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New Initiative on Child Welfare

The Bipartisan Policy Center announced today the launch of its Child Welfare Initiative (CWI) to identify and elevate bipartisan approaches to improving outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system. Building on state and federal reform efforts, the initiative will tackle key issues including preventing and responding to child neglect and abuse, adoption, foster care, and other areas with the goal of elevating a vision for protecting children and supporting families.

Child welfare policy has a long tradition of bipartisanship, but polarization across the country is beginning to impact the child welfare system. BPC spent the past nine months listening to the diverse perspectives of those working for, involved with, and directly affected by child welfare policy and agencies. We found widespread consensus on the challenges that child welfare agencies face, strong agreement on the direction child welfare should be going, and acknowledgement of the difficulty in building common ground solutions.

“Protecting child safety and supporting family health through the child welfare system have always been shared bipartisan priorities,” said BPC President and CEO Margaret Spellings. “With this Initiative, BPC and partners will work with public agencies and private community organizations across the country to identify ways to enhance the system’s efficacy. We’re delighted to reaffirm our nation’s bipartisan commitment to children and families.”

To achieve our goals, the Initiative will:  

  • Convene constructive conversations to identify policy opportunities to improve outcomes for children and families.
  • Conduct research to assist state policymakers and program leaders implementing existing child welfare policies and developing new policies that strengthen families, prevent child maltreatment, and promote better outcomes for children and youth in foster care.
  • Facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among and between state and federal decision makers and the broader child welfare community.
  • Develop and elevate policy solutions.

The CWI will benefit from its diverse set of expert advisors:

  • Sixto Cancel | Founder and CEO, Think of Us
  • Prudence Beidler Carr | Director, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
  • A.J. Griffin | Chief Executive Officer, Potts Family Foundation
  • Janet Kelly | Virginia’s Kids Belong and Advisor to Gov. Youngkin
  • Jeremy Christopher Kohomban | President and CEO, The Children’s Village and the President of Harlem Dowling
  • Jedd Medefind | President, The Christian Alliance for Orphans
  • Naomi Schaefer Riley | Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • Terry Stigdon | CEO, American Red Cross Indiana Region
  • Judge William A. Thorne | retired, State of Utah Court of Appeals and Third District Court   

BPC collected the views of the public through a Harris Poll survey to inform the initiative’s agenda.  Overall, the public:

  1. Sees the mission of child welfare as a balance of keeping children safe and strengthening parents: When asked what the primary purpose of the child welfare system in the country should be, 44% support primarily protecting children and 51% support strengthening families.
  2. Believes that parents who are found to be neglectful or abusive of their children can, with appropriate support, improve their parenting and provide safe care: Nearly three quarters (74%) believe that parents who have been neglectful can provide safe and nurturing care for their children when they receive needed supports. More than half (53%) believe the same is true for parents who have been abusive.
  3. Overwhelmingly supports the engagement of extended family members (also referred to as kinship care) to help care for children when parents are struggling: Nine in ten (90%) feel that extended family members should be identified to take in children when problems arise before resorting to foster care and three in four (76%) agree that children should not be adopted to an adoptive family until all extended family / kin options have been exhausted first.
  4. Believes that government and nongovernmental agencies should share the responsibility of keeping children safe and helping struggling families: Two thirds (66%) believe that government and community/religious organizations are both needed to effectively respond to concerns of child abuse and neglect.
  5. Supports investigation of abuse and neglect in most instances but is concerned about bias against poor families and families of color in decision making about when to intervene in families reported for abuse or neglect: Nearly three in four respondents (73%) agree that too often decisions on whether the child welfare system should intervene in families are influenced by socioeconomic or poverty biases. 

BPC Fellow Rob Geen, who is leading the CWI, noted, “These findings are significant because they offer insight about the public’s position on issues that policy makers around the country are considering. The public recognizes the challenges that our nation’s child welfare system faces and wants the government to work with communities to better support parents and treat them fairly.”

BPC thanks the funders of this important work: Annie E. Casey Foundation, Aviv Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Doris Duke Foundation, Stand Together Trust, and Wilson Sheehan Foundation.

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