Child welfare systems are complex, and their specific procedures vary widely by state, but they all work to promote the three national goals for child protection:
- Safety: All children have the right to live in an environment free from abuse and neglect.
- Permanency: Children need a family and a permanent place to call home.
- Child and Family Well-Being: Children deserve nurturing environments in which their physical, emotional, educational, and social needs are met.
To support these national goals, the following tenets (as articulated by the Children's Bureau in 1998) form the foundation of child welfare practice:
- A safe and permanent home and family is the best place for children to grow up. Every child has a right to adequate care and supervision and to be free from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It is the responsibility of parents to see that their children’s physical, mental, emotional, educational, and medical needs are adequately met. Child protective services (CPS) agencies should intervene only when parents request assistance or fail to keep their children safe and meet their basic needs.
- Most parents want to be good parents and, when adequately supported, have the strength and capacity to care for their children and to keep them safe. Most children are best cared for in their own families. Therefore, CPS agencies focus on building family strengths and providing parents with the assistance needed to keep their children safe so that the family may stay together.
- When parents cannot or will not fulfill their responsibilities to protect their children, CPS agencies have the legal mandate to intervene directly on behalf of the children. Interventions should be designed to help parents protect their children and should be as unobtrusive as possible. CPS agencies must make reasonable efforts to develop a safety plan to keep children with their families whenever possible, although they may petition for juvenile or family court intervention and placement when children cannot be kept safely within their own homes.
- CPS agencies are held accountable for achieving the outcomes of child safety, permanency, and family well-being. To do so, CPS agencies must engage families in identifying and achieving family-level outcomes, goals, and tasks that reduce the risk of further maltreatment and mitigate the effects of maltreatment that has already occurred.
- Families who need assistance from CPS agencies are diverse in terms of structure, culture, race, religion, economic status, beliefs, values, and lifestyles. CPS agencies and practitioners must be responsive to and respectful of these differences.
- CPS efforts are most likely to succeed when clients are involved and actively participate in the process. CPS caseworkers need to work in ways that encourage clients to fully participate in assessment, case planning, and other critical decision-making processes in CPS intervention.
- When children are placed in foster care because their safety cannot be assured, CPS agencies should develop a permanency plan as soon as possible. In most cases, the preferred permanency plan is to reunify children with their families. All children need continuity in their lives, so CPS agencies must immediately work with the family to change the behaviors and conditions that led to the maltreatment and necessitated that the child be removed from the home.
- To best protect a child’s overall well-being, CPS agencies should assure that children move to permanency as quickly as possible. Therefore, as agencies develop plans to support reunification, they should also develop alternative plans for achieving permanency once a child enters the CPS system.