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What innovative approaches will get foster children into permanent homes?

Helping foster children find permanent homes

About 400,000 children in the U.S. are in foster care. To help these children and their families, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) supports states’ efforts to test innovative approaches for getting the children into permanent homes.

When a state wanted to try an innovative approach, HHS could grant the states a Title IV-E waiver, which lifted some of the restrictions on how states spent federal dollars for foster care.

Since 1997, Westat has helped states evaluate their innovative approaches. We assess whether the approaches help more children find permanent homes, while also improving the safety and well-being of the children and their families. We also look at whether the costs of the new approaches are the same or less than the traditional approaches.

  • We have worked with 6 state child welfare agencies. Our initial evaluations—in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Tennessee—looked at providing financial incentives to relatives to become guardians (called subsidized guardianship).
  • We also evaluated a new program in Illinois that provided older youth living with subsidized guardians additional services to help them transition successfully into adulthood.
  • The National Council on Crime and Delinquency  (NCCD) has partnered with us in evaluating the Title IV-E California Well-Being Project. The evaluation team, led by NCCD, will complete a comprehensive evaluation during the research period 2015-20. This waiver is providing a unique opportunity to study the approaches of two systems, child welfare and juvenile justice, to increasing safety, permanency, and well-being.
  • With our partners at the University of Michigan, we are evaluating “Protect MiFamily,” an innovative array of prevention services for families with young children at risk of maltreatment.
  • We are also evaluating “Protect Ohio,” which focuses on promoting family team meetings and kinship care (care of children by relatives or close family friends).
  • We are helping Massachusetts evaluate a new approach to residential care that provides more family-driven, youth-guided, and community-based services. Changes in financing, management, and services are designed to help youth in residential care return to the community more quickly, help at-risk youth avoid residential care, and improve safety and well-being for both groups of children.
  • Providing subsidies to relatives who become guardians increased the number of children moving out of foster care and into permanent homes.
  • Being eligible for enhanced services did not affect whether older youth found permanent homes. However, we discovered that the program was implemented inconsistently, which may have prevented the evaluation from detecting any impact.
  • In the 20 years of the Ohio program, the costs have remained neutral and more children have returned safely to their homes.
  • Our findings have helped states make better decisions about allocating resources for child welfare and improved the well-being and safety of children.
  • The results of the subsidized guardianship waiver evaluations informed and changed public policy—subsidized guardianship has been recognized as a successful permanency option for children to leave foster care.
  • Westat has become a leader in evaluating innovative approaches to foster care funding.

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