A large network of entities engage with children who are part of child welfare system. Each organization, from the child welfare agency to the family courts to advocates to NGOs, is driven to find the best outcome for each child and family. CFRP evaluates the effectiveness and impact of how these groups work both independently and collaboratively on outcomes for the children and their families.
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.
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.
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.
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. (Survivors Are Fundamental to the Equation) 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.
Research suggests that when domestic violence and child maltreatment co-occur, responding agencies better serve victim-parents and their children when in collaboration. In partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence through the Growing S.A.F.E. (Survivors Are Fundamental to the Equation) project, CFRP is evaluating the effectiveness of two interventions that seek to enhance the support that domestic violence centers provide to clients who also have an open CPS case (dual-involved clients). The first intervention is a protective parenting curriculum, ADVANCE (Acknowledging Domestic Violence and Navigating Child Protection Effectively), that is designed to promote positive and protective parenting while also taking into account the unique challenges and barriers that victims of domestic violence experience. The second intervention is the introduction of a staff position at each domestic violence center, the Enhanced CPS Liaison (ECL), who is dedicated to supporting dual-involved clients through their CPS cases by sharing information about the CPS system, accompanying clients to CPS meetings and hearings, and advocating with CPS staff. CFRP will measure the effectiveness of the demonstration projects on enhancing support to dual-involved clients, promoting positive parenting among dual-involved clients, and strengthening collaboration between domestic violence centers and local CPS offices.