Philosophical Context for the Reviews

The Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs), authorized by the 1994 Amendments to the Social Security Act and administered by the Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provide a unique opportunity for the Federal Government and State child welfare agencies to work as a team in assessing States’ capacity to promote positive outcomes for children and families engaged in the child welfare system.

The CFSRs are based on a number of guiding principles and concepts and rooted in the concept of collaboration between Federal and State partners.

CFSR Principles and Concepts

The CFSR process uses both qualitative and quantitative data to look at the services provided in a relatively small group of cases, and then evaluates the overall quality of those services. In other words, the process looks at the outcomes for children and families involved with the entire child welfare system by learning about and documenting the stories of those children and families. The CFSRs are based on a number of central principles and concepts, including the following:

Partnership Between the Federal and State Governments: The CFSRs are a Federal-State collaborative effort. A review team comprising both Federal and State staff conducts the reviews and evaluates State performance.

Examination of Outcomes of Services to Children and Families and State Agency Systems That Affect Those Services: The reviews examine State programs from two perspectives. First, the reviews assess the outcomes of services provided to children and families. Second, they examine systemic factors that affect the agency’s ability to help children and families achieve positive outcomes.

Identification of State Needs and Strengths: The reviews are designed to capture both State program strengths and areas needing improvement. The reviews include a program improvement process that States use to make improvements, where needed, and build on identified State strengths.

Use of Multiple Sources To Assess State Performance: The review team collects information from a variety of sources to make decisions about a State’s performance. These sources include:

Promotion of Practice Principles: Through the reviews, the Children’s Bureau promotes States’ use of practice principles believed to support positive outcomes for children and families. These are:

  • family-centered practice
  • community-based services
  • individualizing services that address the unique needs of children and families
  • efforts to strengthen parents’ capacity to protect and provide for children.

Emphasis on Accountability: The reviews emphasize accountability. While the review process includes opportunities for States to make negotiated program improvements before having Federal funds withheld because of nonconformity, there are significant penalties associated with the failure to make the improvements needed to attain substantial conformity.

Focus on Improving Systems: State child welfare agencies determined to be out of conformity through the review develop Program Improvement Plans for strengthening their systems’ capacities to create positive outcomes for children and families. The Children’s Bureau provides support to States during the Program Improvement Plan development and implementation process.

Enhancement of State Capacity To Become Self-Evaluating: Through conducting the Statewide Assessment and participating in the onsite review, States will become familiar with the process of examining outcomes for children and families and systemic factors that affect those outcomes. They can adapt this process for use in the ongoing evaluation of their systems and programs.

CFSR Collaboration

From their inception, the CFSRs were intended to promote change through collaborative principles. This begins with the collaboration between the Federal and State governments in assessing the effectiveness of child welfare agencies in serving children and families. It continues with the collaboration between child welfare agency leaders and their internal and external collaborative partners. Internal partners include staff and consultants. External partners include policymakers; other agencies serving children, youth, and families; the courts; Tribes and tribal organizations; the community; and children, youth, and families.

These collaborations are critical during the two assessment phases of the CFSR (Statewide Assessment and onsite review) and the Program Improvement Plan development, implementation, and evaluation process. The collaborative process focuses on identifying shared goals and activities and establishing a purpose, framework, and plan. Most important, that collaborative process should result in changes that promote improved outcomes for children and families.

Collaborative Principles

The overarching principles guiding the CFSR collaborative process include the following:

  • The safety, permanency, and well-being of children is a shared responsibility, and child welfare agencies should make every effort to reach out to other partners in the State who can help to achieve positive results with respect to the CFSR child welfare outcome measures and systemic factors.
  • Child welfare agencies do not serve children and families in isolation; they should work in partnership with policymakers, community leaders, courts, service providers, and other public and private agencies to improve outcomes for children and families in their States. This includes partnering with organizations that directly serve children, youth, and families and those whose actions impact family and community life.
  • Family-centered and community-based practices are integral to improving outcomes for children and families. As such, collaboration with families, including young people, is important in identifying and assessing strengths and barriers to improved outcomes for children, youth, and families.
  • Real collaboration has a purpose and a goal; it takes time and effort to promote meaningful collaboration. There also are varying degrees of collaboration, each of which can serve the CFSR process and, more importantly, children, youth, and families.

Collaborative Partners

The CFSR process defines key partners that should be engaged in the CFSR Statewide Assessment, onsite review, and Program Improvement Plan. These include partners with whom the State is required to collaborate in developing the Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) and Annual Progress and Services Reports (APSRs), as noted at 45 CFR, Part 1357.15(1). Examples of these partners include:

  • Court representatives, including, but not limited to, Court Improvement Programs (CIPs)
  • Tribal representatives
  • Youth representatives
  • Child welfare agency internal partners, such as State and local agency staff, training staff, contract staff, supervisors, and administrators
  • Child welfare agency external partners, such as children (as appropriate); biological, foster, and adoptive parents and relative caregivers; and representatives from (1) other State and community-based service agencies, (2) State and local governments, (3) professional and advocacy organizations, and (4) agencies administering other Federal and federally assisted programs. These programs include those funded by the U.S Departments of Education, Housing, and Labor; the ACF (including Head Start; the Family and Youth Services Bureau; the Office of Family Assistance and the Child Care Bureau within that Office; and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities); the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. These programs are responsible for education, labor, developmental disabilities services, juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse prevention and treatment, family support, services to runaway and homeless youth, domestic violence intervention, child care, Medicaid, and housing.
  • Partners that represent the diversity of the State’s population, especially in relation to those served by the child welfare system
  • Other entities related to children and families within the State, such as the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention lead agencies, citizen review panels, Children’s Justice Act task forces, and CFSP and Promoting Safe and Stable Families partners