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From New York City to New South Wales: Bringing Evidence-Based Practices to Child Welfare Systems

June 14, 2017

ChildWelfareEvidence-based practices geared toward preventing foster care placements, reducing disruptions to children already in a foster home, shortening the length of stays, and reunifying families are saving many of New York City's most vulnerable children and have the potential to reduce out-of-home-care populations elsewhere.  Indeed, the successful track record of one of New York City's oldest and largest child welfare organizations, The New York Foundling, has prompted it to offer its experience and expertise to governments overseas, even as far away as New South Wales, Australia.

New South Wales' child welfare system closely resembles New York's a decade ago. In New South Wales, the number of children entering foster care has doubled over the past five years; today there are approximately 16,000 children in foster, kinship, or residential care there at any given time — about 8.1 children per 1,000. By comparison, the foster care population in New York City in 2007 totaled 16,911, with a ratio of 8.9 children per 1,000.

Since then, with the help of organizations like The Foundling, New York's Administration for Children's Services has achieved dramatic improvements — leading child care professionals around the world to take notice. In New York, a cohesive family foster care model called Child Success NYC has reduced the number of children in foster care by nearly 50 percent over ten years. In partnership with five participating foster care agencies, the program uses evidence-based models to provide care for children and families (e.g., Keeping Foster Parents Supported and Parenting Through Change [KEEP]). Child Success NYC operates under the philosophy that families possess unique strengths that can be built on to keep their children at home. As a result of the program, the number of children in out-of-home care has dropped to 9,000, a ratio of 4.9 per 1,000, while the average length of time a child stays in care has been reduced to less than two years.

It's this success that persuaded the State of New South Wales to launch a similar initiative with the help of The Foundling's Implementation Support Center (ISC). The center supports providers by training government and non-government agency leaders in the methodology and practical implementation of evidenced-based practices, as well as how to sustain them over time. While years of extensive research and clinical trials have demonstrated the success of evidence-based practices, agencies across the world have struggled to implement them effectively due to systemic barriers, on-the-ground challenges, and organizational resistance to change.

A core piece of what The Foundling does is work with other agencies to overcome these difficulties. Because proven evidence-based models produce the best outcomes, it is our goal to increase the number of children and families who receive them.

In New South Wales, The Foundling is working directly with the government's Ministry of Family & Community Services to show it what implementation looks like and prepare local agencies to pilot their own evidence-based programs.

When the Ministry of Family & Community Service issued an RFP and $90 million-dollar bid earlier this year, The Foundling met with thirteen Aboriginal-owned and -operated non-government agencies, hoping to convince at least two or three to apply. The response to the RFP was enormous. Word of the initiative spread and over seventy agencies applied. In April, the ministry awarded contracts to eleven agencies, with the goal of serving nine hundred families. In addition, The Foundling is mentoring OzChild, an agency that serves high-risk children in Victoria, Australia.

International interest in evidence-based practices is not limited to Australia. The Foundling is meeting with child welfare leaders in the UK who are considering launching evidence-based program initiatives of their own. While we are incredibly proud to be a part of the ongoing transformation of the child welfare system in New York City, we are thrilled by the promise of sharing this work overseas and moving one step closer to ensuring strong outcomes for youth placed in out-of-home care worldwide. Child welfare professionals and policy makers in other jurisdictions should take note of the work being done in communities as disparate as the Bronx and New South Wales and consider the implications for their own populations as they strive to provide children and their families with effective services in an era of limited resources.

Headshot_baccaglini_rowlandsBill Baccaglini is president and CEO of the New York Foundling and Sylvia Rowlands is the organization's senior vice president for evidence-based programs.

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