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:
- a Statewide Assessment, completed by State members of the review team
- onsite reviews of a sample of case records and case-related interviews with children, parents, foster parents, caseworkers, and other professionals knowledgeable about a case
- interviews with State and community stakeholders.
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.