Abstract: Provider Perspectives on Child Welfare Case Management When You Are No Longer a Child (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Provider Perspectives on Child Welfare Case Management When You Are No Longer a Child

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Marla McDaniel, PhD, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute, DC
Background and Purpose: For decades, child welfare agencies only served children. But in the past 10 years, many states have extended foster care eligibility to age 21, and some provide supportive services through age 23. This paper features providers’ perspectives from across the country on how child welfare practice has needed to evolve and innovate for young adults. Child welfare leaders discuss the challenges to delivering services consistently and equitably throughout their states, and important variables related to preparation, training, and support for the child welfare workforce. The paper concludes with reflections from the providers on key areas and research questions well-suited for social work science that the child welfare field must tackle to create a responsive and informed child welfare system for young adults.

Methods: The paper draws on data from a 2017 convening and interviews with child welfare administrators from 12 states and jurisdictions with extended federal foster care. Participants from the following jurisdictions attended the convening and/or participated in interviews about their case management models specially targeted to young adults transitioning from foster care: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Washington, DC, and West Virginia. Researchers analyzed verbatim notes from the convening and the interviews, and identified common themes related to case management practice, challenges, and proposed solutions, and coded interviews based on those themes.

Results: Child welfare services for young adults in extended foster care focus on tools for living independently of the child welfare system by age 21. The standard tools did not vary much among the states in our study, and included life skills training, education and employment support, mental health services, and budgeting and financial education among others. Despite the similarities in services, those services were often influenced by what providers in a given area could supply, caseload size, and the capacity of the child-welfare workforce, which could range widely within the same state. Providers discussed how delivering services consistently can be a challenge, and how individualizing the services is a necessity given the naturally diverse resource needs of young adults in care, including youth in college, youth with full-time employment, young parents, young adults who have disabilities or are medically fragile, those who need immigration assistance, or those who identify as LGBTQ as examples. The providers highlighted research questions for future study including what are the best models and approaches to serving older youth and young adults in foster care, and ways child welfare data tracking capacity must improve.

Conclusions and Implications: An overarching conclusion is that states and counties with extended foster care can take steps to create a child welfare system that responds to young adults’ needs and ensures consistency, quality, and equity. They may do this by developing strategies to handle regional differences in service provision; taking deliberate measures to coordinate the services that are offered; providing case managers and other staff with tools, training, and support through supervision and manageable caseload sizes; and engaging in research and evaluation to understand what practices work best.