The federal Administration for Children & Families (ACF) recently released a request for comments on, among other things, the Child & Family Service Reviews (CFSR: see Federal Register, Volume 76, Number 65). The request for comments covers a broad range of activities related to the administration of public child welfare programs including requirements for submitting IV-E and IV-B plans and linkages between the CFSR process and other federal reviews.
In addition to the opportunity to provide written comments, a series of meetings have been held to solicit comments from public agency representatives and stakeholders. One of the questions raised is in regards to the usefulness and structure of the National Resource Centers (NRCs) that support the CFSR process. The purpose of the NRCs, otherwise known as the T&TA Network, “is to build the capacity of State, local, Tribal, and other publicly administered or publicly supported child welfare agencies and family and juvenile courts through the provision of training, technical assistance, research, and consultation on the full array of Federal requirements administered by the Children’s Bureau”.
The resources of the T/TA network have met with mixed reviews. Some state child welfare agencies have found them helpful, others, not so much. Hearing this question raised, I started thinking about how the federal government could effectively support the efforts of states to improve their child welfare systems.
Before sharing my thoughts on this question, I want to step back and provide a little perspective on the nature of child welfare systems. One of the greatest challenges within child welfare is the necessity of working with a variety of other systems, some of which are not necessarily ‘on the same page’ when it comes to supporting child welfare systems. This is particularly evident in the CFSR process. For example, one of the outcomes measured is educational well-being. The cooperation and support of educational systems is essential in order to achieve a positive rating in this area. Other systems are involved as well; for example, mental health, substance abuse, legislative bodies, courts, etc. Child welfare is definitely not a ‘one man/woman show’! It requires the on-going cooperation of many other entities and in some cases, requires resources from these organizations as well.
Given this scenario, child welfare systems may find themselves at the mercy of other systems when it comes to effectively serving children and families. This requires more than collaboration at the individual case level, but throughout the systems, all the way up to the federal level. Given the level of collaboration that is necessary, I propose the following. Included as part of the current NRC structure, there might be a requirement that resource centers hire leaders from related fields. In the education example, there might be a consultant on staff that has worked extensively in education, in addition to working with child welfare systems. While it may not be feasible to do this with every NRC, certainly there would be a way to incorporate this expertise into the overall structure.
Another option, and I believe an even better option might provide even more flexibility. Instead of being able to use a set number of hours of consultation from the NRCs, states and jurisdictions would have the option of ‘purchasing’ consultation from approved experts, using the federal money that has been set aside for consultation resources. In this example, consultants with a proven track record in education that includes collaboration with child welfare agencies could be retained to work with child welfare systems. Their background in education would be invaluable as states negotiate with their counterparts in education.
My thoughts on this will be incorporated into my response to the request for comments. In the meantime, I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on this. Also, I’d encourage anyone impacted by the CFSR process or child welfare systems to send in their comments. [They are due by May 20, 2011.]