed, nurturing, and permanent family that prepares youth for a successful transition into adulthood
- The child, youth and family’s experience and opinion is important in assessment, placement, and service planning. A “child and family team,” which includes the child, youth and family, and their formal and informal support network, is the foundation for ensuring these perspectives are incorporated throughout the duration of the case
- Children should not have to change placements to get the services and supports they need. Research shows that being placed in foster care is a traumatic experience and in order for home-based placements to be successful, services including behavioral and mental health should be available in a home setting
- Agencies serving children and their families, including child welfare, probation, mental health, education, and other community service providers, need to collaborate effectively to ensure needed services, resources, and supports are delivered rather than requiring the child, youth, and caregivers to navigate multiple service providers
Hennepin County, Minnesota
Another example of a dramatic child welfare reform is in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Hennepin is the largest county and has the highest number of child protection cases in the state—20,000 in 2016. In addition, the county has soaring costs for child protection, including foster care and out-of-home placement. As a result, the county is developing a new child well-being model that connects families to services earlier to help with concerns such as mental health or employment in the hope of improving outcomes and reducing costs.
In short, strong, nurturing communities that promote strong families and provide necessary support services play a critical role in preventing child abuse and neglect and promoting child and family well-being. We want to give a shout out to organizations across the country who are making a difference for the children in their communities.