Policy Priorities

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Child Welfare

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Child Welfare

More than 670,000 children each year in America are abused or neglected, one every 47 seconds. The annual total direct and indirect costs of child maltreatment are estimated to be more than $80 billion. Keeping children safe must be everybody's business.
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MaryLee Allen

MaryLee AllenDirector of Child Welfare & Mental Health

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Cradle to Prison Pipeline® Campaign

The Cradle to Prison Pipeline campaign is a national and community crusade to engage families, youth, community leaders and institutions and those in power in every sector in the development of healthy, educated children. The Campaign advances policies that put children on track to productive adulthood and opposes those that criminalize children at younger and younger ages. Learn more »

CDF works to give every child a Safe Start in a permanent nurturing family and community. We work in collaboration with other national, state and local advocates and organizations to promote policies and promising systemic and programmatic approaches that strengthen and support children and families, prevent crises from occurring, and help ensure children safe, permanent families.

Resources for the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, represents the most significant federal reforms for abused and neglected children in foster care in more than a decade. The act’s numerous improvements are all intended to achieve better outcomes for children who are at risk of entering or have spent time in foster care. These reforms represented significant first steps, but there is additional work to be done. These reforms will mean little to children unless and until they are effectively implemented so as to truly benefit children. View our Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act webpage for more information on this important legislation.

Report Finds that Children are Benefiting from the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program

GAP Report Cover

The report, Making It Work: Using the Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) to Close the Permanency Gap for Children in Foster Care, finds that children with relative guardians are benefiting from the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 established the federal Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP). It gives states the option of providing ongoing financial assistance with federal support through Title IV-E GAP for children who leave foster care for guardianship with a relative caregiver. The report examines the benefits of Title IV-E GAP and best practices in states implementing GAP. It provides a snapshot of state activities early in the implementation process so progress can be tracked over time. Making It Work is a valuable resource for agency staff and stakeholders in states that have not yet decided to apply for GAP funds and for those in states that are currently implementing GAP and want to enhance the reach of the program. It will help states find ways to improve the permanency continuum for children.

The report is based on a survey conducted with state officials, and in some cases other stakeholders, from the 29 states and the District of Columbia that had approved Title IV-E GAP programs as of September 2012. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Indian Tribe also has an approved Title IV-E GAP program. With the support of Casey Family Programs, this report was a collaborative effort between the ABA Center on Children and the Law, Casey Family Programs, Child Focus, Child Trends, Children’s Defense Fund, and Generations United. The report includes a fact sheet and narrative report on each of the states. Download the full report or a summary of the report.

Promoting Education Stability and Success for Children in Foster Care

On January 14, 2013, President Obama signed into law the Uninterrupted Scholars Act (P.L. 112-278). This bipartisan legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives on May 31, 2012 (H.R. 5871) and the Senate on August 1, 2012 (S.3472), amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to better meet the educational needs of children and youth in the child welfare system. FERPA provides important protections to parents and students, but it was not written with children in foster care in mind.  As a result, it unintentionally creates obstacles for children in care to receive needed educational support. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act addresses these barriers.  Learn more about the educational challenges facing children in foster care and learn about the law, and the impact on data and information sharing between child welfare and education agencies, by clicking here

Child Welfare Data:

Child Maltreatment: The Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) released the Child Maltreatment 2012 report, which analyzes the child abuse and neglect data collected from National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). The NCANDS report annually on a number of child maltreatment areas, including data on CPS workforce and caseloads, CPS response time, number of child victims, types of maltreatment, child victim demographics, child fatalities due to maltreatment, perpetrator demographics, and the services these children and families receive.

Child Welfare Outcomes: The Children’s Bureau recently released the Child Welfare Outcomes 2008–2010: Report to Congress, a report designed to inform Congress, the States, and the public about State performance on delivering child welfare services. This report provides data and analysis on seven national child welfare outcomes related to the safety, permanency, and well-being of children involved in the child welfare system.

Foster Care and Adoption: The Adoption and Foster Care Reporting and Analysis System (AFCARS) is a national data system operated by the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that collects information on all children in foster care and those adopted through public agencies. It tracks the number of children who entered and exited foster care, demographics of children in foster care, length of time in care, placement type, and the number of children who are adopted. The latest data for fiscal year 2012 indicate several recent improvements in states’ foster care programs and can likely be credited to new federal policies that help children who are in or at risk of entering the child welfare system.

General Child Welfare Data: The State of America’s Children ® 2014 is a compilation of the most recent and reliable national and state-by-state data on key child indicators, including child welfare. The Child Welfare section of the report includes state-by-state data on child maltreatment, children in foster care, adoption, children living with grandparents or other relatives, and other child welfare indicators that may increase the chances of these vulnerable children and youth entering the cradle to prison pipeline.

Child Welfare Financing: The Children’s Defense Fund and CLASP collaborated to update state by state factsheets that provide data on child welfare and child welfare spending. These factsheets provide data reported by the federal government on children who are abused and neglected, in foster care, exiting from foster care, and living with kin. They also provide information on how states fund the child welfare system through federal, state and local sources. 

Resources for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children 

For information on state and local resources available to grandparents and other relatives raising children, please view our GrandFact Sheets for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children. These state-specific fact sheets provide information on data, public policies, and local resources and programs for kinship families.  

A Call to Action for Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers are the age group most vulnerable to child abuse and neglect and the largest group of children entering foster care. Just as their brains are undergoing dramatic development, these young children experience maltreatment that can lead to permanent damage to the brain’s architecture and lifelong problems. When not attuned to developmental needs, child welfare practices can compound this damage. CDF, in collaboration with ZERO TO THREE and other early childhood and child welfare organizations, recently released A Call to Action on Behalf of Maltreated Infants and Toddlers, with recommendations for policies, programs and practices to better address the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who come to the attention of the child welfare system. It provides a starting point for federal, state, and local policymakers and administrators to assess and identify where and how they can revise or institute policies and practices that protect the development of infants and toddlers and their safety.


CDF-Minnesota released a report on the profound impact severe maternal depression has on the well-being of both mother and child. Maternal depression afflicts 10 to 20 percent of new mothers, especially low-income women and women of color, causing greater risks for birth complications, delayed development, emotional and behavioral problems in school, and chronic health problems in adulthood. The CDF-MN report has the latest research and is available for download.

Information for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program

Mother and Child Sitting on a Stoop

The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) was established in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March of 2010.  The program provides an opportunity for families, communities, and state agencies to come together to build a system that includes quality home visiting to produce improved outcomes in important areas such as child health and development, greater school readiness, academic achievement, parental involvement, parental employment and economic self sufficiency, and reduced child abuse, neglect and juvenile delinquency.  Learn more about this program by viewing New Investments to Help Children and Families: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.