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Federal Child Welfare Oversight

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the principal federal agency that regulates and funds federal child welfare initiatives. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), an operating division of HHS, is responsible for federal programs that promote the economic and social well being of families, children, individuals and communities.

Within the ACF, the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) administers the major Federal programs supporting social services promoting growth and development of children and their families, protective services for children in at-risk situations, and adoption for children with special needs. The United States and its territories are divided into 10 geographic regions, each with an office responsible for administering some of ACYF’s programs within that region.

The Children’s Bureau (CB), one of two bureaus within the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, works in conjunction with state and local agencies to deliver child welfare services and develop programs that focus on preventing the abuse of children in troubled families. With an annual budget of over $7 billion, the CB provides grants to states, tribes and communities for services related, child protection services, family preservation and support, foster care, adoption and independent living.

The Children’s Bureau administers ten state grant programs and eight discretionary grant programs. Each of the state grant programs has its own legislatively mandated matching requirement and formula for allocation, but all require that funds be administered only by the state child welfare agency (or in some programs, Indian Tribes or Tribal organizations). The state agency is then authorized to contract with other public agencies and with private agencies for the direct provision of appropriate services. ACF policy requires a match from the grantees for all discretionary grant projects other than research.

The Children’s Bureau is also responsible for the collection and dissemination of child welfare statistics, the administration of child welfare information systems, and general oversight of the states’ child welfare systems.


Federal Reporting Systems

Systems administered by the Children’s Bureau collect data from the states as well as aid the states in collection of data. The systems administered by CB are:

  • Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS): AFCARS collects case-level information on all children in foster care for whom state child welfare agencies have responsibility for placement, care or supervision and on children who are adopted under the auspices of the state’s public child welfare agency. AFCARS also includes information on foster and adoptive parents.

  • National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS): NCANDS collects and analyzes annual data on child abuse and neglect submitted voluntarily by the states and the District of Columbia. Data from the states are used systematically to measure the impact and effectiveness of CPS through performance outcome measures. NCANDS collects case-level data on all children who receive an investigation or assessment by a CPS agency. States that are unable to provide case-level data submit aggregated counts of key indicators.

  • Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS): The SACWIS functions as the electronic case file for children and families served by the states’ child welfare programs. Through federal funding, each state is encouraged to implement its own comprehensive automated case management tool. These state systems produce the data that are sent to the Children’s Bureau systems such as AFCARS. Currently, most states and the District of Columbia are at some stage of SACWIS planning, development, implementation, or operations.

  • National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD): NYTD will collect case-level information on youth in care including the services paid for or provided by the State agencies that administer the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP), as well as the outcome information on youth who are in or who have aged out of foster care.


The Child and Family Service Review

The Child and Family Service Review is the Department of Health and Human Service’s mechanism for monitoring state compliance with federal child welfare requirements established by titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act (SSA). The CFSR measures outcomes and results by examining case file documentation, and allows states to undertake corrective action if they are not found in substantial conformity with the law.

The CFSR takes place in two phases, consisting of a Statewide Assessment and an onsite review of child and family service outcomes and program systems. First, the Children’s Bureau prepares and transmits to the State the data profiles that contain aggregate data on the State’s foster care and in-home service populations. The data profiles allow each State to compare certain safety and permanency data indicators with national standards determined by the Children’s Bureau.

Secondly, a joint Federal-State team performs an onsite review of the State child welfare program. The onsite portion of the review includes: 1) case record reviews, 2) interviews with children and families engaged in services, and 3) interviews with community stakeholders, such as the courts and community agencies, and caseworkers and service providers.

At the end of the onsite review, States determined not to have achieved substantial conformity in all the areas assessed are required to develop and implement Program Improvement Plans (PIPs) addressing the areas of nonconformity. The Children’s Bureau supports the States with technical assistance and monitors implementation of the plans.

States that do not achieve their required improvements sustain penalties as prescribed in the Federal regulations. All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico completed their first review by 2004. No State was found to be in substantial conformity in all of the seven outcome areas or seven systemic factors. Since that time, States have been implementing their PIP’s to correct those outcome areas not found in substantial conformity.

As of July 2, 2012, all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have completed the round 1, 2-year PIP implementation period. The Children’s Bureau has completed its evaluation of all 52 of the round 1 PIPs and determined that 43 states achieved all of their PIP goals and implemented all required PIP activities; penalties were assessed for 9 States; of those 9 States, penalties were rescinded in 7 States, and on-going penalties are being assessed annually for the remaining 2 States.

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