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Renewing Bipartisan Support for Children and Families

For years, the Bipartisan Policy Center has advanced bipartisan policies important to American families. While Republicans and Democrats may differ on their approach to policies such as child care, paid family leave or the child tax credit, there is strong agreement that public policy should support parents and children.

This bipartisan support extended to policies shaping the child welfare system. From the early 1980s into the 2010s, every major piece of child welfare legislation in Congress passed with significant bipartisan support. We saw similar approaches at the state, county, and city levels where policymakers allocated resources and enacted reforms to strengthen families and ensure children’s safety in a bipartisan way. Addressing the complex issues involved in child welfare—child maltreatment, foster care, adoption—means wrestling with some of the most sensitive and personal aspects of the core unit of American society: the family. Nevertheless, a bipartisan consensus historically underpinned child welfare policy.

The longstanding challenges facing the child welfare system—problematic outcomes, resource sufficiency, agency coordination—have increasingly tested that consensus. Growing ideological divisions and sharply different perspectives on the proper scope of government intervention have added to the strain. Little agreement exists on what’s needed to remedy gaps in the child welfare system or even what the system’s purpose should be.

After many months of intensive study of the child welfare landscape—including a national public opinion poll and scores of interviews with experts and advocates—BPC launched a Child Welfare Initiative to facilitate development and implementation of effective, bipartisan policies. Through the interviews and our research, we found that the child welfare field lacks a trusted convener to bring together different perspectives and identify shared priorities. Those we spoke with, from child welfare agency administrators and faith leaders to youth and foster parents with lived experience, agree on the challenges facing the child welfare system. They also agree that polarized and divisive rhetoric makes it difficult to find common ground on addressing these challenges and improving the system.

Child Welfare Initiative

BPC will focus on providing space for bipartisan discussion, consideration of evidence-based research, and constructive debate about policy options. Specifically, we seek to:

  • Help federal policymakers better understand the common and unique challenges state and local child welfare agencies face in implementing federal policies.
  • Create momentum for reforms at the state level in key areas including better differentiating poverty from neglect, improving front-end decision making, and supporting kinship care.
  • Form working groups on selected issues to develop policy and practice guidance.
  • Convene diverse experts to discuss challenges and build consensus on reform opportunities, including implementation of the 2018 Family First Prevention Services Act, addressing mental health challenges faced by parents and youth involved in child welfare, and opportunities to better maintain and support a quality workforce.
  • Collect and disseminate information to support state and local system leaders. including research syntheses, descriptions of innovative policies and programs, summaries of federal guidance and examples of state plans.

The Initiative is led by an experienced team and guided by project advisors with diverse perspectives on and experience with child welfare policy who provide individual and collective policy expertise. Advisors include:

  • Sixto Cancel, Founder and CEO, Think of Us
  • Prudence Beidler Carr, Director of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
  • J. Griffin, Chief Executive Officer of the Potts Family Foundation and former state legislator in Oklahoma
  • Janet Kelly, Virginia’s Kids Belong and Advisor to Gov. Youngkin
  • Jeremy Christopher Kohomban, President and CEO of The Children’s Village and President, Harlem Dowling
  • Jedd Medefind, President, The Christian Alliance for Orphans
  • Naomi Schaefer Riley, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Initiative
  • Terry Stigdon, CEO, American Red Cross Indiana Region, former director of the Indiana Department of Child Services
  • Judge William A. Thorne, former judge on the State of Utah Court of Appeals and in the Third District Court; also served as a tribal court judge in 10 states.


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