National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System
The Children's Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the University of Michigan Law School a five-year, $5 million dollar grant to serve as the National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System (QIC-ChildRep).
The QIC-ChildRep will work to improve both the quality and quantity of competent representation for children and youth in child welfare cases. Not only will this benefit case management and access to services for children, but ultimately it will improve child safety, permanency, and well-being.
The overriding goals are to gather, develop and communicate knowledge on child representation that presents the strengths and weaknesses of varying methods of representing children, promotes consensus on the role of the child’s legal representative, and provides an empirically-based analysis of how legal representation for the child might best be delivered. The QIC-ChildRep approach will be creative, inclusive, open-minded, and pragmatic. A summary of the project follows.
In the first year the QIC-ChildRep will assess the state of child representation in child welfare cases nationwide and develop a plan for furthering knowledge development in subsequent years. Information on research, policy, and practice will be integrated from many sources, including law libraries, government and foundation issued reports, annual reports submitted by States, and in-person and phone discussions with a wide range of policy makers and practitioners. By the end of 2010 the QIC-ChildRep intends to produce a report that compiles findings on the state of child representation practice in 2010. Hopefully that compilation of information will itself be of value to courts, legislators, and others in on-going efforts to improve justice for children in the child welfare process.
Developing empirical knowledge about the most effective ways of delivering child representation is a critical part of this QIC. At the end of the first year, the QIC-ChildRep will identify representation models that seem the most promising in delivering good results for children and achieving the overall systemic goals of safety, permanency and child well-being
At the beginning of the second year, the QIC, in close consultation with the Children's Bureau, will frame a Request for Proposals, and invite sites to apply for funds to implement specified models of child representation as identified in the first year assessment. The selected research/demonstration projects will run in years two through five and will collect and report comparable data on their approach and impact. The cross-site evaluation will synthesize qualitative and quantitative information. This empirical data will help move the field toward a common understanding of what constitutes good representation for children.
Another element of the QIC-ChildRep is to promote certification of lawyers as specialists in child welfare law. A portion of the grant funds in years two through five will be devoted to promoting certification by the National Association of Counsel for Children, an important collaborator on this project. Certification recognizes the best child welfare lawyers and encourages all child lawyers to develop the specialized knowledge required to work effectively in this area of practice. Certification of the most experienced lawyers for children has become an increasingly important means of professionalizing the field and identifying the emerging leadership and role models.
KNOWLEDGE DEVELOPMENT AND DISSEMINATION
Throughout the project the QIC-ChildRep will attempt to keep the field advised of activities, progress, and lessons learned about child representation in protection cases. The QIC team intends to be available at conferences and professional meetings for interactive discussions. The final report will summarize findings and make recommendations for future policy and practice reforms. The QIC web site, www.ImproveChildRep.org, will include plans, experiences and findings and will give regular updates on progress.
THE QIC-ChildRep TEAM
The core team assembled to carry out this mission includes some of the nation’s leading child welfare researchers, practitioners, and evaluators. The Child Advocacy Law Clinic of the University of Michigan Law School is the oldest child welfare law clinic in the nation, combining practical, hands-on advocacy with sophisticated law and policy analysis. That dual focus will merge in this QIC.
Don Duquette, director and founder of the Clinic, is the QIC-ChildRep Project Director, and his colleagues, Frank Vandervort and Vivek Sankaran, will assist in the effort. University of Michigan’s partner is Planning and Learning Technologies, Inc. of Arlington, VA, (Pal-Tech), led by Karl Ensign, who will oversee the assessment and evaluation project components. Pal-Tech has worked with Children’s Bureau on a number of important projects, including conducting the National Evaluation of the Court Improvement Program and leading the evaluation for the National QIC on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services.
Other collaborators include the American Bar Foundation, the leading research institute for the empirical study of law, legal institutions and legal processes in the United States; National Association of Counsel for Children, a professional membership organization of child law attorneys and the ABA accredited certifier of Child Welfare Law Specialists; and KidsVoice of Pittsburgh, nationally recognized for its pioneering interdisciplinary approach to child advocacy and for its sophisticated case management technology.
A National Advisory Committee will provide input and feedback at key points as the QIC-ChildRep is implemented. This project is funded as a cooperative agreement and the Children's Bureau will be very active in guiding and overseeing ongoing efforts.