Transforming Child Welfare Services, Part II

Jim Roberts, Founder/CEO
September, 2, 2020 -

I am very excited about the prospects of radically transforming our Child Welfare/Child Protective Services Systems. For three-plus decades, Family Care Network has worked with traumatized children, youth and families after they have gone over the falls, crashed on the rocks, and have been severely broken and damaged in the process. How wonderful--and smart--it will be to provide our very successful programs and services way upstream, to prevent system involvement. The prospects are exciting!

In my last blog, I wrote about the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. In their unprecedented recommendation, the Commission called for a public health approach to transforming child welfare systems, building a new system based on a public health model used to tackle complex social problems, a model with a focus on prevention and support for community change. So how do we do this, and what would it look like?

CPS remains a critical component of this model in order to respond quickly when children are at risk of serious harm. But CPS is only one part of the picture. I need to interject here that we are so fortunate to have a stellar CWS/CPS agency to work with in San Luis Obispo County. I believe they are just as excited to see this positive change as I am.

Other systems become key partners, including the courts, law enforcement, the medical community, community-based providers, mental health, public health, and education. Even neighbors who come into regular contact with young children and families are part of a public health approach. All have a role to play to ensure that help is available when families need it through services and supports such as prenatal care, mental health services, evidence-based home family-strengthening programs, employment, education, parent partnerships, housing support, early childhood education, and parent skills training, as well as substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence programs. It is a holistic community services, family-strengthening approach.

In the 21st century Child Welfare System, we will continue to respond to allegations of abuse or neglect and work to keep children safe. But the ultimate goal is that fewer families will need involvement with CWS. This will free up social services agencies to respond with more in-depth support to every child who comes to their attention for abuse or neglect. They will have more multidisciplinary community partners and professionals in the community to help families. Community-based organizations will be the primary providers of evidence-based services, i.e., mental health, parenting, behavioral health, life skill development, case management and housing. It is a community-driven versus government-driven model.

Community-based Family Resource Centers (FRC) will serve as the hub for family supports and services. They will be a portal for schools, government agencies, law enforcement, neighbors, churches, or any family-engaging individual or organization to connect families with the services they need. It will not be a deficit/punitive system which inherently creates fear and resistance in the hearts of the families that have the greatest need for help. Alternatively, it will be seen as a “Family Resource/Strengthening” center, which is not judgmental or condemning, but welcoming and supportive.

Ideally, FRC’s will be staffed, or make available, a large multidisciplinary team of professionals. CWS/CPS, Probation, Behavioral Health, schools and CBOs will work together to ensure that families are properly assessed and connected with essential services. Families can self refer or be referred from the community. Families at imminent risk of child removal would have the benefit of immediate CPS involvement, but with a pallet of positive intervention options to address child safety and family needs without having to penetrate the formal Juvenile Court system. It will be a team-driven model, following the successful construct of the Child Family Team currently used across child serving agencies.

Following a public health model design, the new Child Welfare Services System success will be based on the ability to: 1) Define and monitor the problem; 2) Identify risk and protective factors; 3) Develop and test prevention strategies; and 4) Ensure widespread adoption. Thus, there will need to be a countywide or regionalized coordinated effort to create the framework for FRC’s as well as provide monitoring needed to produce the highest level of fidelity and efficacy. In San Luis Obispo County, our Children’s Services Network Council provides the perfect platform for facilitating the change process.

Unlike the current CWS/CPS system, the new system would be primarily funded as a healthcare service, augmented by federal or state funding traditionally used for child protective services. This will require: 1) Private health insurance compliance with mental health parity laws; 2) Updated allowable billing codes for private health insurance as well as Medi-Cal/Medicaid; 3) Full integration with the physical health services community; 4) Providers with the capacity to bill healthcare services; and 5) Providers certified to deliver authorized/approved evidence-based services.

There are three “Essential Elements” that I think are imperatives to transform our CWS/CPS system:

  1. Strong Leadership and Accountability at the federal, state and local levels.
  2. Decisions Grounded in Better Data and Research--we need to collect, share, and utilize real-time, accurate data to ground child protection decisions.
  3. Multidisciplinary Community-Based Support for Families. Everyone has a role. Cross-system prevention and earlier intervention are critical to building and sustaining healthier families and communities. 

More than ever, I believe the time is right to set in motion this transformation. More importantly – it is what we must do to have healthier families and communities, and end the cycle of family disruption and adverse childhood experiences!

To help begin this holistic community approach, start by getting more involved with your community! We need caring people like you to become mentors and tutors for our kiddos who are struggling right now. Please email us at to start your involvement today!