Grasping the Opportunity to Remake Child Welfare

In this piece for the Chronicle of Social Change, Vivek Sankaran - director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at the University Michigan Law School - describes how the US federal government has quietly introduced a momentous new funding source for child welfare systems, which Sankaran believes offers an opportunity for states to remake their child welfare systems. In this follow-up article, the second part of Sankaran's column, the author outlines "four logical steps to start the ship moving."

"First, the federal government, national foundations and other stakeholders need to persuade directors of child welfare agencies that strong legal representation for families will improve child welfare outcomes," says Sankaran. "Second, state child welfare stakeholders should determine how much their state currently spends on legal representation for parents and children, and where those payments come from."

"Once that information is ascertained, child welfare stakeholders should dream big," he says. "Assess the current quality of representation. Imagine what their system could look like if they had twice the funds to spend on legal representation." Finally, "while dreaming big, states might wish to start small, with a pilot project in a particular county. For example, one county could agree to send its legal representation funds to the state agency, so that it can receive twice as much money in return to support advocacy for families within its child welfare system. Once this type of agreement works in one county, others will be more likely to sign on."