Beyond Common Sense
Child Welfare, Child Well-Being, and the Evidence for Policy Reform
In this book, the authors examine the use of child well-being as an outcome for children involved with the child welfare system. Prior to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997, safety and permanency were the two primary outcomes used to judge whether the child welfare system was fulfilling its responsibilities. Since ASFA, however, well-being has moved closer to the center of the debate guiding child welfare reform. It is no surprise that attention would turn to the well-being; after all, helping vulnerable children develop their full potential has broad, common-sense appeal. However, as is often the case when policy choices have to be made, finding a place for well-being on the list of outcomes used to manage the child welfare system is not as easy as it seems. Given what we now know from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, the interest in child well-being will not wane. The question is, what will the policies look like and how will the choices be defended? This volume offers basic evidence that addresses the complex issue of well-being in the context of the child welfare system. The first section focuses on the theoretical foundations for the volume—that the ecological and life course perspectives on development provide a useful framework for examining the well-being of children in the context of the child welfare system, that evidence should include both data on incidence and evidence about what works, and that policy should be evidence based. In the second section, combining data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive and the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, the book offers an unprecedented profile of children as they come into the child welfare system. The data demonstrate that these children have pervasive developmental challenges. The third section focuses on what works for children of different ages. The evidence suggests that the child welfare system will have to focus on partnerships with other service systems. The data indicate that children starting out, children starting school, and children starting adolescence are high-risk populations for whom strategies have to be formed. The analysis also suggests that the child welfare system ought to act as an advocate for children in high-risk situations, helping families access the services their children need.
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