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Safe and Stable Families: Retooling District Child Welfare to Meet Changing Community Needs

In 2013, the District of Columbia competed for and won approval from the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) as a Title IV-E Demonstration Project site. Beginning in 2014, this “IV-E waiver” is allowing the DC Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) to make significant investments over the next five years in preventing child abuse and in helping families keep their children safe without entering foster care. Following are four facts about this strategy, which we call Safe and Stable Families.

1: Gaining Flexible Use of Federal Funds
Since 1996, USDHHS has given about two dozen states the flexibility to use federal funds previously earmarked only for foster care to test innovative solutions to serving children and families. In simplest terms, District approval for the “IV-E waiver” means CFSA now gets some choice in spending federal child welfare money that previously came with a lot of strings attached. For the next five years, instead of the District making claims for federal reimbursement of foster care and related costs, USDHHS will send CFSA a set amount of money each year. The amount is based on a federal formula that takes into account the District’s claiming history.

2: Meeting Changing Community Needs
Two trends dominate local child welfare: The number of District children in foster care is dropping, and the number of families staying together at home while CFSA serves them is on the rise. Safe decline in the District foster care population provides an opportunity to reinvest in child welfare approaches that produce better results.

Children grow up best in families. So to keep more families together, the District needs effective services that help parents before they reach the crisis point. To meet this need, CFSA is intentionally transitioning a child welfare system long geared for foster care to one that is very good at supporting and strengthening families.

3: Building a Stronger, More Nuanced Safety Net
Imagine a robust local safety net composed of a network of public and community-based organizations providing evidence-based prevention and supportive services. As the diagram above shows (moving clockwise from the “12” to the “9” position), help ranges from one-time or short-term supports to long-term, intensive assistance depending on the needs of the children and family involved. This help is available in neighborhoods throughout the city. Families all over town should be able to tap friendly, effective services in their neighborhoods before they get overwhelmed and in crisis.

4: Growing the Collaboratives
In the 1990s, the District established a unique local network of neighborhood-based providers known as the Healthy Families/Thriving Communities Collaboratives. CFSA has a long and close partnership with these valuable resources that serve thousands of District children, youth, and families each year. Under Safe and Stable Families, the Collaboratives are serving as “hubs”—that is, primary coordinators of existing and new community-based services in their target neighborhoods. To help the Collaboratives step up to this role, CFSA is supporting their growth and development as stronger private, non-profit providers, which, in turn, strengthen the city-wide safety net.

For more information about Safe and Stable Families, contact Julie Fliss, supervisory IV-E planning advisor, [email protected].

Graphic of Vision: A Stronger Community Safety Net