Research for a 21st Century Child Welfare System

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Research for a 21st Century Child Welfare System
By: Lauren Supplee, Senior Program Officer, William T. Grant Foundation, Geoff Cloepfil, Administrative Specialist, Research Services, Casey Family Programs, and Krik O'Brien, Senior Director of Research, Casey Family Programs.

The outcomes for children and families who have contact with our child protection system (CPS) continue to be poor in many areas, and the trauma many children and families experience from their involvement with the system demands we do better. Further, there continues to be significant disparities in outcomes and disproportional representation of children and families of color in CPS in many communities. The current system must be transformed to provide all families the supports they need to thrive. Advocates and government leadership recognize the need for a major system redesign to accomplish this goal. You can hear more about why we need this new research agenda in this video

To support transformation, we must understand where the gaps in knowledge are and what research is needed. Annie E. Casey Foundation, Casey Family Programs and the William T. Grant Foundation partnered to kickstart the development of a research agenda for a 21st century child welfare system. The 21st Century Research Agenda focuses on three broad topic areas: community-based prevention of child maltreatment, child protective services and prevention of foster care, and out of home care.  

To carry out a transformative 21st Century Research Agenda, we are: 

  1. Forming a broad coalition of partners to support new ways of looking at research in child welfare 
  2. Articulating clear research questions that are relevant for families and communities, jurisdiction leaders, policy-makers and practitioners 
  3. Conducting research that will close the gaps and answer those key questions 
  4. Supporting agencies and organizations to use the findings to improve policy, program and practice strategies resulting in a bold and transformative systems change  

The process of developing this research agenda was a close collaboration with of policy experts, experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion; and it centers the voice of individuals with lived experience in the child welfare system. For example, each of the three workgroups that provided the initial research gaps included two individuals with lived experience. These individuals represented a broad array of lived experience including parents who had one or more children placed into foster care, foster parents, kinship caregivers and young people who experienced foster care.  

The resulting work is not a research agenda by and for researchers. Rather, it is an agenda that captures the diversity of voices that touch the child welfare system as a call to communities and funders to address these critical research needs. Throughout this process the team heard clearly the deep, meaningful feedback embedded in this process needs to not be extractive of individuals and communities but must give back to communities and organizations. 

What can you do to advance this important effort?  

  • Review the gaps and provide feedback by viewing them at this location.  
  • Use the template Request for Proposals (RFPs) that are being developed to fund research to address the critical gaps (email for an RFP template). 
  • Include individuals with lived experience at every stage of the research process including as reviewers of RFPs and as a part of the research team. 
  • Disseminate the research findings to key stakeholders, so the research informs policy, program design and practice.  Research for a 21st century child welfare system
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