It will be essential that “champions” in both government and the community lead an institutionalized effort on a common agenda for a post-permanency system. Although most post-permanency systems evolved organically over time, none would have developed without a strong public and private partnership and a key champion within the child welfare agency. Critical to any partnership is entrusting the child welfare agency to directly recognize and support the partnership as a venue that coordinates, plans, and monitors the development of post-permanency activities.
In Tennessee, state leaders recognized the need for post-adoption components in large part due to the Brian A. v. Hattaway lawsuit. The settlement ultimately required post-adoption components in a consent decree. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services developed a network to cover the entire state with support of two lead agencies in the private sector. Today, the state has a robust system of a centralized intake system supported by resource centers and support groups that meet monthly. Evidenced-based practices in trauma are integrated with family-based services as well as traditional community mental health. Information is shared through lending libraries and resources on web links along with a preparation curriculum for adoptions.
Tennessee also instituted a multi-disciplinary advisory committee in the early stages, which assisted in providing direction and momentum. The early members of the Committee included the CEO of a behavioral health hospital, an adoptive parent, a child psychiatrist, a Department of Children Services representative, a minister, and a lawyer. For the first two years, the Advisory Committee played a role in their ongoing direction and assessment. Once lead agencies came aboard, the Committee was no longer necessary.
A similar approach to utilizing an advisory committee occurred in Alabama which has a post-adoption program called Alabama Pre/Post Adoptions Connections (APAC) delivered by Children’s Aid Society. Prompted by ASFA, the Alabama State Department of Human Resources made a decision to develop a post-adoption services program and established an Adoption Advisory Committee of 15 members with representatives from county and state Department of Human Resources, Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Education, and adoptive parents. The Committee was charged to identify needs of adoption families and the best service delivery structure. Ultimately, the recommendation was made to form APAC and a contract commenced with Children’s Aid Society in 2001.
NRCA recognizes that such relationship-building advisory committees are essential components of creating sustainable change. Observations of privatization and community-based efforts in child welfare have focused on the importance of establishing an institutionalized venue for purposes of building trust, solving operational issues as they develop, and sustaining ongoing frameworks for problem solving and developing service arrays. Process is essential to building capacity and creating the framework of regular interaction to develop and strengthen relationships of those supporting adoptive parents.
NRCA recommends that a public-private partnership be supported by a Steering Committee that is officially entrusted by government for ongoing post-permanency activities. Government, through its child welfare agency, can ensure its participation through legislative intent or from an executive order by the Governor.
A recognized public-private committee structure is the Child Welfare Advisory Committee (CWAC) in Illinois that was established by executive order by the Governor in 1989. Although entirely provider driven, CWAC has a number of working sub-committees that effectively work with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services on a number of policy, practice, and contracting activities for the provision of most child welfare services. Now in existence for nearly 25 years, CWAC is an institutionalized process that has sustained over various administrations and effectively utilized the talents and buy-in of the private sector in improving child welfare practice.
Considering the number of children in subsidized assistance agreements, NRCA supports a similar advisory process for a post-permanency system to be entrusted by government. Unlike CWAC, which has no multi-sector representation, a post-permanency steering committee should include representatives from various communities—adoptive parents, business, faith-based, mental health, schools, etc.—that can garner not only good advice but leverage non-traditional resources.
It’s essential to not have the steering committee be a passive advisory group. As the committee supports the evolving nature of a growing post-permanency system, it must not be viewed as simply “ad hoc” or temporary. Rather, the committee planning process should sustain itself over time regardless of the state’s changing public sector management. Dialogue and discussion must be meaningful around policy development, system coordination, and budgeting. Ultimately, the steering committee is a critical component to ensure accountability while the community-building orientation promotes a sense of partnership between professionals and parents.