Vol. 20, No. 2 • May 2016

Federal Government Finds Room for Improvement in NC's Child Welfare System

In February 2016 federal reviewers released a report assessing the performance of North Carolina's child welfare system, which includes programs involved in maltreatment investigations, foster care, and adoptions. Called the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), this report recognized our state's strengths in a number of important areas, including the pre-service training delivered to prospective foster parents.

On the whole, however, its conclusions were sobering. North Carolina did not meet federal standards for any of the 14 outcomes and systemic factors evaluated by reviewers.

Not Pass/Fail
The US Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau conducts a review of every state's child welfare system every seven to ten years. Since reviews began in 2001 there have been three "rounds" of reviews, with the federal government modifying review procedures with each new round. Since they began, no state has met federal standards in all areas assessed by the review.

While North Carolina Division of Social Services leaders take issue with some specific findings in the current federal report, they acknowledge there is much room for improvement in our child protective services, foster care, and adoption programs.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Sherry Bradsher, Deputy Secretary for Human Services within NC DHHS, which oversees social services, stated "As painful as it might be, there's nothing new or shocking in the report in terms of something that we didn't know."

"The thing to remember about the CFSR," says Kevin Kelley, Section Chief for Child Welfare Services in the Division of Social Services, "is that it is not pass/fail. The CFSR standards are set so high because the federal government wants to see both excellence and continual improvement. That's something we agree with completely."

What's Next
Now that we have the CFSR findings, North Carolina must come up with a program improvement plan (PIP) to enhance our child welfare system. Workgroups of statewide stakeholders convened in March to help inform the development of this plan, which is sure to include strategies for reducing barriers to system performance and increasing positive outcomes for children and families.

Once it is approved by the Children's Bureau, North Carolina will have two years to meet the goals outlined in the PIP. This will be followed by a third year of oversight and monitoring. If we don't meet our goals in that time, North Carolina may face financial sanctions. In 2011 our state was penalized $1.2 million for not meeting one goal of its previous federal program improvement plan.

Although the details of our new PIP are not yet known, it will likely focus on improvements related to practice within county DSS agencies and collaboration with the courts and outside service providers.

To Read NC's 2015 CFSR Report
Go to https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/dss/stats/docs/child%20welfare%20docs/NC_ACF-CB_FinalReport_020216.pdf

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~