May is Foster Care Month: Making Sure Every Child has a Foster Home


By Theresa Covington, director of the Within Our Reach Office at the Alliance

During National Foster Care Month this year, the groundbreaking show “Sesame Street” introduced a new character to support children living in foster care. Karli is the newest muppet and lives with her “for-now” parents Dalia and Clem.

Sesame Street is known for launching national conversations on difficult issues like autism and the challenges of growing up in foster care.

According to national statistics, on any given day, there are nearly 443,000 children living in foster care. In 2017, that number had risen to more than 690,000 children living in foster care. The majority of those children live in foster care, on average, for two years. Six percent have spent five or more years living in foster care. Over 40 percent of all children in foster care are under the age of six.

Juliette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president of social impact, said in a statement about the introduction of Karli, “Fostering a child takes patience, resilience, and sacrifice, and we know that caring adults hold the power to buffer the effects of traumatic experiences on young children. We want foster parents and providers to hear that what they do matters – they have the enormous job of building and rebuilding family structures and children’s sense of safety.”

But challenges remain. There is no question that the foster care system is overburdened. According to a recent report from Fostering Media Connections and The Chronicle of Social Change, at least half of the states in the U.S. have seen their foster care capacity decrease between 2012 and 2017. Either these states have fewer beds and more foster youth, or any increase in beds has been dwarfed by an even greater increase in foster children and youth.

Despite these challenges, child welfare advocates are encouraged by the recent shift among policymakers to provide more front-end resources that would prevent children from entering foster care in the first place. These resources place an emphasis on keeping families together by providing the types of interventions, such as mental health and substance abuse counseling, that can help families before they reach the crisis stage.

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) is the first step in providing this continuum of care. It enables title IV-E funding to support promising mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment provided by a qualified clinician, and in-home parent skill-based programs, for up to 12 months for candidates for foster care and for pregnant or parenting foster youth.

U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, also introduced two bills in honor of National Foster Care Month. The Supporting Adoptive Families Act would help prevent children from entering the foster care system by providing additional pre- and post-adoptive support services. The bill also directs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants to eligible entities to develop and implement state-sponsored post-adoption mental health service programs for all adopted children.

The Safe Home Act would address cases in which adopted children have been given away by their adopted parents without going through the child welfare system—many of which have resulted in the mistreatment of these children—by defining such conduct as a form of child abuse and neglect.

It will take all of these resources and more to build a 21st Century Child Welfare System that can ensure every child has a forever home.

About the Author

Theresa Martha Covington is the director of the Within Our Reach Office funded by Casey Family Programs and housed within the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. She is the director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths, a position she has held at the Michigan Public Health Institute since 2003. Formerly, she served as a commissioner on the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.  

How the Public Child Welfare Agency Is Planning to Change Your Business Model


Jody Grutza of Grutza Consulting

State public child welfare agencies are making decisions right now about how child welfare services will be delivered over the next five years. Do you have a seat at the table? If not, grab your seat FAST. 

We know that the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) is creating a major shift toward prevention services, while also making changes to residential care and overall state funding structures that will impact service delivery models. This recently passed legislation requires public child welfare agencies to incorporate proposed reforms into their federally mandated strategic plans by June 30, 2019. 

From 2020-2024, public child welfare agencies will be implementing strategic plans that they are busily drafting at this very moment. Have you been a part of this planning process? 

Federally mandated reports, such as the Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP), that require public child welfare agencies to justify continued prevention funding also include a five year strategic plan. Although strategic planning is standard procedure for state agencies, FFPSA is shifting public child welfare’s strategic focus on expectations they will demand from the community-based providers per federal guidance. There is also the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR) that periodically reviews state child welfare systems for quality service delivery and monitors system performance through another federally mandated process, the state’s Program Improvement Plan (PIP). Ideally, the CFSP, CFSR and PIP are federal child welfare mandates that are integrated and consistently include stakeholder engagement. Although it varies, there are public child welfare agencies leading the charge in fully integrating their federal mandates with active stakeholder participation.

I have had the privilege of working with the Virginia Department of Social Services on the development on their CFSP, where they have ensured the consistent engagement of the community and providers as a central component of their entire planning process. At the end of the day, they know the success of their strategic plan depends on the ability of its community partners and providers to implement proposed reforms. Their goal is to design a fully integrated strategic plan that is inclusive of every federal requirement and its agency priorities where a compelling vision for child welfare across the state is clearly articulated. It has been exhilarating to help lead a public-private collaboration that is authentic, seamless, and diverse. Your state may be making similar efforts but if you haven’t been involved up to this point, I urge you to be proactive in that engagement. 

Let’s be honest, we’ve all had the best intentions to execute on a big project or large-scale planning efforts where we found ourselves falling short or running out of time. This is the reality of several state agencies—hard pressed to craft a five-year strategic plan in the midst of their daily, unrelenting pressures that leave little time to engage you in their complex planning processes. 

Sometimes we must be the ones that step up to support our state child welfare agencies, even when we are not asked, and especially if it is going to impact our how we serve our children and families. 

How to Ensure a Seat at the Table

  • Contact your state public child welfare agency and ask about the status of the CFSP. If that person is unaware, ask for their policy unit to inquire how you can serve as a planning partner.
  • If you are involved in the rollout of FFPSA, remind the public child welfare agency about the importance of integrating the FFPSA and the CFSP

Get a seat at the table now! Time is limited, offer to inform and design the report. Alliance for Strong Families and Communities members are a critical resource and hold a wealth of information that can guide them toward the right decisions.

Headshot of Jody GrutzaAbout the Author

Jody Grutza currently leads Grutza Consulting LLC, a specialized consulting firm that supports strategic development and implementation in human services. Grutza Consulting brings both public and private child welfare expertise to community and private providers in evolving their business models because of federal system reform efforts.

She has more than 15 years of expertise in planning strategic initiatives, mobilizing high-level teams to execute them seamlessly, and a track record of delivering on national and local system and policy overhauls. She headed administration, strategic planning, and execution for county-wide community-based care for safety and well-being of 4K+ children. She also orchestrated public relations and strategic initiatives to maximize positive public view of programs and enhance services for national $165 million organization.


Reauthorization of CAPTA Is Opportunity to Reshape U.S. Child Welfare System for the 21st Century


By Theresa Covington, director of the Within Our Reach Office at the Alliance 

The goal of building a child welfare system for the 21st century, one that seeks to prevent child maltreatment and abuse deaths, has come a long way in the past five years. 

The Protect Our Kids Act of 2012 launched a federal commission on which I was honored to serve: The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF). We were charged by the president and Congress with developing a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate child fatalities resulting from abuse and neglect. On the heels of two years of public hearings, CECANF issued the report, Within Our Reach, in March 2016 that included a range of recommendations that reflect a public health approach to child safety and a reimagined 21st-century child welfare system. This 21st century child welfare system is one that integrates a broad spectrum of partners and systems to identify, test, and evaluate strategies to provide upstream, preventive, and earlier intervention supports and services that can strengthen the building blocks of healthy families. It represents a system that is focused less on a child protection response to abuse and neglect and more on building the welfare of all children.  

The Family First Prevention Services Act, which was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act Feb. 9, 2018, was another important milestone in reimagining what a 21st-century child welfare system would look like. It too emphasizes prevention and evidence-based practices for children and teenagers and prioritizes keeping families together. It creates more flexible funding streams for prevention-focused services such as at-home parenting classes and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

However, bringing about such a radical systems change as has been envisioned will require more than flexible funding. Today, a national coalition of child welfare and public health leaders, foundations, policy makers, and other members of the child welfare ecosystem are working together to strategize on the best ways to fund and support a 21st-century child welfare system and create a road map for how to achieve the sweeping changes that have been envisioned. 

A key opportunity before us is the impending reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, known as CAPTA. According to recommendations from the National Child Abuse Coalition, “An updated CAPTA must include significant funding increases in order to provide states and communities the resources to drive community-based solutions. We recommend that Congress authorize and appropriate $500 million for Title I and $500 million for Title II in the first year of reauthorization, ramping up to $1 billion for each title over 5 years.” Title 1 offers funding focused on the identification and treatment of abuse and neglect while Title II focuses on broader prevention strategies. Together, if properly funded, these CAPTA provisions can build a system that is supportive of the resources families and communities need to ensure the safety of children and the prevention of child maltreatments deaths. 

Earlier this May, Reps. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) and James Comer (R-Ky.) introduced the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation contained the recommended funding as outlined by the National Child Abuse Coalition, along with many important recommendations of the Commission. These include the development of uniform standards for tracking and reporting child fatalities, steps to improve interstate data exchange, an expanded focus on prevention and the recognition that critical collaboration across multidisciplinary partners is needed to effectively connect families with needed treatments and interventions. 

The House Education and Labor Committee passed the bill May 8, 2019 with unanimous bipartisan support. The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Within Our Reach Office call on Congress to move this bill to completion as soon as possible. 

One of the most important findings from CECANF was our conclusion that child maltreatment deaths are not inevitable. They are preventable. We have the opportunity, with the support of Congress, to enact a stronger, more prevention-focused CAPTA that can ensure a future for all children, even the most vulnerable. 

About the Author 

Theresa Martha Covington is the director of the Within Our Reach Office funded by Casey Family Programs and housed within the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. She is the director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths, a position she has held at the Michigan Public Health Institute since 2003. Formerly, she served as a commissioner on the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. 



About this Blog

The goal of the Within Our Reach blog is to provide actionable advice for child welfare practitioners; a place to discuss policy trends and ideas for policy makers at all levels; and to provide leading commentary for any stakeholders involved in preventing child fatalities due to abuse and neglect.

As a space for conversation, the Within Our Reach Office at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities welcomes guest submissions from service providers and policymakers.

For questions or more information about guest submissions for this blog, contact us