We Know Better Than We Do: A Policy Framework for Child Welfare Reform

The need for comprehensive reform of child welfare policies and systems has long been evident. This Article reports observations from the WK Kellogg Foundation-sponsored Families for Kids Initiative that seeks to expand services and support to families and reduce the time children spend in temporary care. The authors first provide an overview of the need for reforms such as those proposed by this initiative, suggesting that many child welfare studies, critiques, and proposed reforms have had similar objectives. The authors highlight lessons learned from how these reform goals are being developed, implemented, and practiced in ongoing programs across the nation and argue that change at multiple levels must occur for reform of this system to succeed. They identify nine methods being used to varying degrees by some of these initiatives to institutionalize reform goals and improve the quality and outcomes of child welfare legal and social service practice. By highlighting these evolving models of state law, agency administrative procedure and professional practice, the authors identify areas of reform for other jurisdictions. Child welfare reform rests upon new legislation mandates; more specific reasonable efforts requirements, adoption of flexible funding mechanisms, capitated foster care contracts, timely court processes better trained professional or cross-system data capability to monitor children in care. All of these policy and system reforms must be designed and implemented collectively for child welfare ideals to become operational.