How States Developed Plans to Meet a Federal Mandate: Addressing the Challenges of the Child and Family Services Reviews


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Virginia Tech


Much of the child welfare literature addresses risk factors, incidence, and consequences of abuse and neglect, and innovative programs, services, and interventions designed to serve at-risk and maltreated children, youth, and their families. Less attention has been given to how state and local governments oversee the public child welfare system and respond to federal mandates, especially in achieving positive outcomes for this vulnerable population.

In 1997, the Congress enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). This legislation mandates that all states meet certain performance and accountability standards regarding safety, permanency, and well-being of children served by their child welfare systems. These issues are important for the approximately 500,000 children in foster care at any point in time. There is also significant concern for the millions of children involved in the child welfare system through investigations, court proceedings, and both mandated and voluntary services.

A significant effort resulting from ASFA is the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs). The myriad requirements under ASFA and the CFSRs create a federal mandate for changes in the way state child welfare systems meet the needs of the children, youth, and families they serve and a process for improving federally defined outcomes.

This study examined how states responded to federal requirements of the CFSRs. Specifically, it looked at how states proposed to address shortcomings identified in relation to two individual child and family well-being outcomes and two systemic factors where they had failed to meet conformance criteria in their CFSR. It is important to understand how the federal-state process transpired to ameliorate these conditions without additional federal funding to implement the CFSR requirements.

Results of this study describe six states' strategies related to two well-being outcomes, specifically in the areas of education, physical health, and mental health, and two systemic factors, service array and agency responsiveness to the community, as identified in their Program Improvement Plans (PIPs). Four central themes emerge: complexity of the problems, knowledge base and data to guide improvements, resource availability, and collaboration among agencies. These themes help inform states on the potential benefits and challenges in responding to federal mandates.



Well-being, Public Policy, Implementation, Federal Mandates, ASFA, CFSR, Child Welfare