Changes in Federal, State, and Local Child Welfare Policy and Practice Correspond with Recommendations of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

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Within Our Reach, an office established at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to advance recommendations from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF), says six months following release of the Commission’s report to the president and Congress, the response across federal agencies, state governments, and the advocacy community is robust.

Within Our Reach, an office established at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to advance recommendations from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF), reported today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking steps to advance 60 percent of the recommendations to that department in the Commission’s report, released six months ago. At the state and local level, nearly 30 jurisdictions are currently implementing or considering implementation of strategies consistent with CECANF recommendations.

“We are pleased at the response across federal, state, and local agencies to our report and recommendations,” noted former CECANF Chairman David Sanders. “Our recommendations were geared to saving children’s lives today and implementing long term reforms that help support a more proactive approach to child safety by child protective services and community partners.”

“The new strategy that the Commission put forth in its report, one that calls for a multidisciplinary system with shared accountability, was founded on a public health approach,” commented Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and a former commissioner. “The positive and quick reaction we are seeing from the federal government and from state and local jurisdictions validates the findings of the Commission, and will help bring us closer to our vision of a 21st century child welfare system.”

CECANF was established by Public Law 112-275 (112th Congress), the Protect Our Kids Act of 2012. Its report, which was released in March 2016, was informed by the Commission’s two years of study on the issue and testimony from hundreds of experts across the country, including government leaders, researchers, public and private organizations that serve children and families, those who work on the front lines of child protection, and more.

The Commission’s findings highlighted children most at risk of fatalities (those under age three and those with a prior call to a child protection hotline), the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach, access to real-time data and tools, and a public health approach that emphasized prevention.

In its response to the Commission’s report released last week (HHS Response:, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted, “Overall, HHS heartily embraces the Commission’s vision for a robust response to families in crisis: one that intervenes early to prevent maltreatment and strengthen families whenever possible, but also protects children aggressively as needed. This is a vision that, as the Commission suggests, combines leadership and accountability with multidisciplinary support for families and decision making that is grounded in data and research.”

Out of the 64 recommendations in the CECANF report that applied to HHS, HHS agrees with a majority and is taking steps to advance 39 recommendations (60 percent) either to implement them directly or to implement activities that are in the spirit of the recommendation. The department also acknowledged areas where additional financial resources or legislative authority would be needed to implement the recommendation, and indicated that they would implement related activities within the confines of existing budget and statute.

Some of the key areas identified by the Commission that HHS announced its support for include:

  •     Vision for Improving Child Safety, including tangible steps to improve the quality of data and research and increase the ability of child welfare agencies to use data in making both program level and child level decisions.
  •     Providing Leadership and Promoting Accountability, including support for home visiting programs and ongoing coordination of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Child Abuse and Neglect.
  •     Preventing Fatalities Through Multidisciplinary Support for Families, including support for primary prevention programs and evidence-supported interventions.
  •     Using Data and Research Evidence to Improve Practice, including exploring use of data analytics, improving guidelines for state fatality reviews, and modernizing the Comprehensive Child Welfare Information Systems (CCWIS).
  •     Addressing Disproportionality, including strengthening tribal child welfare systems and ensuring equitable treatment among African American, American Indian, and Alaska Native children.

Additional activities at the federal government level related to CECANF recommendations included the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) release of new guidance about maternal depression screening and treatment and a White House-hosted “Foster Care and Technology Hackathon” which identified strategies for breaking down barriers around information-sharing and real-time data sharing.

Congress has also introduced, and in some cases passed, legislation related to CECANF recommendations. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) was passed by Congress this summer and signed into law by President Obama. The bill requires that states that receive federal funds for child protective services comply with federal law and enact certain guidelines for the welfare of children exposed to opioids.

In June, the House passed and the Senate introduced the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (H.R. 5456 and S. 3065) which includes provisions that call for the delivery of more upstream prevention services and the requirement of state fatality prevention plans.

At the state level, nearly 30 jurisdictions are currently implementing or considering implementation of CECANF recommendations including:

  •     Six states (Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, and Oklahoma) are working to implement Eckerd Rapid Safety Feedback®, a unique process highlighted in the Commission report that relies on real-time data analytics to flag high-risk child protection cases for intensive monitoring and caseworker coaching.
  •     Eight states (Alabama, Oregon, Wisconsin, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky) are participating in the Three Branch Institute on Improving Child Safety and Preventing Child Fatalities. The Three Branch Institute is a partnership between the National Governors Association (NGA), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and Casey Family Programs (CFP). Participating states will develop state fatality prevention plans with the support of technical assistance to identify ways to strengthen, coordinate, and enhance existing safety efforts through cross-system collaboration.

Additional activity by states and local jurisdictions include:

  •     Texas released a five-year strategic plan to prevent child maltreatment fatalities.
  •     Los Angeles County, California announced a review of the last five years of child death and critical incident reports within the Department of Child and Family Services to determine risk factors for child fatality.
  •     Monterey County, California is using the Commission report to develop a county-wide plan for child well-being.
  •     Rhode Island’s adoption of more stringent public disclosure rules around child fatalities includes CPS agencies having to now disclose deaths and injuries of children in state care within 48 hours and schools having to now contact the agency if they think a child is being sexually abused by someone at the school, under two bills signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo.
  •     New Hanover County in Wilmington, North Carolina announced a new child fatality protocol which requires law enforcement to contact the DA’s office and Department of Social Services (DSS) immediately after responding to a child’s death. The protocol allows the DA’s office and DSS to gather crucial information at the scene and requires educating the community about ways to prevent child fatalities.
  •     Prince George’s County, Maryland launched a child safety awareness campaign focusing on caretakers that provides information about child care resources in the county and what to keep in mind when screening adults potentially caring for children.

A broad number of policy and advocacy organizations nationwide are also working collaboratively with the Within our Reach office to support and implement recommendations. The National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, which was instrumental in passage of the Protect our Kids Act of 2012 and the establishment of the Commission, reconvened meetings in May and is executing an action plan to advance the CECANF recommendations. The action plan calls for Congress to hold joint hearings on the report as well as for greater investments, more oversight and accountability, and improved data collection and real-time data sharing, among other things.

Within Our Reach
More information:

Within our Reach is an office established within the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to further the recommendations of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF). The work of Within Our Reach is made possible in collaboration with Casey Family Programs, whose mission is to provide, improve – and ultimately prevent the need for – foster care. The Commission, which released its report to the President and Congress in March 2016, was formed as a result of the “Protect Our Kids Act.” For more information on the Commission’s work and a copy of the full report, please go to CECANF Archival:

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
More information:
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving a vision of a healthy society and strong communities for all children, adults, and families. The Alliance works for transformational change by representing and supporting its network of hundreds of nonprofit human serving organizations across North America as they translate knowledge into best practices that improve their communities. Working with and through its member network on leadership and advocacy, the Alliance strives to achieve high impact by reducing the number of people living in poverty; increasing the number of people with opportunities to live healthy lives; and increasing the number of people with access to educational and employment success.

Media Notes: To interview a representative from Within Our Reach or a former member of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, please contact Jennifer Devlin at 703-876-1714 or jennifer.devlin(at)cox(dot)net.

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