10 Frequently Asked Questions for "Child Welfare"

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  • I am concerned that my ex-wife's new husband/stepson is molesting my child; we share joint custody but the court does not believe me. What can I do?

    Concerns for the welfare of a child's safety and well-being should be reported to the child welfare agency in the state/county where the alleged maltreatment may be occurring. Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, maintains a state-specific listing of child abuse and neglect reporting numbers.

    If a report has already been made to the appropriate agency and child welfare concerns persist or intensify, particularly in cases of alleged child sexual abuse, it may be possible to elevate the report to the State Liaison Officer (SLO) for Child Abuse and Neglect in the state where the alleged maltreatment is occurring. Every state has an SLO that serves as the Children's Bureau's contact for public child protective services and constituent concerns, among a variety of other roles that may vary by state. A listing of SLOs is also available on the Information Gateway website.

    Childhelp, a national organization with a 24-hour crisis hotline number, 1.800.422.4453, provides assistance in emergency situations and can offer concerned individuals with guidance and referrals to other appropriate child welfare services.

    Individuals with concerns specifically related to the alleged sexual abuse of a child may wish to direct their concerns to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest nonprofit, anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1.800.656.HOPE, which provides victims of sexual assault and their families with free, confidential services around the clock.

    Requests for assistance and concerns related to a family court case or other legal proceeding should be directed to and handled by the attorney or attorneys involved in the case and/or court personnel, if appropriate.

    If assistance is needed in locating an attorney, the American Bar Association (ABA) website provides a variety of services to the general public, including a lawyer referral directory and the Find Legal Help webpage, which includes legal aid and pro bono attorney referrals and links to court resources.

  • What available supports and resources are in place for youth transitioning from foster care?

    There are more than 400,000 children and youth in our nation's foster care system, and each year over 20,000 age out. As youth get ready to transition to adult life, they may face significant challenges in accessing the resources they need to become self-sufficient. Federal law requires that child welfare agencies assist youth in developing personalized transition plans that address specific topics such as education, housing, employment, finances, physical and mental health, health insurance, mentoring, and close relationships with supportive adults. A transition plan should start early and be broken into short-term, age-appropriate, and manageable goals in alignment with a youth's individual needs, hopes, and strengths.

    States offer an array of services and resources designed to assist youth in foster care as they work toward self-sufficiency. The federally funded resources below focus on major service areas in support of emancipating youth and include links to relevant websites.

    Educational and Training Vouchers (ETVs) are grants, funded by the federal government and administered by the states, awarded to eligible current and former foster youth. These grants are designed to provide financial assistance of up to $5,000 per year for up to five years for college, career school, or training. ETV Coordinators are responsible for assisting youth in foster care in obtaining funding for postsecondary training and/or education. Independent Living programs are also federally funded programs designed to assist eligible youth in making successful transitions from foster care to independent living. Independent Living Coordinators in each state are responsible for assisting youth in foster care with accessing services geared toward achieving self-sufficiency prior to exiting foster care. For detailed eligibility information in each state in both areas, youth may contact the State Independent Living Coordinator and Education and Training Voucher Coordinator as listed on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, a service of the Children's Bureau.

    Federal law provides housing assistance to foster youth making the transition to independence. In addition, youth may be eligible for transitional housing programs offered by the state. Assistance may come in one of the following forms: a subsidized unit in a building owned and managed by the housing program, monthly rental assistance in the form of a voucher, or a stipend for living expenses (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Recognizing the need to also provide services to homeless and runaway youth, the Teen Project offers a number youth can text to find a shelter near them or access the ShelterListings.org for a complete list of shelters in their area.

    Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), most youth who have aged out of foster care remain eligible for health care for a number of years and are guaranteed health insurance coverage under the Medicaid program until they turn age 26. Healthy Foster Care America, an initiative of the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides an overview of health-care options. To learn about state-specific policies, it is best to contact the State Medicaid Office. Youth facing a crisis or struggling with emotional issues may text the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Crisis Text Line: 741741 or call 1.800.950.NAMI (6264) to connect with a trained crisis counselor. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a National Helpline, 1.800.662.HELP (4357), a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year information service and treatment referral (in English and Spanish). Job training and employment assistance, among many others, are key elements of a successful transition to adult life. The following websites provides relevant resources:

    • The iFoster portal features educational, employment, health, recreational, and free and deeply discounted products, services and opportunities for young people aging out of care need to achieve their full potential.
    • The Get My Future website, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, delivers integrated, easy-to-understand workforce information that helps job seekers, students, and workers in search for employment.
    • The Youth.gov website, designed for youth, highlights internships, job opportunities, youth-specific programs, tools, and guides.
    • Having a mentor in a child/youth's life contributes greatly to a child's well-being and positive outcomes. MENTOR is an advocate and resource for the expansion of mentoring initiatives nationwide. Users may be able to find a program through its Mentoring Connection.
    • The Foster Care Transition Toolkit from the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Labor, provides specific information to help transitioning youth and young adults tackle social, emotional, educational and financial skills.

    Child Welfare Information Gateway features a list of specific resources for emancipating youth:

    Additional information about state-specific foster youth services and supports may be found by searching the Gateway's National Foster Care and Adoption Directory.

    2-1-1 is a free confidential information and referral service for quick connection to health and human services programs and benefits in each state.

    Represent magazine provides useful information to youth in foster care and offers child welfare professionals insight into teens' concerns. Represent offers youth information on aging out, addiction, child abuse, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) issues, mental health, and other topics.

  • I need legal representation, but I do not have the financial means to pay legal fees. Where can I find legal help?

    Individuals and families involved with the child welfare system and juvenile and family courts often need and benefit from legal representation; however, navigating the judicial system and retaining the services of an attorney can be confusing and costly. There are many resources available to individuals who may be unable to afford legal representation.

    If assistance is needed in locating an attorney, the American Bar Association (ABA) website provides a variety of services to the general public, including a lawyer referral directory and the Find Legal Help webpage, which includes legal aid and pro bono attorney referrals and links to court resources. The ABA website also features a Free Legal Answers webpage that enables qualified users the ability to submit questions about civil legal issues and receive answers from volunteer attorneys.

    The National Center for State Courts, an independent, nonprofit court improvement organization, also maintains an extensive list of legal aid/pro bono resources. Additionally, the Center provides links to family courts' websites, which offer contact information, forms, and relevant statutes, custody and visitation resources, procedures, paternity, frequently asked questions, and more.

    Many court systems offer family mediation services, which are a low-cost alternative to traditional court proceedings. Mediation services generally provide an impartial third party whose role is to help negotiate a resolution to a legal issue, short of returning to court with an attorney. For more information about mediation and other related options, visit the Alternative Dispute Resolution webpage on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

  • What advocacy groups and organizations are available for families involved in the child welfare system?

    Associations and organizations throughout the United States work to promote the safety, well-being, and permanency of families by empowering parents to be engaged in family life through education, support, advocacy, and outreach activities.

    Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, provides a listing of state websites with contact information found in its Related Organization List, State Parent Advocacy Groups.

    In addition, Child Welfare Information Gateway provides information on parent education programs specifically designed for child welfare-involved families in its publication Parent Education to Strengthen Families and Prevent Child Maltreatment.

    The National Parent Helpline is an organization operated by Parents Anonymous, designed to support and strengthen families across the country. The helpline is staffed by trained counselors and therapists that can offer support and guidance to callers regarding specific situations.

  • What prevention/preservation services are available for children and families in crisis?

    Prevention services are crucial in helping families meet their needs and offer a wide variety of support for families caring for their children. As prevention encompasses a broad array of services and interventions for families, the following resources are specialized for children and families who are at risk of being involved within the public child welfare system.

    Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, features examples of prevention programs and addresses the diversity of available prevention resources on its website, in the web page What Is Prevention and Why Is it Important?

    Family preservation services are short-term, family-focused services designed to assist families in crisis by improving parenting and family functioning while keeping children safe. Family preservation services grew out of the recognition that children need a safe and stable family and that separating children from their families is traumatic for them, often leaving lasting negative effects. Information Gateway collects selected materials and reports on policy and program approaches to family preservation services, including intensive family preservation services, a more intensive and crisis-focused version of preservation services, and state and local examples of such services on its Family Preservation Services web section.

    Similarly, family support services are community-based services that assist and support parents in their role as caregivers. Such services can take many different forms depending on the strengths and needs of the family, but their overarching goal is to help parents enhance skills and resolve problems to promote optimal child development.

    Family support programs may address the general population or target particular groups such as ethnic and cultural minorities; adolescent parents; kinship caregivers; or families facing health, mental health, or substance abuse issues. This topic is covered more broadly in the Family Support Services web section of Information Gateway website.

    Similarly, Systems of Care Services and Supports on the Information Gateway website provides program descriptions for services provided in a system of care, such as respite care, crisis outreach, individualized or wraparound care, therapeutic foster care, and others.

    Family prevention services vary from state to state and county to county, therefore it may be helpful to contact the local child welfare agency for specific information.

    The following lists on Information Gateway website provide contact information of organizations that focus on child abuse prevention:

  • My child is being bullied and/or abused in school and the school administration is downplaying the issue; what can I do?

    Most state laws, policies, and regulations require districts and schools to implement a bullying policy and procedures to investigate and respond to bullying when it occurs. Stopbullying.gov provides information on state antibullying laws and policies.

    In addition, schools establish specific rules and procedures to address this type of incident. Bullying should be reported directly to a teacher, counselor, and/or principal. If, after taking these steps, a parent or caregiver is not satisfied with the school's intervention, he/she may direct his/her grievance to the local school district administrator or superintendent. If the issue is not resolved after this contact, it may be possible to bring the complaint to the attention of the State Department of Education.

    If the harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion and all other possibilities have been exhausted, parents may contact the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

  • I am concerned for a friend in my school/neighborhood who may be abused. How do I help him/her?

    If you are worried that a friend may be abused or neglected, please contact Childhelp, a national organization with a 24-hour crisis hotline number (1.800.422.4453). Childhelp's staff consists of trained counselors that can listen to your concerns and connect you to the appropriate local child protection agency or other helpful services in your community. Childhelp now offers text and chat-based support for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.

    In addition, a number of toll-free youth-specific hotlines may also be able to offer support and suggestions to help your friend deal with his/her situation in a positive way. You may find some of these resources on the Stop It Now website.

    Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, also provides the publication How You Can Help Someone Who Is Being Abused or Neglected. This tip sheet highlights information about what child abuse and neglect are and what to do if someone is not safe.

  • Is there a link between parental drug use and the prevalence of child maltreatment and/or the increase in the number of children in foster care?

    Parental substance use is generally recognized as a risk factor for child maltreatment; however, it is difficult to obtain precise, current statistics on the number of families affected by substance use issues in the absence of an ongoing, standardized, national data collection on the topic.

    As substance use is often involved in child welfare cases, most states are able to report on whether drug and alcohol use by a caregiver is associated with child protective services' investigation/intervention and removal of a child from the home.

    The yearly Child Maltreatment reports summarize child abuse and neglect statistics submitted by state child protective services agencies to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, a voluntary national data collection and analysis system created in response to the requirements of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (P.L. 93-247) as amended. Chapter 3 of the Child Maltreatment reports specifically discusses the children who are the subjects of reports (screened-in referrals) and the characteristics of those who are determined to be victims of abuse and neglect, presenting number of victims with drug use as a caregiver risk factor.

    Although substance use by itself is not necessarily a primary reason for foster care entry, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), which collects case-level information on all children in foster care, references drug use in the context of foster care data.

    In spite of great variation in how states report factors that contribute to foster care cases, AFCARS includes parental drug use as a category under "circumstances associated with child's removal."

    Slightly more than 96,700 children were removed from their home in fiscal year 2017 because at least one parent had a drug use issue. See the Administration for Children and Families' press release Substance Abuse Impacts Foster Care, Adoption New "AFCARS" data released. Find all available AFCARS reports on the Children’s Bureau website.

    Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, provides a publication Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System that highlights the intersection of substance use disorder and child maltreatment with particular focus on recent research, statistics, and survey results.

    See also the National Conference of State Legislatures for a compilation of substance use and child welfare resources, including state initiatives, anecdotal information, and links to national organizations.

  • What is child sex trafficking/child labor trafficking? How do I report it?

    Children can be victims of sex and/or labor trafficking. Under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, child sex trafficking is defined as "the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, soliciting a child for commercial sex, including prostitution and the production of child pornography." Child labor trafficking refers to "the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining a child for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery." Child trafficking is a crime under federal, international, and state law.

    If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation, please contact the toll-free National Human Trafficking Hotline hotline at 1.888.373.7888. The toll-free hotline is available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in more than 200 languages. You may reach the National Hotline via e-mail at help@humantraffickinghotline.org or by submitting a tip through the online tip reporting form.

    Children and youth who are sexually trafficked often have been victims of child abuse; accordingly, research indicates that they are involved with the child welfare system at some point in their lives. Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, addresses the intersection of child trafficking and child welfare in its publication Human Trafficking and Child Welfare: A Guide for Child Welfare Agencies.

  • How do I report photos and videos of child maltreatment and/or child sexual abuse on social media networks and other online/internet platforms?

    If you viewed disturbing images depicting child abuse on the internet, please contact your local child protective services or law enforcement agency so that professionals can assess the situation and intervene as needed. If you are able to determine the video's filming location, it is important to alert local authorities so they can respond. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1.800.4.A.CHILD) offers immediate assistance. Staffed by trained counselors, Childhelp operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are anonymous.

    If the specific incident involves online child sexual exploitation, please call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children CyberTipline at 1.800.843.5678. Your report will be forwarded to a law enforcement agency for investigation.

    Users can also flag and report content in violation of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and/or other social media networks' community standards. All platforms provide guidance on reporting content within their application. More information may be found in the specific network's help center.

    To report child sexual abuse/online victimization/exploitation in foreign countries, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, a service of the Children's Bureau, for related resources.