Child Welfare

The Children’s Defense Fund 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 that often lead children and families to the child welfare system, help ensure quality care for children in foster care and promote appropriate timely permanent placements for children in foster care with birth, kin or adoptive families.

Understanding the Child Welfare System

Understanding the child welfare system and the children and families involved or at risk of entering the system

The Children’s Defense Fund advocates on behalf of America’s most vulnerable children — those who have been abused and neglected and too often removed from their homes and placed into foster care. We work to strengthen policies that prevent child maltreatment from occurring by supporting vulnerable children and families, and to improve the well-being and safety of children and youth who are involved in the child welfare system by connecting them to permanent and loving families.

Child Welfare Finance Reform

Realigning federal funding to support policies and practices that improve outcomes for children

The Children’s Defense Fund has long been working to better align federal child welfare financing with positive outcomes for vulnerable children and families. Most recently, we have been working with other child and family advocates and providers to develop a consensus vision for child welfare finance reform that will truly help enhance prevention, specialized treatment, permanency and post-permanency service, workforce improvements and increased accountability for child outcomes.   

Kinship Families

Supporting children and relatives in kinship families

More than 2.7 million children are living in “kinship families” and “GrandFamilies”— terms frequently used interchangeably to describe families where a child is raised by grandparents or other relatives when their parents are unable to do so. Sometimes a child is formally removed from his parents’ care by the state and placed with relatives in foster care. In other cases, children live with relatives informally without the involvement of child welfare agencies, or children may be “diverted” to relatives by the courts.  These willing caregivers may need financial or other help to appropriately meet the children’s needs. We are working to ensure the needs of these kinship families are met to ensure children are kept safe, healthy, in loving families, and reaching their full potential. Learn more about the work CDF is doing to support kinship families.

Child Welfare and Education

Promoting academic success for children in foster care

Students in foster care face tremendous barriers to academic success and often lag far behind their peers in educational outcomes and success. Although important progress has been made in removing educational barriers for youth in foster care, there is much more to do. We are working to expand understanding about the educational needs of students in foster care and how best to support them throughout the education continuum, from early childhood through higher education.

Preventing Child Sex Trafficking

Ensuring successful implementation of the Preventing Child Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014

The bipartisan Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183/HR 4980), signed into law by President Obama on September 29, 2014, takes important steps forward in protecting and preventing children and youth in foster care from becoming victims of sex trafficking. The new law also makes many important improvements to the child welfare system that will help improve outcomes for children and youth in foster care. The provisions in the new law represent significant first steps, but additional work needs to be done and these reforms will mean little to children unless they are effectively implemented to truly benefit children.

Implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) To Benefit Children and Youth

This helpful resource for advocates and state and local staff is intended to help ensure full and prompt implementation of the improvements made in the new Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. The brief includes a summary and rationale for each of the Act’s provisions and answers a number of questions being asked or likely to be asked as implementation gets underway. An implementation timeline of the Act’s various provisions is also included. This document should be viewed as complementary to the guidance issued by the Children’s Bureau at the Department of Health and Human Services.

This brief is a collaborative effort of the Children’s Defense Fund, Child Welfare League of America, First Focus, Generations United, Foster Family-based Treatment Association and Voice for Adoption. It will be updated as additional questions or clarification come forward and further issuances from the Children’s Bureau are released.

Fostering Connections Act

Ensuring successful implementation of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 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 represent significant first steps, but it will take work to implement them effectively to truly help children and to move on to secure additional reforms. View our Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act webpage for more information on this important legislation.

Legislative Updates

Pending legislation and administrative activities supported by the Children’s Defense Fund

CDF ensures that the voices of children are heard at the Congressional level by pursuing and supporting legislation that addresses the unique needs of children and ensuring that they are engaged in the legislative process. Learn more about bills supported by the Children's Defense Fund that directly or indirectly impact children in or at risk of entering the child welfare system.

Data and Publications

Federal data sources and CDF publications relevant to child maltreatment and other child welfare concerns

CDF uses the latest data compiled by the federal government to track national and state level data on child maltreatment, foster care, and other relevant child welfare activities to assess trends and identify areas for improving the outcomes of children involved in the child welfare system. 

FY2016 House and Senate Budget Fact Sheet

April 9, 2015

Implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act To Benefit Children and Youth

A helpful resource for advocates and state and local staff to help ensure full and prompt implementation of the improvements made in the new Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. The brief includes a summary and rationale for each of the Act’s provisions and answers a number of questions being asked or likely to be asked as implementation gets underway.

March 4, 2015

Ending Child Poverty Now

For the first time, this report shows that by investing an additional 2 percent of the federal budget into existing programs and policies that increase employment, make work pay, and ensure children’s basic needs are met, the nation could reduce child poverty by 60 percent and lift 6.6 million children out of poverty.

January 9, 2015

Relative Foster Care Licensing Waivers in the States: Policies and Possibilities

On October 7, 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections) was signed into law, helping to, among other things, ensure that children in foster care maintain family connections. Fostering Connections clarifies that states may waive non-safety licensing standards on a case-by-case basis in order to eliminate barriers to placing children safely with relatives in licensed homes. In an effort to provide states with critical information as they examine their licensing policies and practices, this document presents background information on licensing for relatives. It also includes an overview of IV–E reimbursement for relative foster homes and information on the current landscape of waivers of foster home licensing standards, as well as recommendations for licensing standards that can help further the goal of maintaining family connections for children in foster care.

December 16, 2014

Relative Foster Care Licensing Waivers in the States: Policies and Possibilities

On October 7, 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections) was signed into law, helping to, among other things, ensure that children in foster care maintain family connections. Fostering Connections clarifies that states may waive non-safety licensing standards on a case-by-case basis in order to eliminate barriers to placing children safely with relatives in licensed homes. In an effort to provide states with critical information as they examine their licensing policies and practices, this document presents background information on licensing for relatives. It also includes an overview of IV–E reimbursement for relative foster homes and information on the current landscape of waivers of foster home licensing standards, as well as recommendations for licensing standards that can help further the goal of maintaining family connections for children in foster care.

December 16, 2014

Fact sheet on HR 4980

July 31, 2014

2014 SOAC_child welfare.pdf

Child abuse and neglect continue to harm too many children. While poverty is the single strongest predictor of child abuse and neglect, most poor parents do not abuse or neglect their children. Child maltreatment occurs in families of all income levels, especially when parents face challenges such as substance abuse, untreated mental health problems, and domestic violence and don’t have access to the services and treatment they need.

January 28, 2014

The State of America's Children 2014

The State of America's Children 2014

January 23, 2014

Making It Work: Using the Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) to Close the Permanency Gap for Children in Foster Care

Making It Work 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.

November 1, 2012

Education is the Lifeline for Youth in Foster Care

Success in school can be a positive counterweight to the abuse, neglect, separation, and impermanence experienced by the more than 400,000 U.S. children and youth in foster care at the end of FY 2009. Education has the potential to markedly improve their life chances and their ability to contribute to society as productive adults.

November 1, 2012

More Child Welfare Data

Promising Approaches

Supporting approaches that prevent child maltreatment, keep children safely at home and, when children must enter foster care, move them promptly back home to their own families or to new permanent families through kinship care or adoption. 

There are a range of programs, strategies and system reform approaches intended to prevent children from being abused or neglected or involved in the child welfare system, and to help keep children who have been abused or neglected safely with their own families or in other permanent families, through kinship care or adoption, and on a path to productive adulthood. These “promising approaches” offer children better experiences and opportunities. We are working to bridge the gap between the promising approaches in prevention and intervention being implemented with discussions on policy improvements at the federal level.

Child Watch® Columns

Child Watch® Columns: Child Welfare

  • 08/21/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    It’s Hard to Be What You Can’t See
    When we think about what it is to be ‘connected,’ we think about memory. We think about history. We think about storytelling. All of these words that we hear—‘literacy,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘diversity’—those are all words for connection . . . When I say to people ‘why do we need to have diverse books?’ it’s not because necessarily everybody needs to see themselves reflected in every book, but because we need that sense of connection. We need to live in a global sense.
  • 08/14/15
    Child Watch® Column: "The Unthinkable Lives of So Many Black Boys: Where Are the Caring Adults?!"
    What’s on the minds of many high school students these days—the start of a new school year, getting a driver’s license, worrying whether they’ll make the team, perhaps daydreaming about college and sweating over SAT exams? But that’s not what three Black male high school students told a Children’s Defense Fund audience this summer they’re thinking and worrying about.
  • 08/07/15
    Child Watch® Column: "Helping Black Boys Survive: What a Difference a Smile Makes"
    “If I tell you a smile could save a life, would you believe me? A smile can save a life. There was a gentleman, a young gentleman … named Kevin. Kevin was one of those children who did well in school and had great grades. People liked Kevin. Kevin was a handsome young man. But Kevin was a miserable young man. Kevin suffered from depression. Kevin decided that he was going to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and jump. … Kevin said, ‘If there’s one person who would smile at me or ask me if I was okay, I would not jump.’ Kevin jumped.”
  • 07/17/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    How to Keep Our Black Boys Alive: Channeling the Rage
    Dr. Terrell Strayhorn is Director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at The Ohio State University and a Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Studies in the College of Education and Human Ecology. He also has faculty appointments in the Ohio State John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Department of African American and African Studies, and Education Policy, Engineering Education, and Sexuality Studies programs. But none of these credentials mattered one bit when Dr. Strayhorn was pulled over by a White police officer a week before he spoke at the June Children’s Defense Fund training for college-age students preparing to teach at CDF Freedom Schools® sites across the country this summer. He shared this story with the 2,000 young mostly non-White leaders because it was an integral part of his message for the young teachers in training: “How to Keep Our Black Boys Alive.”
  • 07/10/15
    Child Watch® Column:
    Redlined for Failure and the Prison Pipeline
    Ndume Olatushani is an artist, organizer, and a passionate advocate for justice who works with the Children’s Defense Fund’s Nashville organizing team. He helps us fight to keep children and people of color, especially Black boys, out of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline™ and mass incarceration system which will trap 1 in 3 Black boys born in 2001 sometime during their lifetime.

Past Child Watch® Columns about Child Welfare

Other National Organizations

Other partners and organizations working to improve the lives of vulnerable children

Creating a level playing field for all children is a mission CDF cannot accomplish alone. We often work with or refer people to many other organizations nationwide that are working to improve the lives of children.