Child Welfare | Child and Family Outcomes

Efficacy of Formal Mediation in Child Protection Cases

Child protection cases are often complex and may require a lengthy legal process to resolve. However, the length of time to case resolution has a real impact on the children and families involved in the cases. Protracted cases also carry substantial costs for the state and counties, including costs associated with the legal process and foster care. Travis County Family Court (TCFC) is one of twenty child abuse and neglect model courts established by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to implement innovative strategies to improve outcomes for children and families. As a model court, one strategy employed by TCFC is the nearly universal use of formal mediation to resolve removal cases prior to the final hearing. CFRP is examining whether the type of formal mediation used in TCFC is cost-effective, as well as the types of cases best served by mediation, the appropriate timing for mediation, and the impact of mediation on child and case outcomes. CFRP is also examining how mediation is used by different jurisdictions across Texas. 

Improving Permanency Outcomes through Collaborative Family Engagement

Child welfare agencies are responsible for identifying safe and permanent homes for the children in their care, either by safely reunifying children with their parents or through adoption when reunification is not possible. To reduce the time to positive permanency for children in care, in 2015 the Texas Legislature funded the Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) pilot project through a partnership with the Child Protective Services program (CPS) at the Texas Department of Family Protective Services and Texas CASA. Under CFE, CPS and Texas CASA are using the Family Finding model, an approach for connecting children in the child welfare system with an adult support system to achieve positive legal and emotional permanency outcomes. The Family Finding model provides child welfare professionals with training, skills development, and tools for identifying and engaging relatives and other important adults who can support children in state care. CFRP is working with CPS and Texas CASA to better understand the extent to which CFE increases collaboration between CPS and Texas CASA and facilitates positive permanency for children. The study is examining the elements of CFE that are most effective for creating meaningful connections for children who have been removed and the degree to which CFE can be adopted by other jurisdictions to improve permanency outcomes for children. CFRP is conducting longitudinal surveys of all CASA and CPS caseworkers involved in the pilot, analyzing administrative CPS data, and holding focus groups with CPS and CASA workers to better understand the effectiveness of the program.

Child Outcomes and Volunteer Effectiveness Evaluation

Children in the care of the child welfare system often lack an adult who can act as an advocate for their best interests. Volunteer advocates work to make the voices of these children heard, representing the child and advocating for the child’s needs in the foster care system. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that volunteer advocates improve the lives of the children they represent, there are few rigorously designed evaluation studies demonstrating the true impacts of a volunteer advocate on child outcomes. CFRP is working with the Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (Texas CASA) to evaluate the effectiveness of the state’s volunteer advocate services and to determine the true impact of Texas CASA’s volunteer advocates. The Child Outcomes and Volunteer Effectiveness (COVE) evaluation is using sophisticated statistical modeling techniques to determine the extent to which Texas CASA’s advocates are effectively serving the needs of children. CFRP is also surveying CASA advocates to identify the strategies that are effective for supporting positive child outcomes. The evaluation will determine strategies that can be used statewide and nationally.

Project S.A.F.E.: Reducing Family Violence through Increased Collaboration

Historically, domestic violence and child maltreatment have been treated as separate forms of violence requiring different responses, and, often, separate responding agencies with conflicting priorities. However, there is increasing awareness of the overlap between domestic violence and child maltreatment. Project S.A.F.E. is an initiative funded by the Texas Office of the Governor and overseen by the Texas Council on Family Violence that is focused on improving collaboration between child welfare agencies and family violence centers in Texas. CFRP is conducting an evaluation to learn whether Project S.A.F.E. pilot programs improve the knowledge, intentions, and behaviors of CPS staff with regard to providing appropriate services and supports to families experiencing domestic violence; whether the programs strengthen the networks between CPS staff and domestic violence staff; and whether the programs enhance victim families’ lives. CFRP is conducting longitudinal surveys and focus groups of domestic violence and CPS staff. CFRP’s research will help establish best practices and models for domestic violence centers across Texas to navigate the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.

Safe Babies Tarrant County 

Infants and toddlers are the largest group of maltreated children and typically remain in foster care longer than older children. Kids under age 3 are also particularly vulnerable to disruptions in their home lives because of their rapid growth and development during early childhood. Parental neglect and the unpredictability of foster care can have lasting impacts on children’s health, social-emotional development, and cognitive skills. In order to lessen these impacts, First3Years has started Safe Babies Tarrant County (SBTC), a pilot program in Tarrant County, Texas, which aims to change the policies and protocols in the child welfare system to be more developmentally appropriate for children under age 3 who are removed from their families due to neglect. Through coordination of care for children and their families, co-parenting between foster and biological families, case management for biological parents, early intervention services for children, and education for stakeholders, SBTC aims to increase the likelihood of reunification, shorten the time to find permanent homes, and repair children’s capacity for healthy parental attachment and relationships. CFRP is conducting a process evaluation and collecting qualitative data about the challenges and successes of the implementation of SBTC to help stakeholders determine what leads to successful implementation of the program.


More Child Welfare projects: Child Welfare Workforce

Publications and Posts:

Title Type Date
Collaborative Family Engagement: A Promising Approach to Supporting Children in State Care Brief 2017 May
Volunteer Advocacy for Children in State Care: Which Texas Children Get a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)? Brief 2017 May
Evaluation of the Collaborative Family Engagement Pilot Project: Year One Report Report 2016 December