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Children's Bureau Urges Professionals to Strengthen Family and Youth Voice

Thursday, August 1, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kim Dvorchak
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TO: State, Tribal and Territorial Agencies Administering or Supervising the Administration of

Titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act; State and Tribal Courts and Court Improvement Programs; Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention lead agency and other prevention partners; and Children’s Justice Act grantees.

SUBJECT: Engaging, empowering, and utilizing family and youth voice in all aspects of child welfare to drive case planning and system improvement.

LEGAL AND RELATED: Titles IV-E and IV-B of the Social Security Act (the Act); and Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351).

PURPOSE: The purpose of this Information Memorandum (IM) is to demonstrate that family and youth voice are critical to a well-functioning child welfare system and to strongly encourage all public child welfare agencies, dependency courts, and Court Improvement Programs to work together to ensure that family and youth voice are central in child welfare program planning and improvement efforts.


Click here for the Informational Memorandum, Attachment A, Attachment B




Reshaping Child Welfare in the United States to Focus on Strengthening Families Through Primary Prevention of Child Maltreatment

The Children’s Bureau (CB) is actively promoting a vision for child welfare in the United States that focuses on strengthening families through primary prevention of child maltreatment. The vision is to create the conditions for strong, thriving families and communities where children are free from harm. We have made a call to action for states and tribes to act on this vision to prevent child maltreatment and the unnecessary removal of children from their homes.1 Coordinated and robust efforts are critically important to strengthening families and preventing both the initial occurrence of child abuse and neglect and ongoing maltreatment; preventing unnecessary family disruption; reducing family and child trauma; interrupting intergenerational cycles of maltreatment; and building a child welfare system that aligns with these goals.


To achieve this vision we must (1) recognize that all within the child welfare system have an important role to play across the prevention continuum, (2) improve child welfare practice, and (3) maximize all available tools and resources to integrate family and youth voice into the design and operation of the child welfare system.

For the past two years, CB leadership has been regularly meeting and speaking with parents and youth who are in or have been in the child welfare system. We have asked families and youth to describe their experiences with the child welfare system. While some families and youth provide positive reports of their interaction with the child welfare system, more typically, the words they use include, for example, overwhelmed, confused, voiceless, judged, ashamed, angry and sad.


These words are consistent with findings from stakeholder interviews through Round 3 of the Child and Family Services Reviews.2 Such words should serve as a wakeup call to the child welfare community and provide the impetus for collective action to change the way families and youth experience the child welfare system.

It is absolutely critical to strengthen our efforts to listen to the families and youth served by the system and integrate their voices into all aspects of child welfare planning and improvement.


Effectively integrating family and youth voice into child welfare practice can help:

  • Prevent the initial occurrence of maltreatment and involvement in the child welfare system by ensuring that community resources are aligned with what families and youth tell us they need;
  • Prevent unnecessary parent child separation;
  • Enhance the engagement of parents and youth in case planning and service delivery;
  • Identify family and kinship resources when out of home placement is necessary;
  • Empower families and youth involved with the system to determine service needs to expedite reunification or other permanent, family based solutions;
  • Empower caregivers to operate in the best interest of the family and youth by using their voices and expertise as advocates for the family and child;
  • Ensure child welfare services build strength and resilience in families and youth and connect them to their communities and the supports they need.

The CB urges all child welfare professionals, from investigators and caseworkers to judges and attorneys, to identify actions that can be put into place to strengthen the role of family and youth voice.


The Call to Action Includes:

Ensure that all Parents and Youth have High Quality Legal Representation at All Stages of Child Welfare Proceedings. High quality legal representation is a powerful tool for parent and youth voice.14 Attorneys that directly represent the expressed interest of their families and children have the ability to file petitions to access court processes at any point where a parent or youth has a concern or need that is unaddressed. For very young children, best interest attorneys may similarly file motions to promote a child’s well-being. 


High quality legal representation requires that attorneys spend time with the individuals they represent outside of court to understand their strengths, needs and resources. It requires attorneys to work with parents and youth to identify and advocate for services.and supports and to ensure that parents and youth understand their rights and the complicated processes that directly affect their lives and well-being. Legal representation is also associated with increased parent and youth engagement, increased feelings of fairness in court proceedings, expedited reunification, and more detailed and specific case plans that outline responsibilities for all parties. Attorneys can also provide legal services to remove obstacles for families and youth that may leave them more vulnerable of entering the child welfare system, such as housing, educational advocacy, employment, paternity and other civil legal issues. 

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