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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


Article of Interest - Children At-Risk

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Bridges4Kids LogoStates Failing New Test of Child Welfare System
from The Associated Press, August 19, 2003

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Not a single state has passed a rigorous test of its ability to protect children from child abuse and to find permanent homes for children who often languish in foster care.

The 32 states evaluated so far could lose millions of dollars from the federal government if they fail to fix problems within a few years.

The problems of child welfare get periodic attention, usually following the tragic death of a child. The Child and Family Service Reviews are the first time federal officials have tried to measure how well children are  faring across state systems created to protect them -- but that often fall short.

The reviews ask whether children are bouncing from one foster home to the next, never able to put down roots; whether siblings taken from their parents are kept together or pulled apart; whether it takes a state too long to finalize adoptions or to send children back to their biological parents.

Affected are nearly 550,000 children in foster care and an estimated half million others living at home but under state supervision.

"There is a lot of work to be done," said Joan Ohl, commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families. "It's a daunting task."

In the past, states were evaluated on bureaucratic benchmarks. Now, the questions are how many children are abused again after entering the system and whether parents are getting promised help.

The reviews merge dozens of questions into seven "outcomes" measurements.

Fourteen states have failed all seven. An additional 14, plus the District of Columbia, have failed six of the seven, and four states failed five. No state has passed more than two.

"We set a very high bar and we don't apologize for that bar," Ohl said in an interview.

Problems were found in every state:

In Tennessee, the agency did not respond to abuse reports in a timely manner nearly 30 percent of the time.

In Michigan, more than one in four parents with children in foster care said they had not received needed services such as parenting classes or drug treatment.

In Ohio, 27 percent of the time the agency did not make a diligent effort to help children in foster care maintain connections to family and community.

The reviews have spurred change.

Georgia began offering assistance to foster parents after it found more than one child out of every 100 was abused in a foster home, almost twice the national standard. Initiatives include a telephone help line, training on dealing with behavior problems and respite care to give foster parents time without the children.

After California was found to take too long to finalize adoptions, the state began combining its screening programs for potential foster and adoptive parents. That means the state will not have to conduct a second screening if foster parents decide to adopt.

States acknowledge the problems and welcome a clear set of benchmarks for improvement, said Robert Lindecamp, director of the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators. "States don't have a problem with having a high standard," he said.

One problem common to all states is the huge load handled by child welfare caseworkers. The reviews found that families do better when caseworkers make more visits, but that requires additional money that budget-strapped states are not inclined to spend. 


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