Supporting Parents of Young Children in the Child Welfare System

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Consistent, responsive, and nurturing early relationships foster emotional well-being in young children, as well as create the foundation for the behavioral, social, and cognitive development essential for school readiness.1 Developmental research tells us that parents are one of the most important influences on children with high quality parenting essential for healthy child development. Thus, preventing behavior problems in young children requires family-oriented, evidence-informed strategies that address the needs of both parents and their children.

This report explores the challenges and opportunities of improving mandated parent training for parents of young children in the child welfare system. Drawing on lessons from research and practice, it calls on states, courts and communities to use more intentional, cost effective, and strategic approaches to required parent training. The report is based on Improving Parenting Outcomes for Children in the Child Welfare System: an emerging issues roundtable that the National Center for Children in Poverty conducted in July 2007 in New York. The forum brought together leaders in child welfare, policymakers, philanthropists, researchers and those with practice expertise to explore the best means to ensure effective parenting training and to consider action steps to help this high risk population. (See Appendix I for a list of participants.)

While parent education is only one component of a comprehensive service plan to help parents better parent, it is a point of potential leverage to improve the child welfare system by providing more effective prevention services, such as parenting education, and spending scarce resources more efficiently. This report explores the research, proposes criteria for effective programs, and discusses strategies that can be used at the local, state and national levels to change policy and practice.

Setting the Context: Children

  • While more than 3.5 million children received investigations or assessments by Child Protective Services in 2007, 794,000 children were deemed to have suffered from abuse or neglect.
  • Among these identified children, the youngest had the highest rate of maltreatment – the rate for the age group of birth to 1 year was 21.9 per 1,000 children of the same age group as compared to 11.5 per 1,000 children age 4 to 7 years. Further, more than three-quarters of all children (1,760 in total nationally) who died due to abuse and neglect were younger than 4 years of age.
  • During 2007, 59.0 percent of children associated with the child welfare system experienced neglect, 10.8 percent were physically abused, 7.6 percent were sexually abused, and 4.2 percent were psychologically maltreated.
  • More than one half of substantiated cases were girls (51.5 percent), and approximately one half of all children were white (46.1 percent) while 21.7 percent were African American and 20.8 percent were of Hispanic ethnicity.
  • More than 20 percent of cases were placed in foster care settings.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families. 2009. Child Maltreatment 2007. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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