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

Aligning federal child welfare funding to improve outcomes for vulnerable 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 joined 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 services, workforce improvements and increased accountability for child outcomes.   

Pending Legislation – The Family First Prevention Services Act!

The House and Senate have introduced the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (H.R. 5456, S. 3065). The bill makes significant changes to the child welfare system by allowing federal dollars to be used on certain prevention services and programs to help keep more children safely with their families and out of foster care. This is a major change from current federal law, which funds foster care and adoption and guardianship assistance for children leaving care. By investing more in prevention services we better align federal child welfare funding with the improved outcomes and goals we want for the children and families that come to the attention of the child welfare system. For children who require foster care, the bill encourages their placement in family foster care homes or, if they have emotional, behavioral or other special needs requiring clinical care, in qualified residential treatment centers. Federal dollars will no longer be available for other group care settings. Provisions throughout the bill also recognize and increase support for grandparents and other relatives who have stepped in to care for children when their parent cannot. The Children’s Defense Fund is supporting the legislation and encourages individuals to contact your Representatives and Senators to support the Family First Prevention Services Act and move it to final passage!

House and Senate Action:

H.R. 5456 was introduced in the House on June 13 by Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resource Chairman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Ways and Means Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-MI), and the bill passed out of Committee in a markup on June 15th. On June 21, the House passed the bill by voice vote under suspension of the rules, which moves it to the Senate for further action.

The Senate companion bill, S. 3065, was introduced on June 17 by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Michael Bennet. Please check back for more updates on this historic legislation! 

 For more information on the Family First Prevention Services Act: 

Kinship Families

Supporting children and relatives in kinship families

More than 2.9 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 educational stability and 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.

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESSA creates for the first time in federal education law key protections for students in foster care that promote school stability and success, and required collaboration with child welfare partners. These protections will help prevent students in foster care from needlessly changing schools, requires the immediate enrollment in school and transfer of records if a child does change schools, and creates a point person in charge of ensuring effective implementation of the new provisions. Click here for more information on the important new provisions for students in foster care, public comments from CDF on the new Title I assurances and protections for students in foster care, and read Marian Wright Edelman's Child Watch® Column The Education Inequality Struggle for more information on the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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. 

Child Poverty in America 2015 National FactSheet

Poverty data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13, 2016 reveal child poverty declined last year to 14.5 million poor children, one million fewer than in 2014, but still higher than before the recession began in 2007.

September 13, 2016

Family First Prevention Services Letter of Support

September 6, 2016

FFPSA Short Summary

The Family First Prevention Services Act redirects federal funds to provide services to keep children safely with their families and out of foster care, and when foster care is needed allows federal reimbursement only for family-based settings and certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring special treatment.

June 30, 2016

DetailedSummary_FamilyFirstPreventionServicesAct_7-1-16

The bipartisan, bicameral Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (H.R. 5456, S. 3065) was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 13 and in the Senate on June 16. This legislation allows for federal child welfare dollars to be used on prevention investments and encourages the placement of children in foster care in the least restrictive, most family-like settings appropriate to their special needs. The bill also extends and updates other important child welfare provisions to help abused and neglected children that were expiring in FY2016. It represents an historic step forward for vulnerable children and families and signals the continuing bipartisan and bicameral commitment of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees to work together to improve outcomes for children who come to the attention of the child welfare system. The bill passed the House on June 21 and awaits a vote in the Senate.

July 1, 2016

Family First Prevention Service Act DETAILED SUMMARY

The bipartisan, bicameral Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (H.R. 5456, S. 3065) was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 13 and in the Senate on June 16. This legislation allows for federal child welfare dollars to be used on prevention investments and encourages the placement of children in foster care in the least restrictive, most family-like settings appropriate to their special needs.

June 21, 2016

Family First Prevention Service Act DETAILED SUMMARY

The bipartisan, bicameral Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (H.R. 5456, S. 3065) was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 13 and in the Senate on June 16. This legislation allows for federal child welfare dollars to be used on prevention investments and encourages the placement of children in foster care in the least restrictive, most family-like settings appropriate to their special needs.

June 21, 2016

CDF_MWE Letter of Support_Family First Prevention Services Act

The Family First Prevention Services Act takes important steps to ensure children who need foster care will be placed in the least-restrictive most family-like setting appropriate to their needs, and gives special attention to children whose emotional or other special needs require residential treatment.

June 13, 2016

MaryLee Allen - Public Comments ESSA Title I Regs

CDF has been advocating for more than 40 years for closing the achievement gap for poor children, Black children and other children of color, children with disabilities, and children with other special needs. CDF has expressed our extreme concerns about the diminished federal role in the new act. However, we believe it is critically important to help states now implement meaningful state accountability systems and measures to promote achievement by vulnerable subgroups of children. The Department’s remaining rulemaking and guidance authority is essential to make that happen.

January 11, 2016

2015 Protect Children, Not Guns Fact Sheet

2014 Child Gun Deaths

December 18, 2015

Summary of the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act (S. 1964, H.R. 3781), which provides for important new investments in a range of prevention and family services to help keep children safely with family and out of foster care.

October 1, 2015

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

  • 09/16/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Ending Child Poverty: A Moral and Economic Necessity
    Poverty data just released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveal child poverty declined last year to 14.5 million poor children from 15.5 million in 2014, one million fewer but still higher than before the recession began in 2007.
  • 08/19/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Back to School
    As a new school year begins, parents, teachers and administrators are all thinking about how to make it the best year ever. One of the keys to student success sounds very simple but can make a profound difference: making sure every student is in school every day. This is not the case in many schools and school districts across the country. The Department of Education estimates that five to seven and a half million students miss 18 or more days of school each year, or nearly an entire month or more.
  • 07/29/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    How Much Do Black Child Lives Matter?
    Four little girls were changing into choir robes and chatting in a church restroom preparing for the Youth Sunday services at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. At 10:22 a.m. a bomb previously hidden under the church steps with its timer deliberately set to go off during Sunday morning services exploded. Three 14-year-olds, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, and 11-year-old Denise McNair were killed on that Sunday morning.
  • 07/12/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Don’t Make Our Most Vulnerable Children Wait Longer!
    In an important show of bipartisanship, Congress is on the cusp of an historic step to help many of the most vulnerable children in our nation who are abused and neglected and at risk of entering foster care and lingering in group care.
  • 05/08/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Mother’s Day Call to Action
    As mothers and grandmothers who have dedicated our lives to serving children, our own and others, we know firsthand how important a stable home, a positive emotional and learning environment and safe communities are for a child’s healthy development.

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.