Nine Key Factors in Extended Litigation-Based Reform of State Child Welfare Agencies

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Youth entering foster care encounter a multi-system state child welfare agency (CWA) that provides foster care and other child welfare related functions. CWAs face complex and ongoing governmental and organizational challenges contributing to a history of serious systemic deficiencies due to chronic under-funding, under-staffing, and under-resourcing. Child welfare advocates employ class-action litigation to engage leaders in sustained focus and action to remedy systemic failures and hold them accountable for poor care and outcomes for youth in foster care. A qualitative design using multiple case study and document analysis methods was used to explore extended litigation-based reform of thirteen state CWAs to identify key factors that contributed to substantive improvements in the state foster care system. Nine dominant factors were identified that included: (a) well-defined consent decrees and settlement agreements; (b) court-appointed monitors, special masters, and receiverships; (c) moving from an adversarial to collaborative environment; (d) case practice model/principles-based reform plan and family/team-based case management; (e) executive leadership support, resistance, and turnover (f) state governmental and legislature support; (g) building institutional capacity; (h) CWA structured as an independent agency; and (i) incremental reform plan implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105115
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Case Study
  • Child Welfare Litigation
  • Foster Care
  • Reform


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