Category Archives: Other

Primary Prevention

Late last year, the federal Children’s Bureau (CB) published a memo on reshaping the child welfare system to focus on primary prevention.  When “reshaping” is the goal, this is an announcement that bears closer scrutiny.  Here is some of the text providing the reasoning:

“To reverse troubling trends of increasing foster care populations and reports of maltreatment, along with unsatisfactory outcomes, CB’s top priority is to reshape child welfare in the United States to focus on proactively strengthening families through primary prevention of child maltreatment. To accomplish this, CB believes strongly that primary prevention services must be located in communities where families live, where they are easily accessible, and culturally responsive. Those services should also focus on the overall health and well-being of both children and families and be designed to promote resiliency and parenting capacity.”

After noting that primary prevention is the least supported intervention through federal funding, the memo continues:

“Committing to a broader continuum of prevention services that emphasizes primary prevention is contingent on a change of mindset and reorientation of what child welfare is intended to accomplish. Child protection will always be paramount and will always be needed, but the system can and should be designed to protect children by keeping families safe, healthy, and together whenever possible before remedial efforts become necessary.”

While there is likely no dissent to keeping families safely together before remedial efforts become necessary, the difficulty lies in developing effective prevention programs within funding constraints.  Prevention already receives little funding from the federal government. Ironically, the new federal funding mechanism to match state dollars in the Family First Prevention Services Act does not include any funding for primary prevention.  Compounding the lack of funding, the US Preventive Services Task Force examined primary prevention programs, including home visiting, and concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to determine the benefits of these programs on preventing child maltreatment.

So where can we turn to find assistance with implementing primary prevention services?  The New York City child welfare agency (ACS) has published a concept paper on prevention services.   Here’s their goal:

Prevention services aim to support families in their communities, promote family stability and well-being, and reduce the need for placement in foster care. These services may include case management, counseling, and clinical interventions offered primarily in-home and in a manner aligned with the diverse cultures and needs of NYC families.

Providers will be expected to assess safety and risk, give families voice and choice, harness data to drive quality assurance, and address racial inequities and social justice.  Families will be supported through building protective factors and addressing trauma, economic mobility, assessing and improving family well-being, meeting concrete needs, and helping families build positive relationships and social connections.

New York City intends to contract for 3 areas of prevention services and providers will be required to choose a pre-approved practice model under each area as follows:

  • Family Support:

Mobility Mentoring

Solution-Based Casework

Family Connections


  • Therapeutic and Treatment Programs:

Brief Strategic Family Therapy

Child Parent Psychotherapy

Functional Family Therapy

Multisystemic Therapy

Trauma Systems Therapy


  • Clinical Enhancements:

Trauma Treatment (TF-CBT)

Mental Health (CBT)

Special Needs (NYC is seeking input on promising models)


April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month so we will be hearing a lot more about prevention in coming weeks.


To view the Children’s Bureau memo visit:


The New York City Concept Paper is available here:


Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director


Legal Representation for Parents and Children

Some of the saddest stories I hear are from parents who are desperately seeking quality legal assistance as they face termination of parental rights.

While 38 states provide a right to an attorney for parents, children may be removed before an attorney is appointed, and many attorneys have high caseloads, low pay, and little time to meet with and understand the parents’ situation.

But what are the outcomes with quality legal representation?  Washington state has provided legal representation for indigent parents for over a decade.  Six evaluations of the program, all favorable, show speedier reunifications and movement to permanent placements when reunification with parents is not possible.

The Center for Family Representation in New York provides every parent with an attorney, a social worker, and a parent advocate. Parent advocates are parents who had their children removed but were able to successfully reunify their families.  The parent team works together to problem-solve and identify resources. The model is a combination of legal representation, social work, and mentoring.  Parents report great satisfaction with the program and good outcomes.

Apart from the success of these programs, very few states are currently providing quality legal representation.  To address this need nationwide, the federal government recently authorized payment of up to 50% of the cost for legal representation for both parents and children.  This is the first time federal money has been authorized, and the money will come from the Title IV-E entitlement funds used to pay for foster care.

The problem remains how the states will pay for their share of the cost.  Most states have no dedicated funding stream for legal representation of parents and children.  Funding for attorneys does not come from child welfare system budgets but from other sources such as the courts.  The 50% federal match will go to the child welfare agency so agreements will need to be established between courts and child welfare systems.

Meanwhile, the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has issued best practice standards for attorneys that include:

 Thoroughly prepare clients for court, explain the hearing process and debrief after hearings are completed to make sure clients understand the results. For children this must be done in a developmentally appropriate way.

 Regularly communicate with collateral contacts (i.e., treatment providers, teachers, social workers).

 Meet with clients outside of court (this provides attorneys an opportunity to observe clients in multiple environments and independently verify important facts).

 Have meaningful and ongoing conversation with all clients about their strengths, needs, and wishes.

 Regularly ask all clients what would be most helpful for his or her case, what is working, and whether there is any service or arrangement that is not helpful, and why.

 Work with every client to identify helpful relatives for support, safety planning and possible placement.

 Attend and participate in case planning, family group decision-making and other meetings a client may have with the child welfare agency.

 Work with clients individually to develop safety plan and case plan options to present to the court.


For more information on the ACF memo on high quality legal representation, visit

The Chronicle of Social Change has prepared a comprehensive overview of legal representation available here


Posted by Priscilla Martens,  NFPN Executive Director




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