Traditional Child Welfare Systems Reward Procrastination, Fail Children; New Report Reveals How Private Child Welfare Offer Safer, Speedier Service

Dec 03, 1998, 00:00 ET from Reason Public Policy Institute

    WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- According to a new study by Reason
 Public Policy Institute's (RPPI) Center for Social Policy government-operated
 child welfare systems are failing.  Currently, more than half of a million
 children are in foster care in the United States.  Twenty percent of these
 children will linger in the system for more than three years.  Thirty percent
 of those who are reunited with their families will return to the system due to
 additional neglect or abuse.  According to Susan Orr, Ph.D., director of the
 Center, these numbers indicate a system in crisis.
     "When thousands of children linger in foster care, many for five years or
 more, it is clearly a system in crisis," stated Orr.  "While a few states are
 pioneering new approaches to helping children, most are still caught in the
 dark-ages of bureaucratic, process-heavy systems."
     The RPPI study, Blueprint for the Privatization of Child Welfare,
 identifies numerous shortcomings of the traditional child welfare system, such
 as a commitment to preserving biological families at all costs, payment
 structures that reward lengthy stays in foster care, and bureaucratic
 entanglements that inhibit innovation.  The study also reports how Kansas,
 Michigan, and Texas have broken this mold and are seeing dramatic improvements
 through the infusion of private-sector innovation, incentives that reward
 performance, and heightened accountability.
     --  Michigan partially privatized its adoption system, contracting with 55
 different private providers and utilizing a system of incentives that reward
 timely, safe placements of children;
     --  Kansas underwent the most comprehensive child welfare privatization,
 privatizing its entire child welfare system except child protection;
     --  Texas, which as recently as 1989 kept the records of its nearly 8,000
 foster children on three-by-five index cards, privatized its child welfare
 data systems and is reinvesting the savings in improved services to children.
     According to the study, these experiments are netting very impressive
 results.  In Michigan, the number of children adopted in 1997 was nearly
 double the amount of 1991.  This improvement was even more pronounced for
 difficult-to-adopt children.  Disabled and black children are being adopted at
 a rate double and triple the pre-reform rate.  Kansas's private providers have
 surpassed every target set by state monitors, successfully placing 99.5% of
 available children, 99.9% have been free of reports of abuse or neglect.
 Texas information-technology innovations are expected to yield more than
 $102 million in savings, which are being reinvested to improve services to
     Orr encourages state and federal leaders to learn from these experiments
 and abandon innovation-suffocating policies.  "Social workers and child
 welfare departments want to help children and we need to make sure this work
 is not in vain.  Kansas, Michigan, and Texas show us how private-sector
 innovation, a focus on results, and heightened accountability can help
 child-welfare professionals provide safe, loving homes for the children in
 America's care," concluded Orr.
     The Washington-based Center for Social Policy is a program of Reason
 Public Policy Institute, a national nonprofit research and education
 organization that conducts academic, peer-reviewed public policy research.
 The Center promotes policies that recognize the power of private institutions,
 personal responsibility, and self-mastery in child welfare and other social
     Copies of Blueprint for the Privatization of Child Welfare are at the RPPI
 Web site,

SOURCE Reason Public Policy Institute