U.S. Child Welfare Policy

Member: Kristen S. Slack
(University of Wisconsin - Madison)
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This chapter is part of a larger edited book on early child development and social policy (see citation).  The focus of this chapter is on U.S. child welfare policy—specifically, federal governmental policies and programs that guide formalized responses to child maltreatment. We cover the emergence of child welfare systems in the U.S., present central developmental theories that have influenced policy and practice in this arena, and provide a brief overview of the literature on the developmental outcomes known to correlate with child maltreatment. We then review the empirical evidence associated with nine major policies and practices common to the child welfare field in the U.S. This discussion is organized around the “front-end,” “ongoing services,” and “back-end” stages of a child welfare case, and attends to the effects of policies and practices on the three central goals of child welfare systems: promoting the safety, permanent family placement, and wellbeing of children at risk of, or who are victims of, maltreatment.  One takeaway from this chapter is that the major policies, programs and practices employed in child welfare systems have not been rigorously evaluated (with a few exceptions).

I assign this chapter in classes that cover child welfare policy to orient students to the child welfare system in the U.S. in terms of its structure, functions, and common practices. I also provide a handout (link included) on the time line of major child welfare legislation in the U.S. and details on recent reauthorizations of these laws.

One possible assignment related to this chapter is to ask students to select a specific policy, program, or practice covered in the book chapter, and interview a child welfare system administrator to understand how it is implemented locally, and what insights they have about its effectiveness.  Since the book chapter illustrates the paucity of an evidence base in the child welfare arena, it can be eye-opening for students to hear from those who implement policies and programs "on the ground" about their experiences with policy/program implementation and degree of confidence about policy/program effectiveness.

If you do use this article in a course, it would help me to have feedback on the experience. You can use the feedback function on Prof2Prof to do so.

Note:  This book can be purchases in electronic format by your institutional library, and you can then assign select chapters to students at no cost to them.  Ask your school or departmental librarian to purchase the e-book if your library doesn't already own it. Happy to send an electronic copy of the chapter if you send a request.

Last Revised Date 
Thu, 09/30/2021 - 14:37
Keywords / Tags 
child welfare
child protection
child abuse and neglect
child maltreatment
social policy
Type of resource 
Published Article or Book Chapter
Resource Institution 
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Institution Type 
4 or 4+ year College/University
Recommended Citation 

Slack, K.S. and Paul, J. (2017). Child Welfare Policy, in (E. Dearing and E. Votruba-Drzal (Eds.), The Handbook of Early Childhood Development Programs, Practices, and Policies: Theory-based and Empirically-supported Strategies for Promoting Young Children’s Growth in the United States. Newark, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN: 978-1-118-93732-7.