When a child is removed from the care of their parents, it’s a tragic situation, even if it’s necessary at the time. There are a lot of promising practices that ensure a child’s placement in foster care is safe, supportive, and as ideal as possible given the tough circumstances.
The problem is that those promising practices vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and the lack of a centralized place to find and capture them makes them difficult to share and replicate.
The Child Welfare Playbook, created by Marina Nitze, a Fellow at New America’s New Practice Lab, in partnership with Think of Us, Foster America, and Bloom Works, with funding from Stand Together Trust (STT), is an innovation that is changing foster care and improving the well-being of children and their families.
Confusion and complexity sparks innovation
“I started working with a few states on foster care and was surprised by the inconsistencies between each state’s licensing and placement processes,“ Nitze explained. “Some charged nominal fees, others required forms to be filled out in one color ink and signed in another color ink, and these sorts of varying practices were causing major barriers to placing children in homes that best meet their needs.”
As Nitze continued working with various states, she discovered that some states found solutions that circumvented these barriers, but leaders didn’t have a good way to talk with each other about what’s working and what’s not working.
That’s when Nitze had an idea: to create an online database for any leader in child and family welfare to access tips and promising practices for foster care licensing and placement, with a strong emphasis on supporting kinship caregivers. Supporting the playbook is a working group that any state, county, or private agency can join to participate in monthly collaboration to improve child and family well-being in the foster care system.
In a highly regulated and complex system like foster care, the Child Welfare Playbook and Working Group are ideal bottom-up solutions. And here’s a few examples why.
Kinship care — defined as placing a child with a safe adult that he or she knows and trusts — is a top goal of the Child Welfare Playbook. It’s estimated that only about 30% of children end up in kinship care. Very often, financial concerns are a deterrent for family or friends who want to become a kinship caregiver — it either prevents them from taking placement entirely, or they struggle to get by without the financial resources they truly need. Additionally, there may be barriers to licensing kin, including things like tuberculosis tests and pet registration requirements that don’t have anything to do with whether you can safely care for a child. Even seemingly simple requirements, like asking a doctor’s office to fill out a form, can cost time and money that kinship caregivers don’t have. In the case of emergency placements, there may not be enough time to get this laundry list of steps done.
Members of the Working Group discovered a surprising amount of flexibility in licensing regulations. By sharing this approach in the Working Group, more jurisdictions can adapt and implement this workaround in order to get more children in homes with an adult they trust — a significant positive advance for child well-being.
Additionally, the Child Welfare Playbook offers a page of tips for finding and placing more children with family or other adults they know. Most of the recommendations listed — things like “Use social media to find family members,” “Ask youth about supportive adults,” and “Be gentle when interacting with kin for the first time”—are free and simple to implement. It’s easy to understand how collaboration like this lifts a burden for overloaded caseworkers, in turn improving outcomes for children and families alike.
Growing a movement for system change
The Child Welfare Playbook and Working Group are just getting started. Already, 20 jurisdictions gather once a month for 90 minutes to receive expert guidance, share recommendations, and work together to scale and replicate promising practices. A series of Progress Dashboards have been launched to give visibility into changes as they are happening.
And there’s room for many more voices.
“What I really want is for other jurisdictions or private agencies to look at what we’re offering and ask themselves if they have a slice of the pie or a whole new idea that can contribute to the work we’ve started,” Nitze says. “Working in child welfare can feel overwhelming at times, but there are practical ways we can alleviate that burden across the system.”
Everything in the Child Welfare Playbook is free, easy to implement, and has been adopted successfully in at least one existing system. Becoming a member of the Working Group is free, too. All that’s needed is to be an individual working in a jurisdiction or agency committed to working with others to improve a complex system to increase child and family wellbeing.
To learn more or become a member, reach out to Marina Nitze at Marina@marinanitze.com