The Chicago-based Children’s Home Society of America (CHSA) will establish a research network aimed at testing and improving policies around child welfare and well-being.
CHSA, which was founded in 1883 by Illinois Reverend Martin Van Arnsdale, will regionally partner with universities to establish the Child Welfare Practice-Based Research Network. CHSA operates in 19 states.
“Through these practice-based research partnerships, we will identify evidence-informed promising practices in child welfare and evaluate their effectiveness,” said University of North Carolina (UNC) professor and national child welfare expert Mark Testa.
The ultimate goal is to “help set a new direction for building innovative and sustainable child welfare systems at the local and state levels, and ultimately, the federal level,” Testa said.
UNC’s Jordan Institute for Families at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ‘s School of Social Work will serve as the lead university partner on the project. It will be jointly staffed by both entities, with Testa running point with the help of fellow UNC Professor Selena Childs.
The target budget for the network is $1.3 million, Testa said, and all of the immediate funding will come from UNC and CHSA.
The network was borne of the Wicked Problems Institute, a project spearheaded by UNC and CHSA to identify the persistent and unchanged problems in child welfare.
The institute, which included three invite-only roundtable discussions with various experts, settled on eight “grand challenges” faced by the field:
- Reversing adverse effects of maltreatment on brain development
- Harnessing the motivations of parents and kinship caregivers
- Synthesizing research on the effect of out-of-home care
- Sustaining family continuity after permanence
- Strengthening the voice of youth involved in the child welfare system
- Linking well-being metrics to administrative data on child safety
- Attracting private investment and steering child welfare financing toward performance and outcomes
- Preparing the workforce for future, potential partners
The Department of Health and Human Services has just begun a set of new federal waivers aimed at testing new child welfare policies. Testa, in a 2013 interview with The Chronicle of Social Change, expressed concern that many of the waivers approved thus far focused on differential response, which is a different approach to service delivery and not itself a new service to deliver.
“Differential Response is pretty much a strategy to allow kids an alternative to coming in to the child welfare system,” said Testa. ”Beyond that, it’s not targeting anything around child well-being. Very little follow-through occurs.”
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change