Monthly Archives: October 2016

Changing the Child Welfare System

Ten years ago this month the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) released a paper, An Effective Child Welfare System, featuring the Allegheny County child welfare system in Pittsburgh, PA. This child welfare system reduced foster care placements, reunified children with family, and placed children with relatives, doing all of these goals at two to three times the rate of other state child welfare systems. In addition, there were no child deaths from abuse or neglect for a period of three years in a population of over 1 million people. Allegheny County is still a model child welfare system and you can view the paper here: http://www.nfpn.org/articles/monograph-an-effective-child-welfare-system

In revisiting effective child welfare systems, this time we’re going to look at Connecticut’s child welfare system. We’ll begin with the back end of the child welfare system and work our way to the front. Connecticut is one of 21 states whose child welfare system is under federal oversight through a court consent decree. When Joette Katz, a former judge, was appointed 6 years ago as Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, there were 50 group homes statewide in which dependent children were frequently placed and only 21% of children were placed with relatives. Many children were sent out of state for mental health treatment. Commissioners averaged 18 months on the job.

Commissioner Katz adopted a Strengthening Families practice model which has family engagement as its foundation. The goal is to preserve the family unit and minimize the disruption and trauma associated with the removal, placement, and separation of the child from the family. In two years Commissioner Katz reduced out-of-state placements by 97% and congregate care by 67% while doubling the number of children placed with relatives. All of this took place during a time of large cuts to the child welfare budget. The state has met 16 of the 22 outcome requirements from the consent decree and is on track to exit federal oversight. The child fatality rate is the third lowest in the nation.
One of the biggest impacts in the back end of Connecticut’s child welfare system was the dramatic reduction (67%) in congregate care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been instrumental in the reduction in use of congregate care. Take a look at their data:
 *57,000 children nationwide are living in group placements
 *4 in 10 children have no medical/mental health diagnosis or behavioral problem warranting group placement
 *Group placement costs 7-10 times the cost of placing a child with a family
 *States range from 4%-35% of children in the child welfare system placed in group care with an average of 14%

Casey Foundation states that one way to reduce group placements is to have the top child welfare administrator approve all group placements as is the case in Connecticut. To read the Casey report on group care visit http://www.aecf.org/resources/every-kid-needs-a-family/

The Casey Foundation also has a report on kinship care noting that 2.7 million children live with extended family, or 1 in every 11 children and about 29% of the children in foster care. Kinship care increases child safety, stability, permanence, and well-being by maintaining familial and community bonds, sense of belonging, and by minimizing trauma. View the kinship report at http://www.aecf.org/resources/stepping-up-for-kids/

Still another report focuses on the increase in the number of children being raised by grandfamilies due to the opioid epidemic. Over 40% of children placed with relatives are removed because of parental drug or alcohol abuse. Shaheed Morris was born with fetal distress due to his mother’s alcohol and drug use during pregnancy. When his mother deserted him at the hospital, his grandmother claimed him although she had little money and only a 5th grade education. Shaheed graduated from university this year with a degree in journalism. He is still close to his 89 year old grandmother. For more stories like Shaheed’s see http://www.gu.org/Portals/0/documents/Reports/16-Report-State_of_Grandfamiles.pdf

In the next post, we’ll see how Connecticut addressed the front end of the child welfare system.

Posted by Priscilla Martens
NFPN Executive Director