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Considering the Foster America fellowship and want to get better acquainted with child welfare? Here’s a primer and materials to help get you started, encompassing history, data, evidence, and points of controversy that influence the field.

General Overview

Every U.S. jurisdiction has a child welfare system, responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect. In most places, this is a state agency, in some places it is organized by county. Federal laws, oversight, and funds guide these agencies. Functions of the system include: screening and investigating allegations of abuse or neglect, providing services to keep children safe in their homes, finding and preparing foster and adoptive families, and contracting with nonprofit agencies to collaborate on these roles.

How the Child Welfare System Works 
This fact sheet produced by the Child Welfare Information Getaway, a project of the Children’s Bureau in the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides an accessible outline of a child’s journey through the child welfare system.

Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption 
From the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974 to 2015, the Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a comprehensive summary of national public policy relating to child welfare.

Foster Care: Indicators on Children and Youth
Current trends in the child welfare system, including an annotated list of evidence-based interventions used in case practice, compiled by Child Trends, a national research organization recognized for rigorous analyses that guide policies and interventions serving children and families.

Child Welfare Costs
Researchers commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America estimate the direct and indirect costs associated with child abuse and neglect.

Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth
A series of reports from a longitudinal study of young adults following their exit from foster care, conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a leading policy research group in child welfare.

Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities
This fact sheet captures the key findings and recommendations of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse Fatalities, which issued its final report in March 2016.

Strategies to Reduce Racially Disparate Outcomes in Child Welfare
This report from the Center for the Study of Social Policy addresses the need to reduce racial disparities and improve national outcomes among children, youth and families of color.

Baby Doe
Written by Jill Lepore for the New Yorker, this poignant look at one child and family in the context of historic trends elucidates the tension between the child welfare system, the media, and politics.

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care
Cris Beam's book on foster care is a heartfelt exploration of the American child welfare system, from history to lived experience. As a foster mother and a writer, Beam brings a lyrical honesty to her coverage and presents nuanced perspectives.

The F-Word Series
Nicole Opper's short comedic PBS docuseries traces one queer couple's journey to parenthood through the foster-to-adoption process.


Family First Prevention Services Act

In February 2018, Congress passed bipartisan legislation that includes the most sweeping changes to federal child welfare law in over thirty years. Family First includes federal financial incentives and requirements to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care, emphasizes the importance of children growing up in families, and helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting possible when foster care is needed. Learn more about this law from trusted sources below:

Chronicle of Social Change produced a three-part "Cliffs Notes" on the law.

Children's Defense Fund has authored multiple resource about Family First.


Other Resources

A community of researchers, practitioners, policy groups, and philanthropies in child welfare publish regularly about their advances and concerns in the sector. Below are some sources of thought leadership in the field.

Annie E. Casey Foundation
One of the nation's largest philanthropies, with significant investments in child welfare, Annie E. Casey publishes extensively about innovations, policies, and systemic reforms that are changing the sector.

Casey Family Programs 
With a mission to provide, improve, and ultimately prevent the need for foster care, Casey Family Programs issues research reports, data overviews, and other resources analyzing the current state of child welfare.

Center for the Study of Social Policy
CSSP works to promote the well-being of children and families through research oriented toward systems, policy, and community change.

The Children's Defense Fund
With a 40 year history as an independent organization for children advocating for the safety of all children, the Children's Defense Fund publishes about child welfare policy and practice.

The Chronicle of Social Change
Launched in 2013, this online news publication offers solution-based news coverage of child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and educational issues faced by vulnerable children.


Resources from Foster America

Article in Time Magazine on family separation and the child welfare crisis

Interview on NPR's Morning Edition on undocumented children and the foster care system

Op-ed in the New York Times on the opioid epidemic and foster care