Sustained Well-being of Children and Youth is one of four key outcomes APHSA seeks to impact through a transformed human service system. Through aligned and person-centered programs, flexible funding, meaningful accountability, and strategic partnerships, we can support a safe and stable future for children, youth, and their families through preventive services, early intervention, interdisciplinary permanency initiatives, and integrated use of other child-serving programs.
The necessary policy directions for sustained well-being of children and youth require that we:
- align federal funding with shared national priorities for the well-being of children, youth, and their families
- invest in a variety of prevention and early intervention evidence-based or evidence-informed activities that will support safe and stable homes, including in-home training for new parents; parent support groups; home visiting; access to after-school programs; interventions for distressed families; and youth mentoring and supports to successful adulthood
- provide child support services such as timely receipt of court-ordered payments and parent engagement activities
- link to the juvenile justice, mental health, and education systems to assure interdisciplinary efforts toward permanency, including cross-cutting initiatives to divert youth from the justice system and secure their successful transition to independent adulthood
- when necessary to support children's long-term health and stability, seek permanent placements with relatives or foster and adoptive homes
To increase the well-being for children and youth, the human service system of care must reflect a shared national vision for prevention, early intervention, and improved outcomes. For children and youth to experience healthy positive development, this system's many components must positively interact with and influence each other. Children and youth grow and thrive within a network of family relationships, community, and the larger society, and these components must be connected.
We define "child well-being" as a state in which children's physical, developmental, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning is healthy; they are able to develop skills and capacities; they grow and mature appropriately with age; and they can engage in positive social interactions. Elements that support well-being include a safe and nurturing home environment; adequate nutrition and health care; supportive, loving adults; and appropriate developmental opportunities.
To further the well-being of children and youth, families and the foundation they provide must be our focus. Since 2001, there has been a gradual increase in the number of children living in poverty, making children more vulnerable to environmental, educational, health, and safety risks. A healthy and sustainable family environment for children requires the human service system to holistically increase family stability, strengthen healthy parenting, and enhance parental engagement. We do this by strengthening parents' financial security through greater employment opportunities; educating parents on the importance of ensuring the health and education of their children; and supporting the emotional well-being of the entire family when mental, substance abuse, or behavioral health issues threaten its viability. We are also cognizant of the historically disproportionate impact on minorities as they come to the attention of the child welfare system—minority children come into foster care more frequently, remain in care longer, and have more negative outcomes than non-minorities. By developing effective policy and implementation strategies as well as aligning communities with strategic partnerships, human services can support children and youth to thrive and grow in loving, nurturing, and safe environments.
Safety for all children is a primary focus of the human service system. Great strides have been made over the years to provide prevention and early intervention services that have resulted in continued reduction in the rate of substantiated child maltreatment, certainly contributing to the overall well-being of children. While this is a positive and significant trend, the proportion of substantiated maltreatment allegations for neglect, as opposed to abuse, has increased over time, and today most children come to our attention for neglect-related reasons.
Addressing the effects of child abuse and neglect requires human services—in partnership with the community—to emphasize prevention and early intervention efforts through a trauma-informed practice model. This work must include efficient service delivery; appropriately staffed organizations with a well-trained workforce; suitable accountability mechanisms to monitor the effective use of resources and implementation of best practices; system infrastructure capable of supporting this work with modern technology; and appropriately allocated resources from federal, state, and local governments.
As discussed in our outcome statement on Stronger Families, Adults, and Communities, human services must proactively serve all those who are victimized in abusive households. These can include not only children but vulnerable adults in the household, including the responsible parent and seniors.
Positive youth development and positive engagement with youth offenders are also important activities necessary for promoting the social and emotional well-being of older children and youth. Ensuring that these youth have lifelong connections to a significant adult, access to health care, opportunities for educational supports or career training, and a stable living arrangement increases the likelihood of positive outcomes.
Early education and care are especially important components of child well-being. These services improve outcomes of low-income children and their families by providing children with a safe early learning environment. Access to affordable and high-quality education and care programs allows children to learn and to grow developmentally in a secure and nurturing environment—thus preventing a multitude of potential problems later in life. Families are also able to maintain their employment while children gain the care and attention they need to stimulate development. These elements are essential in closing the achievement gap, securing the nation's workforce, and developing human capital. Maintaining and advancing these achievements require support for affordable education and care for low-income families and their young children as well as for greater investments in high-quality programs.
Public Policy Should:
- Support federal finance reform that aligns resources with federal mandates and focuses on preventive frontend services, promotion of early childhood development, and empowerment of young people and families.
- Until comprehensive finance reform can be achieved, support increased flexibility through waivers and pilots for innovations that lead to improved outcomes. These initiatives should also encompass programs outside the traditional child welfare arena, including others that serve and impact children such as child care.
- Support integrated, interoperable service systems to enable a holistic and client-centered approach to service delivery.
- Enable focused research that is necessary to further develop knowledge about effective prevention programs and then identify and support evidence-based and evidence-informed practices. For example, research points to home visiting programs as modest investments that yield significant positive results in preventing child neglect and abuse.
- Support accountability systems that promote continuous quality improvement, provide an accurate means for evaluating state performance, and create incentives for positive performance throughout the system.
- Facilitate information and data systems built on modern information technology platforms with adequate federal support and that have ready access to all relevant data sources, including a new national Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) database.
- Support a stable and nurturing family environment through provision of behavioral health services for children, youth, and families. These should include the safe and appropriate use of psychotropic medications as guided by greater data sharing and program integration across child-serving agencies; increased access to evidence-based services and interventions; dissemination of best practices; and alternatives to reliance on medications.
- Maintain flexibility in how states administer and provide services through federal resources that support early education and care programs. These must include the ability to blend targeted funds within the quality set aside of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), transferability of funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and closer alignment with Head Start and Title I education supports.
- Consolidate and streamline federal standards and requirements for improving quality in early learning programs to reduce inefficiencies and duplication of effort, including incentive funding based on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge model.