The State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) was busy all year working with its partners for stronger advocates, better policies, and improved outcomes for kids. SPARC commissioned and released a number of briefs on ways we can improve outcomes for children and families involved in the child welfare system. Below are the most accessed resources from SPARC in 2014. A special thank you to our funders at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, and Walter S. Johnson Foundation, who made these important resources possible.


1. Knowing the Numbers: Accessing and Using Child Welfare Data: This brief, authored by Sharon Vandivere and Kerry DeVooght at Child Trends, provides an overview of data sources that are useful to the child welfare community specifically and answers the following questions: What are the major data sources? What can I do with the data/what can they tell me? How do I access them (both the public-use datasets with child-level information, as well as summary data)?


2. The Affordable Care Act and Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: This brief, authored by Dina Emam at the Urban Institute and Olivia Golden at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), looks at steps states can take to make sure that former foster youth are getting the coverage they are entitled to under the ACA.


3. Prevent, Protect & Provide: How child welfare can better support low-income families: This brief, authored by Megan Martin and Alexandra Citrin of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, focuses on several critical strategies child welfare systems can use to better address the economic needs of families and reduce the number of children who are at an increased risk of maltreatment and neglect as a result of environmental circumstances.


4. State-Level Policy Advocacy for Children Affected by Parental Substance Use: This brief, authored by Sid Gardner from Children and Family Futures, provides compelling data to demonstrate that alcohol and drug use is a key factor in a high percentage of child welfare involved families, outlines eight barriers to taking substance abuse seriously in the child welfare system, summarizes five levers for advocates aiming at going beyond pilot projects to systems change and highlights policy and practice innovations that advocates can promote.


5. Medicaid to 26 for Former Foster Youth: An Update on the State Option and State Efforts to Ensure Coverage for All Young People Irrespective of Where They Aged Out of Care: This policy brief provides an overview of the new mandatory Medicaid coverage for former foster youth under the ACA, highlighting relevant Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulatory activity to date and additional concerns regarding the “state option,” summarizes state progress in taking up this option to provide coverage for former foster youth, irrespective of where they aged out of care, and makes recommendations for what more should be done to ensure access to coverage for every young person aging out of care.


6. Improving the Well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Families through State-Level Efforts to Improve Indian Child Welfare Act Compliance: This brief, authored by David E. Simmons of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, provides background on the basic requirements of ICWA, an overview of tribal child welfare and court systems, discusses disproportionality and its relationship to trends in ICWA compliance, highlights promising practices in state policy and practice that support ICWA, and underscores the necessity of working with tribal advocates on state child welfare policy change.

7. How Can State Law Support School Continuity and Success for Students in Foster Care?: This brief is authored by The Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, a collaboration between the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, Education Law Center (PA), and Juvenile Law Center. It examines what states are already doing to ensure the educational needs of children in care are met and makes recommendations on how states can improve their laws.


8. Barriers to Support Service Use for Latino Immigrant Families Reported to Child Welfare: Implications for Policy and Practice: This brief, authored by Megan Finno-Velasquez at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, examines the interaction of Latino immigrant families with the child welfare system and he underutilization of concrete services, or basic safety net supports such as income assistance, employment, housing and legal services, and Medicaid, by immigrants.


9. Improving Child Well-Being: Strengthening Collaboration Between the Child Welfare and Health Care Systems: This brief authored by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab & Safe Place, explores collaborations—old and new—between child welfare and medical providers. It serves as a resource for states seeking to strengthen these collaborations across the continuum of child welfare services from CPS reporting and investigation to in-home protective services, foster care, and post-reunification services


10. Families at the Nexus of Housing and Child Welfare: This brief, authored by Amy Dworsky, from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, summarizes what we currently know about the relationship between housing and child welfare, describes some of the ways child welfare agencies are addressing the housing needs of families and explores the use (or potential use) of housing interventions to reduce child welfare involvement among families that are homeless. It concludes with a discussion of implications for policy, practice and future research.