The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Children's Bureau utilizes data submitted by the 50 States, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to provide reports on child protection and child welfare programs across the Country.
DCF is sharing that information on this section of the DCF website to provide information both on New Jersey's performance, and also to provide a national comparison. The data is mostly from two data reporting systems:
- Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS)
- National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS)
Unless otherwise noted, the data pertains to the Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) that is October 1 to September 30. For this reason, as well as nuances to the methodology utilized, there may be differences when this data is compared to similar measures that are formulated elsewhere. The measures may also use other data sources, such as Census data to derive the size of the child population, to provide context for some performance measures.
A fundamental part of any caseworker's job is making sure they see the children in their caseload - to assess the child's safety, well-being, and to discuss with them what is happening in their lives and within their family.
This is a critical indicator of performance that we monitor very closely. While we strive to reach 100%, our efforts are sometimes impacted by things as a child's illness, an extended vacation by the resource family (including the child), or major storms that make roads unsafe for travel for several days. The Department carefully monitors visitation by caseworkers and has data systems available to identify when a visit is needed or has been missed so that we can follow-up as needed. We also visit as well as work with other States to have children visited by caseworkers when the child is residing with their Resource Family (often relatives) in another State.
By measuring how many children enter care each year per 1,000 children in that State's population, States are able to see if they have a high rate of children entering foster care compared to what is happening nationally.
For instance, a State with strong prevention programs might expect to see a low rate of entry, whereas a State with an emerging substance abuse epidemic that is leading to more parents being unable to safely care for their children, may show an sudden and sharp increase in their entry rate.
When the entry rate of a single state is looked at over a period of years, significant changes in the entry rate may reveal trends that require further analysis to understand the fluctuations, point to the need to consider changes to the services available, and provide important trend information for planning and budgeting purposes.
This measure looks at children who left placement during the year to be reunified with their families, and what percentage of those children were in placement for less than 12 months.
Clearly, we are looking for a high percentage of children to be returned home within 12 months. But, this measure also can provide other important insight as we monitor our performance. Very short stays in placement may suggest that more efforts and services may be able to prevent placement in some situations. In other cases, it may be helpful to consider whether short placement stays before reunification has any relationship to subsequent reentries. This measure serves as a great example of the various ways we can use data to examine our performance from a broad perspective.
The data provided by this measure provides information on the percentage of children who have exited placement in a year, and did so by achieving permanency through reunification. It is helpful in providing us with information, for example, on whether efforts made to improve reunification outcomes are improving over time as new initiatives are put in place.
This measures a subset of the children who are exiting, and it is important to remember that it does not include all permanency exits - for instance, children who achieve permanency through adoption are not included in this measure and may account for a substantial portion of other exits in a year.
Children who are placed in foster care (including group homes or congregate care settings) should be free from experiencing maltreatment by a foster parent or facility staff member while they are in placement. Our Department takes many steps to help insure foster parents as well as facilities are screened, trained, and licensed as appropriate placement resources.
Fortunately most children and youth in placement do not experience maltreatment in care. This is best illustrated by the very high percentage of children and youth who are free from abuse and neglect in placement ("absence of maltreatment"). But, concurrently, we need to continually monitor performance relating to the small percentage of children who are harmed while in placement so that we can take further steps to further insure the safety of those individual children, while also potentially learning from the situation to inform our future work.
It is the goal of the child welfare systems to safely reunify children with their families in a timely manner, whenever possible. However, some children do return home, only to have a subsequent re-entry to foster care placement.
With the goals of safety and stability for children, our quality improvement process utilizes information about re-entry rates to help us further examine issues such as assessment processes that precede reunification, as well as the effective of services delivered to the family to assist with reunification. The rate of re-entry is also valuable information to our system partners, such as the Family Courts who also involved in determining whether children should be reunified.
This measure looks at all children who had a substantiated abuse/neglect finding in the first six months of the federal reporting period and whether there was a second substantiated finding within six months. This measure is not dependent on a child's placement status and thus involves many children who are in their own homes.
Being able to assess the recurrence of maltreatment within a short period of time is important feedback for quality improvement systems. For instance, it can factor into examinations of safety and risk assessment protocols. Or, it may need to be considered with regard to whether low entry rates into placement are occurring, and if that is influencing a higher rate of repeat maltreatment.
The approach for this measure, and the time frame used by ACF, is impacted by the structure of the data files it receives and may differ from other recurrence measures that are published elsewhere.