Policy Implications for Child Abuse and Foster Care

Children at risk of maltreatment and those already in the child welfare system interact with a range of public and private systems that can help prevent child abuse, mitigate its effects, and help children achieve permanence in safe and stable families.

Policies to aid families in the child welfare system or those at risk of entry include:

  • Providing families with children at risk of abuse or neglect with a range of prevention services, including accurate risk assessment, multi-level, community-wide parenting education (media, individual and group supports, etc.), and home-visiting that is integrated into other prevention strategies (1, 2, 3)
  • Implementing, expanding, and funding "differential response," in which child protective services agencies have different levels of response to child abuse/neglect reports, depending on the severity of the allegations and the families' particular needs; this approach recognizes the variation in the nature of reports, and the value of tailoring services to meet different needs  (3)
  • Providing an accessible system of mental health care to reach foster children (2), and creating incentives for early assessment and referral for mental health issues in young children in the child welfare system (4, 5)
  • Ensuring proper implementation of existing law authorizing additional supports to transition-age youth exiting foster care, in order to provide stability, health care, mental health services, housing, and meaningful school and work opportunities upon emancipation (6, 7)
  • Continuing to identify and support effective strategies to improve outcomes for children and families of color, especially African American/Black and American Indian/Native American children, in the child welfare system (8)

For more research to support policy on child abuse prevention and foster care, see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Child Welfare Information Gateway, the California Evidence-based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, and California Fostering Connections. For implementation tools, see Child Welfare League of America.

(1)     "Preventing Child Maltreatment," The Future of Children, (Princeton University and Brookings Institution, Fall 2009), http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/19_02_FullJournal.pdf

(2)    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Preventing Child Maltreatment Through the Promotion of Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships Between Children and Caregivers (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009), http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/CM_Strategic_Direction--Long-a.pdf

(3)    Child Welfare Information Gateway, Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect, (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008), http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/differential_response/differential_response.pdf

(4)    Neal Halfon, et al., Mental Health Services for Children in Foster Care, (UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, 2002), http://www.healthychild.ucla.edu/publications/ChildrenFosterCare/Documents/Mental%20health%20brief%20final%20for%20distribution.pdf

(5)    Janice L. Cooper et al., Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Young Children in the Child Welfare System: What Every Policymaker Should Know, (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2010), http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_968.html

(6)    Melanie Delgado, Proposition 63: Is the Mental Health Services Act Reaching California’s Transition Age Foster Youth? (Children’s Advocacy Institute, 2010), http://www.caichildlaw.org/Misc/Proposition_63_Report_FINAL_Master.pdf

(7)    Mark E. Courtney and Darcy Hughes Heuring, “The Transition to Adulthood for Youth 'Aging Out' of the Foster Care System," On Your Own Without A Net: The Transition to Adulthood for Vulnerable Populations, D. Wayne Osgood, et al., eds., University of Chicago, 2005), http://books.google.com/books?id=-JorJNMaFf4C&lpg=PA27&ots=a2qSa271Ac&dq=california%20homelessness%20transition%20age%20youth&lr&pg=PA27#v=onepage&q&f=false

(8)  Center for the Study of Social Policy, PolicyforResults.org, Achieve Racial Equity in Child Welfare Services. (Accessed April 2011). http://www.policyforresults.org/Topics/2008/Building-Strong-and-Stable-Families/Increase-Exits-from-Foster-Care-to-PERMANENCY/Exits-to-Permanency/Executive-Summary/Copy-of-Reduce-Racial-Disproportionality-in-Child-Welfare.aspx