Working to transform the child welfare system.


Systems Spotlight: New Jersey

Our final blog post in our Systems Spotlight” blog series will look at the child welfare experiences of New Jersey. Like Washington’s child welfare system, many significant policy changes to New Jersey’s child welfare system were driven by highly-publicized child deaths and class action lawsuits. In contrast to the impact of the Braam Settlement to Washington’s child welfare system, a class action lawsuit (Charlie and Nadine H. v. Christie) in New Jersey which began in 1999, not only reformed the child welfare system there, it also elevated child welfare issues to the highest level of government and led to the creation of a first cabinet-level department – New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) – in 2006. The Department is devoted exclusively to serving and safeguarding children and families in New Jersey.   

Some of the reformed infrastructures and other recent developments in New Jersey that graduate student Eugenia Ho draws attention to in her comparative study include:

Cross-System Collaboration and Prevention Plan Targeting Child and Family Well-Being

New Jersey has developed an infrastructure that supports provisions around the goal of child safety and also created a review process for improving permanency planning and adoption practice. Like New Hampshire, they also joined the Strengthening Families initiative. The Division of Prevention and Community Partnerships led this initiative and convened the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect consisting of other relevant state departments and community stakeholders [1].  With the aim to broaden the reach of the initiative, the task force integrates the Strengthening Families framework within early childhood services by developing work with New Jersey Council for Young Children. The council was formed in 2010 to strengthen and ensure better collaboration, coordination and access for parents and families to early childhood services. The council also promotes healthy physical and social-emotional growth and development of young children; nurturing parent-child relationships; and school readiness and achievement [2].

That same year, recognizing the vital role that prevention plays in both eliminating and mitigating the effects of child neglect and abuse that often linger into adulthood, DCF, together with the task force, developed the New Jersey Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Plan 2010-2013. This framework invites other stakeholders to fully participate in New Jersey’s prevention efforts while outlining the planned prevention and family strengthening efforts of DCF. The plan’s overarching goal is to help these partners identify key prevention concepts, resources, and strategies to better serve families. Building upon prior planning efforts and recommendations, the plan also incorporates current prevention research concepts, state and local input from recent community surveys, and evidence-informed practices to prevent child maltreatment [3]. All community-based prevention programs funded by the Division of Prevention and Community Partnerships must show evidence that their program design integrates the protective factors, prevention standards and principles of family support [4].

Some of these preventive services brought by the reform include: Differential Response42 Family Success Centers30 Evidence-Based Home Visitation programs; and Family Preservation Services.

Flexible Funding

The state of New Jersey has increased the amount of flexible funding available to families to 1) promote family preservation and reunification, and 2) assist foster families in order to avoid the disruption of otherwise stable placements [5].  Case managers can now better support families who need financial assistance with utility bills, rental down payments, respite care, furnishings, tutoring, and other individualized needs and services [6]. 

Measuring Real Outcomes

Similar to the impact the Braam Settlement has had on Washington State’s child welfare system, the Modified Settlement Agreement has directed New Jersey DCF to develop a comprehensive set of measurement metrics on organizational performance. These measures closely resemble those of Washington State, such as response time to reports of abuse and neglect, caseworker visits with children in state custody, stability of placement, time to permanency, abuse and neglect of children in foster care, and re-entry into out-of-home care. 

The New Jersey’s DCF has gone one step further by collecting data that measures how they are making a real impact in the lives of the children and families they serve. Overall, outcome data shows an upward trend in the period of 2004 to 2011 for the well-being of children for a number of key indicators. The outcome results shown by some of these indicators include a lower rate of children initially placed into out-of-home care, a smaller percentage of children being abused and/or neglected in out-of-home care, and an increased percentage of siblings placed together in out-of-home care [7]. 

As we conclude the “Systems Spotlight” blog series based on our recent graduate student’s study, we hope that it has given everyone some inspiration for governmental and structural approaches that may achieve positive outcomes for children and families facing multiple challenges. Thank you for following along!