Monitoring Child Welfare

To help States establish good practice in child welfare, achieve positive outcomes for children and families, and explore the experiences of children and families engaged in child welfare services, the Children's Bureau monitors State child welfare services through several vehicles.

  • The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS)
  • Title IV-E Foster Care Eligibility Reviews
  • Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs)
  • The State Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) Assessment Reviews

These are in addition to other State performance vehicles that assist in the monitoring of child welfare systems.

Monitoring helps support accountability for States and develop and enhance continuous quality improvement (CQI) in practice. Each of these vehicles works from the core set of national goals for child welfare -- safety, permanency, and well-being -- and enables the systematic gathering of data that describes, in current and historical terms, the achievement of these outcomes; identifies and addresses the gap between current and future performance; and enables a process for improving performance.

Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS)

The Children's Bureau created the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Assessment Review as a technical assistance process to gauge both the accuracy and reliability of the States’ foster care and adoption data, and the efficiency and effectiveness of their data collection, extraction, and reporting processes. AFCARS collects case-level information on all children in foster care for whom State and Tribal title IV-E agencies have responsibility for placement, care, or supervision, and on children who are adopted. This includes demographic information on the foster child, the foster and adoptive parents, the number of removal episodes and placements, and the current placement setting.

In addition to being used in short- and long-term planning and trend analysis, AFCARS data is legislatively and programmatically significant for the administration and oversight of programs under titles IV-B and IV-E, including two other monitoring vehicles, the Title IV-E Foster Care Eligibility Reviews and the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs).

AFCARS assessment reports are available by fiscal year online here.

Title IV-E Foster Care Eligibility Reviews

The Title IV-E Foster Care Eligibility Reviews are a collaborative effort between the Federal and State governments conducted by review teams comprised of staff from both. Conducted on site, typically in the State capital where the child welfare central office is located, these regulatory reviews of the foster care program focus on whether a child meets title IV-E eligibility requirements for foster care maintenance payments (which help cover a child’s food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, etc., while in foster care).

The goals of the reviews are to:

  • Determine whether Federal funds are spent on behalf of eligible children, in eligible placements, and in accordance with Federal statute, regulation, and policy
  • Provide timely and specific feedback to States that can directly affect the proper and efficient administration and implementation of their title IV-E foster care maintenance payments programs

The IV-E Reviews use multiple sources to assess State performance, including case records of the child, payment documentation, and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). They also use court orders to determine if the Child Protective Services (CPS) agency:

  • Removed the child from the home only when necessary
  • Provided reasonable efforts to preserve the family, if appropriate, and to achieve permanency for the child
  • Completed a criminal background check on the foster parent
  • Confirmed that the child met the income test for the program

Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs)

As with the title IV-E foster care eligibility reviews, the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) are a partnership between State and Federal staff. They began as part of a new approach to monitoring State child welfare programs that focuses on results in the areas of safety, permanency, and child and family well-being. The CFSRs measure State compliance under titles IV-B and IV-E by looking at different factors.

For the first two rounds, the CFSRs reviewed State child welfare programs in two areas.

  • Outcomes for children and families served by the child welfare system
  • Systemic factors that directly affect the State’s capacity to deliver services leading to improved outcomes

As with other monitoring vehicles, the CFSRs use multiple information sources, gathered in separate phases, to assess States’ performance. The Statewide Assessment was the first phase of the CFSR and was conducted by a State child welfare agency in collaboration with the agency’s external partners or stakeholders and the Children’s Bureau Central and Regional Office staff. Central and Regional Office staff prepared and transmitted profiles to each State that have aggregate data on the State's foster care and in-home service populations, including the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). These profiles provided an overall picture of how well the State is performing. The States and their external partners then completed the Statewide Assessment to evaluate further the programmatic issues behind the statewide data in the areas of safety, permanency, and well-being for children.  

There were two parts to the second phase, the Onsite Review Instrument (OSRI) and the Stakeholder Interview Guide (SIG). Both were completed by a joint Federal-State team. The OSRI evaluated outcomes by examining a sample of children receiving in-home services and those in foster care. The team did so by reviewing the case records and by interviewing family members, caretakers, caseworkers, and service providers. The SIG used stakeholder interviews to evaluate system performance in specific areas, such as the foster home licensing process or the array of services available.

Both the quantitative and qualitative data from the Statewide Assessment and the OSRI were used to determine the State's compliance on the outcomes and systemic factors. Reports on the findings from rounds 1 and 2 can be read at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/cwmonitoring/results/index.htm. The Children’s Bureau is currently looking at revising the CFSRs for round 3.

Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) Assessment Reviews

The Children's Bureau provides funding to States to build a Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS). A SACWIS is designed to support foster care and adoption assistance case management practice through a comprehensive and automated case management tool. The system should collect and manage the information necessary to facilitate the delivery of child welfare support services, including family support and family preservation. SACWIS supports the reporting of the data for both the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Review System (AFCARS) and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), a voluntary national data collection and analysis system.

A State does not have to implement a SACWIS. If it does, however, and receives Federal funding, then the Children’s Bureau conducts a 1-week, onsite review to assess its functionality after the State or Tribe’s system has been operational. These reviews are known as SACWIS Assessment Reviews.

You can view the status of each States’ SACWIS development online at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/systems/sacwis/statestatus.htm.

Other State Performance Vehicles

There are several other vehicles that help the Children's Bureau monitor child welfare performance. Two of these are the Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) and its follow-up, the Annual Progress and Services Report (APSR). The CFSP is a State or Tribally developed 5-year strategic plan that sets forth the vision, goals, and objectives to be accomplished to strengthen the State's or Tribe's overall child welfare system to improve outcomes for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families and for service delivery system reform. The APSR provides annual updates of the State's or Tribe's progress toward accomplishing the goals and objectives in the CFSP.

The CFSP and the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) processes are essentially two parts of a whole. The former lays out the State's vision and plans for implementing its child welfare programs. The CFSR (and resulting Program Improvement Plan) then monitors the State’s compliance with the State's CFSP and other Federal child welfare requirements. Both processes call on States to set goals and objectives relating to the safety, permanency and well-being of children and families, to engage stakeholders in assessment and planning, and to use data to measure progress.

For more on the integration of these two processes, visit here