Policy Analysis | May 2014

State Efforts to Reorganize and Reform Child Welfare/Social Services Agencies

Sujit CanagaRetna

(The information presented here is in response to a request for details on state efforts to restructure and reorganize the agencies responsible for child welfare services)

For ease of review, this research is presented in three main sections: Section (1) refers to information compiled by the federal government in relation to state efforts to restructure their child welfare services; section (2) deals with information related to the efforts initiated by several states (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas); and, finally section (3), provides details on an important trend that has emerged in the last decade: state efforts to privatize the provision of foster care services. It is also important to mention that our research reveals that over the past 15 years or so, there have been two waves of reform efforts: one that began in the early 2000s and one that is in progress currently.

Section (1) ‐ Federal Information

The trend of social service and foster care reform in our states tends to follow the enactment of federal legislation on the subject. In the early 2000s, many states began to reevaluate and reform their social service and foster care systems. Since that time, numerous studies and reports have been produced chronicling these reforms and their effectiveness. We have provided you with a sampling of assessments of these reform efforts.

Following the enactment of the federal Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act in 2011, the newest wave of social service and foster care reform began gathering momentum. While many states are currently seeking to make changes, whether it is to improve effectiveness or address a specific problem, there is little research on the outcomes to date.

The resources included here provide reports and evaluations that offer examples of what other states have done and are doing with state foster care services. Each resource will provide some information and guidance on the problems, solutions, and outcomes since the turn of the century, encompassing both waves of reforms mentioned at the outset.

  • Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption ‐ Includes a summary of all federal legislation enacted since the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in 1974 up through the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act in 2011. This may help provide some context for the different waves of reform that have emerged in the last 15 or so years.
  • Profiles of the Title IV-E Child Welfare Waiver Demonstration Projects, Volume II: Demonstrations Active as of FFY 2013 (April 2013) ‐ Provides a profile on projects in 14 states that have received Title IV-E waivers. Some states will implement the projects statewide, while other states will only implement the projects in select locations. Each profile identifies the target population and how the waiver will be used to address the identified issue. Also included are the parameters for how each program will evaluate its impact. For the projects that have been completed, the profile also includes outcomes.
  • Completed Projects with Process and Outcome Evaluation Findings ‐ California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio (interim), and Oregon.
  • Projects in Progress ‐ Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Promising Approaches ‐ Includes a topical index, with state identification, of promising approaches in child welfare identified by the Children’s Bureau during the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs). (The Children’s Bureau is a unit within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families) The topics where approaches have been identified include: agency collaboration, agency responsiveness to the community, case review system, child and family well-being, community collaboration, court collaboration, foster and adoptive parent licensing, recruitment, and retention, permanency, quality assurance, safety, service array, statewide information system, and training.
  • Missouri ‐ Combined Quality Assurance and Quality Improvement Program
  • North Carolina ‐ Biennial Reviews (redesigned in 2001)
  • North Carolina ‐ Multiple Response System
  • Nebraska ‐ Integrated Care Coordination Units
  • 52 Program Improvement Plans: Strategies for Improving Child Welfare Services and Outcomes (July 2012)- When a state has been deemed to be out of conformity on any of the 7 outcomes or 7 systematic factors assessed in the Child and Family Service Reviews or CFSRs, the state will be required to submit a Program Improvement Plan (PIP). All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have completed a PIP. This slideshow consolidates information from all of the PIPs to show the problems that need to be addressed and the strategies states proposed to address them.
  • Lessons Learned from System Reform Efforts: State and Local Examples (Multiple) ‐ Provides several reports on system reform efforts in various states and counties, including these reports on SLC states:
  • Texas: Improving Child and Youth Placement Outcomes: A System Redesign Report (2011) ‐ For additional details on Texas, please see Section (2), where we elaborate on state actions, on the privatization trend in recent years.
  • Virginia: Back on Track: Transforming Virginia’s Child Welfare System (2010).
  • Alabama: Implementation of Alabama’s R.C. Consent Decree: Creating a New Culture of Practice (2008).

Section (2) ‐ Information from States


During the 1970s and 1980s, Alabama’s efforts to assist troubled families and protect children were found inadequate. Forced by a legal settlement to make changes after parents and advocates filed a class-action lawsuit charging that the system failed to aid troubled families or protect children from neglect or abuse, Alabama more than quadrupled its spending on child welfare in the decade after 1990, even as it trimmed other programs in recent years. By 2005, the state’s record was most impressive and child welfare advocates across the nation lauded Alabama for implementing one of the country's most sweeping transformations of the handling of neglected and abused children.

Here are several articles that deal with the transformation process:


By the end of 2012, Arizona’s child welfare system was in need of serious reform and members of the public and officials across the political spectrum were agitating for change. The state’s child welfare agency was struggling to care for a record number of foster children amidst a shortage of foster homes, a backlog of thousands of cases and hundreds more that were not investigated, and worker caseloads that averaged twice the national standard. By early 2013, more than 2,000 of the 14,100 Arizona children in foster care were living in crisis shelters and group homes. In response, Arizona initiated sweeping reforms and these links provide some details on these efforts.


By mid-year 2012, Kansas saw a massive reorganization of the administrative and organizational structure of the state’s agencies serving children and adults. Under the reorganization, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) replaced the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). In its new incarnation, DCF will deal with children and adult protection services, adoption services, foster care support, child support services, welfare and food assistance programs, and programs dedicated to vocational rehabilitation. Some of the former SRS functions were moved to an expanded agency now called the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. This new agency administers services to older adults; mental health, addiction and prevention programs; state hospitals and institutions; home and community-based services waiver programs and some health occupations credentialing. It will be the second largest agency in Kansas state government. Details of the reorganization are found below.


By the mid-2000s, the child welfare system in a number of Pennsylvania cities and counties faced a crisis situation. Children in the system had died needlessly because of "significant system failures" that were ailing the city and state-controlled child welfare agencies. The links below provide details on the reform effort and the significant improvements detected in several key areas.

Section (3): Privatization of Children’s Services

An important development in the last decade in the foster care system involves the call to privatize elements of the entire operation. There is increased debate and movement in states across the country towards transferring all prevention and foster care placement services to children towards private agencies.

  • The Washington Group is a consulting firm serving child welfare and behavioral health organizations spanning sectors from public to private, and church to government. They closely track issues related to the privatization of foster care systems and maintain a summary of developments in a number of states, including Georgia, Kansas, Florida, Nebraska, Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan. You may learn more about their research here.
  • The Alliance for Children and Families, a non-profit organization located in Milwaukee, WI, is another entity that has been studying the trend related to privatizing child welfare services. The Alliance notes that at least 14 states already have some level of privatization and additional details on this trend are available here.
  • In 2010, Texas began a redesign of its foster care system, which included increased privatization of services. The first contract with a private company began in February 2013. These links provide some early feedback on the redesign, both positive and negative. In April 2014, the state’s House Human Services Committee received an update on the reforms.
  • Committee to Examine the Effectiveness of Foster Care Redesign, The Texas Tribune. (April 2014)
  • Foster-care redesign pilot $2M over budget after nine months. As the article notes, it may be too early to conclude whether the problems are related to the fact that it is a new operation or whether the problems are related to design of the new operation. Nevertheless, some of the results of the program appear promising. (May 2014)
  • Safeguarding Children in Texas Foster Care: Key Issues in Policy and Practice and Recommendations to Improve Child Safety in Foster Care - A report by Texans Care for Children with recommendations on how to tweak the new redesigned system. The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) made similar recommendations during a recent legislative hearing. Texans Care for Children was one of the stakeholder participants in the original redesign. (April 2014)