Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Saturday, January 13, 2007: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Marina Room (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Bringing Science to Public Child Welfare Service Planning and Accountability
Organizer:Fred H. Wulczyn, PhD, University of Chicago
Estimating the Need for Foster Care in New York City Neighborhoods
Bridgette Lery, PhD, Fred H. Wulczyn, PhD
Using Trajectories to Better Understand Substance Abuse in the Child Welfare System
Jennifer Haight, MA, Fred H. Wulczyn, PhD, Bridgette Lery, PhD
California's Child Welfare Outcome and Accountability Legislation: Improving Performance, and Staying the Course for Reform
Barbara Needell, PhD, Daniel Webster, PhD
Abstract Text:
The current climate of child welfare reform initiatives and public funding tied to improved outcomes for maltreated children calls for a more scientific description of the various strata of children who use public child welfare services. This symposium will offer three examples of how social work research is being used to improve the delivery of services to children in need the geographic dimension of foster care placement risk and the allocation of resources, the temporal dimension of child welfare events as points of intervention, and the feedback loop that relates performance improvement to service investments. A short description of each paper follows.

Understanding the geographic dimension of service utilization is central to effective and efficient service planning. The first paper locates the need for foster care services spatially and the policy implications thereof. The authors take into account demographic and social factors endogenous to particular neighborhoods, hypothesizing that poverty and other characteristics of the social environment account for some of the differences in foster care placement risk across neighborhoods and over time. Therefore, an understanding of how changes in utilization vary by place helps direct attention to areas where the change in the placement rate exceeds expectations, given levels of social and economic need.

Understanding the magnitude of a social problem and therefore the allocation of service resources in relation to that problem are a function of how the problem is viewed within the overall stream of cases. The second paper locates service needs along trajectories of child welfare events (e.g., reports, entries, exits). The authors show that parental substance abuse as a reason for child welfare involvement is a smaller problem then initially thought, largely because other analyses tend to sample clients who are already deeply imbedded in the system and therefore ignore the selection effects associated with substance abuse. By initializing children at the start of their service trajectory, we observe and account for the selection effects and clarify the important role of substance abuse in determining the likelihood that children will move deeper into the system. In doing so, we clarify how investments in substance abuse treatment can be better targeted.

The third paper addresses the feedback loop - the way in which results of performance indicators must not be used in isolation when trying to improve permanency and safety outcomes for maltreated children, but rather must be taken together in order to properly measure service needs and system improvements. The authors report results of California's child welfare outcomes measures, finding that the State improved along the longitudinal measures developed by the Child Welfare Outcomes and Accountability Act. They discuss the implications of targeting services according to a set of longitudinal indicators that accurately detect system improvements.

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