Federal legislation requires that cases of children in out-of-home care be reviewed at least every 6 months, either by a court or through administrative review. These reviews may examine an individual case for purposes of permanency planning or may be part of a wider process examining the effectiveness of the system as a whole.
There are two additional methods for examining the system as a whole: qualitative case review and institutional review boards (IRBs). In qualitative child welfare case reviews, trained reviewers conduct detailed interviews of each person involved within the case. These reviews select a limited number of cases to evaluate given the in-depth nature of the process. Then, using a structured protocol to guide their inquiry, reviewers determine the current status or outcome for the child as well as assess the quality of practice that contributed to that outcome in order to provide recommendations for systems improvement. Conversely, an IRB is a committee that reviews, approves, and regulates research involving human subjects conducted by its members or under its sponsorship. Some child welfare agency activities that evaluate the effectiveness of programs and practices require IRB approval.
Resources in this section describe both qualitative case review and IRBs as they are used to examine programs and practices as part of an overall systems improvement effort.
Counting Is Not Enough: Investing in Qualitative Case Reviews for Practice Improvement in Child Welfare
Annie E. Casey Foundation & Center for the Study of Social Policy (2011)
Explains how qualitative case studies can help child welfare agencies achieve desired outcomes, as well as how they can help agencies access needed funding and resources.
Qualitative Case Review: Protocol for Review of Current Status of Children and Families and the Performance of Key System Functions (PDF - 416 KB)
Utah Department of Human Services, Division of Child and Family Services (2017)
Outlines the role of qualitative case reviews in examining the short-term results of key services, including areas of inquiry interest and review objectives.
Qualitative Case Reviews
Colorado Department of Human Services (2019)
Outlines the many distinct areas of child welfare practice that can be evaluated by qualitative case reviews.
The Qualitative Service Review Process (PDF - 44 KB)
The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (2018)
Describes thee value of qualitative data in improving service delivery in child welfare by identifying and solving problems within discrete categories.
Children Who Are Wards of the State
Duke Health Institutional Review Board
Discusses the appointment of a special advocate whose purpose is to protect the well-being and best interests of children and youth who are participating in research projects while also wards of the State.
Frequently Asked Questions About Institutional Review Boards
American Psychological Association
Describes core components of institutional review boards, including who serves on the board, projects that it reviews, and its decision-making process.
Informed Consent and Documentation
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Provides a decision-making tree for determining the necessary consent requirement before beginning research with child participants, with particular consideration being paid to youth in foster care who cannot consent for themselves.
Research Projects Involving Social Services Administration of the State of Maryland Department of Human Resources Department of Social Services (Foster Children)
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Office of Human Subjects Research (2016)
Outlines the institutional review process at Johns Hopkins University for including children and youth in foster care into research studies, including that studies include minimal risk and presents a prospect of direct benefit to participants.
Special Protections for Children as Research Subjects
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Outlines requirements and answers frequently asked questions about including children and youth in research studies.