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Transforming the Child Welfare System

The child welfare policies and programs we create today have a direct impact on how well or not so well our children and their children will do in the future.

All children deserve our best thinking and boldest action. From birth, their brains are built through interactions with people and their environments to regulate their bodies, explore, look for signs of safety, protect themselves from threats, and draw connections between things to make meaning. The experiences they have and the conditions under which they live from the very first moments of their life have impacts on their health, well-being, learning, and behaviors across an entire lifetime, and sometimes generations.  

The child welfare policies and programs we create today have a direct impact on how well or not so well our children and their children will do in the future. A look at the history of our child and family policies shows us that we have not always acted in the best interests of our children – especially indigenous, Black and immigrant children.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation has created a guide to help young leaders understand the historical context and timeline of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in the United States.  

The policies of our past have led us to a complex braided system of government and non-profit organizations that continue to surveil and control how financially poor families parent in the U.S. today. Through mostly well-intentioned federal reform efforts, the child welfare system has grown to have a larger reach, including expanding definitions of abuse and neglect and a proliferation of laws and policies that still miss the mark for many families and often create more harm, particularly for mothers and their children who are Black, Indigenous and other people of color.  For more information on how mothers and their children have been harmed by the child welfare system, explore the Accountability Dialogues. 

Families of color have been regulated and surveilled by the government and child welfare system… (and) this system has consistently linked poverty with neglect and child maltreatment.

Aysha Schomburg

Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, 2021

FUTURES believes that we need a much smaller child protection system than what is currently in place today and a much larger well-resourced community-driven support system for children, families and their communities that prioritizes giving families what they need to stay together and thrive. For example, policies and protocols that mandate police to automatically report child abuse when they are called to homes when there is DV results in a victim becoming an offender of child abuse, with little attention to what they may really need to be safe and stable.

We urge state leaders, advocates and child welfare staff to prioritize and leverage state and local resources and community-based supports and interventions to assist families involved with or at risk of involvement with the child welfare system; such as:  

  • legal representation

  • housing stabilization

  • cash and food assistance

  • affordable 24/7 child care

  • transportation

  • cultural and community connections

  • domestic and sexual violence advocacy

  • abusive partner intervention services

  • in home substance abuse treatment

  • physical and behavioral health care

  • recreational and other health/wellness opportunities

For more information on what survivors need from us and changes needed, see strategies for fighting racism in child welfare, Protective Factors Video and FUTURES recommendations. 

We also call on civic leaders to form meaningful partnerships with domestic and sexual assault coalitions and local programs, culturally specific organizations and economic justice groups to ensure that service delivery is responding to the actual needs of survivors of family violence and their communities.