Comprehensive child welfare policy reform : an analysis of class action litigation's longitudinal impact on budget and child outcomes
MetadataShow full item record
Virtually every child welfare system has been harshly criticized for the way it treats abused and neglected children. The system has been so problematic for some states that lawsuits have been filed against them. To remedy these problems, system-wide policy reform has received a good deal of attention, but this approach lacks the empirical research needed to move the field forward to better serve children and families. This study answers the question: Does child welfare reform via litigation produce long-term effects on child outcomes and state child welfare budgets after the case is closed? The study employed mixed research methods. The qualitative portion relies on case studies of four states that were developed through a series of in-depth interviews and an extensive historical document analysis. For each state, the study examined 1) the association between litigation and state funding for child welfare systems, 2) examined the relationship between litigation and child outcomes over time, and 3) studied key stakeholders’ perceptions of litigation’s impact on budget and child outcomes. The quantitative portion of the study utilized outcome data that are available for all 50 states to compare states that have undergone comprehensive class action litigation with those that have not. Case studies of 4 states (Alabama, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah) included a qualitative analysis and five major themes emerged: leadership, policy interventions (e.g. budget, data monitoring, legislation), direct interventions (e.g. caseload decreases, trainings, etc.) , settlement agreement characteristics and litigation’s value as a method of reform. A method called Qualitative Comparative Analysis was used to identify themes and subthemes identified from the qualitative analysis that play instrumental roles in impacting outcomes. Findings indicate that litigation appears to positively impact child welfare systems functioning during the lawsuit, but it is difficult to see how these systems changes impact outcomes. Many reforms are difficult to sustain due to their reliance on increased budgets which decline post litigation. Reform is also reliant on supportive leadership, which is subject to frequent turnover. Study participants viewed litigation as effective at garnering attention for problems in the child welfare system, but at a very high cost (e.g. financial, length of time, adversarial environment, etc.). Decreased caseload, increased budget, and effective data collection systems were found to be instrumental in positively impacting outcomes. A faster, less costly and less adversarial method of reform is needed.