National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care
Accountability in a Child Welfare Driven System of Care
In the mid-1990s, the child welfare field, similar to most public agencies and private industry, experienced increased attention to accountability, in part through the passage of key Federal legislation that included the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, 1994 Child Welfare Amendments to the Social Security Act, Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 and its 1996 Amendments, and Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2003). These laws paved the way for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Child and Family Services Reviews in 2000. The Child and Family Services Reviews have allowed the Children's Bureau to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of children served by State child welfare systems. Prior to the Child and Family Services Reviews, the Children's Bureau held States accountable mainly based on aggregate statistics extracted from State automated child welfare information systems. Child and Family Services Reviews improved the process by analyzing data both about the child welfare population as a whole and how an agency handles specific cases. These deeper measures have helped shift Federal oversight of child welfare agencies from a focus on compliance to a focus on improvement (Children's Bureau, 2009).
Child and Family Services Reviews and other mandated data reports about the child welfare population are not the only mechanisms used to hold child welfare systems accountable. As community members and families have become more engaged in system change, they have become strong supporters of accountability. Beyond the inclusion of families in Child and Family Services Reviews and statewide Program Improvement Plan processes, families and community members have been included in accountability planning to identify relevant outcomes to measure and an evaluation process that is culturally appropriate. Better data collection techniques and technology, more meaningful Federal standards, and the increasingly active role of families, child welfare direct service staff, and community members have strengthened the role and utility of accountability in the child welfare system in recent years.
"The Children's Bureau has been clear from the outset, however, that the most important purpose of the CFSR-PIP [Child and Family Services Reviews-Program Improvement Plan] endeavor is to initiate a process of continuous program improvement, not to assess fines" (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2003, p. 4).