While historically, child welfare systems have been responsible for ensuring the safety, permanence and well-being of children in care, child well-being is a relatively new concept in child welfare policy and practice. There are several reasons for this. As a construct, child well-being has been difficult to define and challenging to measure. And, the field has failed to reach consensus as to whether child well-being is truly is a mandate of child welfare. Given these challenges, child welfare systems have more often emphasized safety and permanence, and services have not been designed to promote child well-being. In practice, the current focus on permanency and safety does not help children heal from the corrosive effects of maltreatment or promote healthy development. Moving forward, emphasis must be placed on how maltreated children fare, both in the near- and long-term. A child well-being framework will help us get there. Our child welfare system should begin to focus on addressing the trauma issues and unmet needs of the children in care, and in doing so, foster resiliency and promote child well-being.

On April 27, Senator Max Baucus, Senator Orrin G. Hatch and Senator Ron Wyden, as Members of the Senate Finance Committee, will convene a roundtable discussion on: “Child Well-Being in Foster Care: Examining the relationship between data and efforts to effect positive outcomes for children.” This is the first in an ongoing series of Senate Finance roundtables discussing challenges and opportunities in federal child welfare policy. This roundtable follows on the heels of a recent effort by Senator Wyden to bring child well-being into mainstream child welfare discussions. In August 2011, Senator Wyden introduced the Promoting Accountability and Excellence in Child Welfare Act, which would establish a 5 year grant program to give states and localities greater flexibility to implement comprehensive reforms to existing child welfare programs provided they can demonstrate success in improving child well-being. Among other provisions, the bill establishes annual performance measures that must be achieved, with an emphasis on implementing reforms and methods for achieving significant results that improve the well-being of all children in the child welfare system. Additionally, it encourages: (a) partnerships between participating State and local agencies and organizations and a demonstration of shared accountability for child well-being; and, (b) collaboration among agencies responsible for administering programs that affect the child welfare system by requiring an inter-agency working group that includes representatives from the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in order to identify existing Federal financial resources that can be used to provide additional resources to grantees. The bill provides states with critical funding to improve the well-being of children in the child welfare system through systemic reforms and innovations, and paves the way for broader reforms to the child welfare system.

Following that effort, the roundtable will help to highlight child well-being and to: “1) identify the nexus between the unique health, mental health and education challenges of children who are involved in the child welfare system and the current inroads being made in the understanding of youth brain science.; 2) discuss the ways in which safety, permanency and well-being are inter-related; 3) highlight best or promising practices across states; and 4) identify possible gaps or barriers in federal policy in order to improve outcomes for children connected to child welfare systems.”

Discussants will highlight key findings in their relevant area of expertise and help guide discussion among attendees consisting of congressional staff as well as stakeholders in the child welfare community. We applaud Senators Baucus, Hatch and Wyden for creating a forum to discuss child well-being in foster care and believe it is important to promote opportunities for such dialogue and support efforts to shift the emphasis within child welfare practice to fostering resiliency and promoting child well-being. Child well-being should be made a priority for child welfare systems. This roundtable is a critical first step in doing so.

Related Resources
From the First Focus Campaign for Children about the Concerning the Promoting Accountability and Excellence in Child Welfare Act of 2011.