Public Policy

Public Policy


Positive outcomes for vulnerable children and families are maximized when child welfare agencies operate with well-defined and well-articulated policies that support agency strategic goals andobjectives. These are used to influence federal state and/or local legislative and regulatory actions and to drive decisions regarding budget priorities and other executive actions.


At their core, child welfare policies define and legitimize child protection as a deliberate and sanctioned activity of the state. They define the role that child welfare plays within the larger human services structure and provide the metrics against and from which child welfare will be measured. Effective policies set the “floor and ceiling” on behaviors and actions, while recognizing the need for flexibility in day-to-day implementation. Specific policies may include, but not be limited to, positions about: who is served and under what conditions; what constitutes equitable treatment; how incentives and disincentives are used; how compliance will be measured; 

that services will be provided and the benefits, limitations, and obligations of both the agency and children, youth and families being served.


This guidance is directed to staff charged with developing an agency’s policy agenda and to senior level executives responsible for approving and implementing the proposed course of action. It specifically addresses the development and implementation of policy required to operationalize an agency’s practice model rather than the development of administrative policy (e.g. fiscal policies) covered in other guidances. The guidance covers both what constitutes effective policy and 

effective policy-making processes; i.e. both the “product and the process.”


This Guidance Provides Answers to These and Other Questions:


  • Why is a policy framework important and how does it directly affect the outcomes of children, youthand families?
  • What are the mechanisms available to effect policy and what are the considerations in choosing one over another? What are the environmental or contextual issues that can affect the way in which policy is formulated and implemented;e.g. current relationships between central and local offices?
  • What are the major strategic functions in developing a policy framework; e.g. articulating the underlying principles and purposes of policy?
  • What are the critical policy considerations in addressing the issue of disparities and disproportionality?
  • What are the key processes and agency competencies required to support the development and implementation of robust policy?
  • How does a well-aligned and well-articulated policy framework play out in day-to-day operations; e.g. higher percentage of time going to creative problem-solving?

Why is this Critical Area Important to the Field of Public Child Welfare?


  • Provides the basis for establishing accountability. It is the baseline from which the agency and stakeholders can determinewhether and to what extent the agency does what it says it will do, when it says it will do it, and with the intended results. Supports staff in day-to-day operations. 
  • Policy provides the parameters within which staff can act decisively and with assurance. It minimizes having to “rethink” actions with each new case.
  • Minimizes time spent in responding to and/or fending off legal or administrative challenges. 
  • Agencies with well written policies that are consistently implemented and monitored have fewer and generally less contentious challenges to how they conduct business.
  • Increases efficiency in handling cases. It promotes patterned or standardized behaviors and actions as appropriate and promotes the best use of staff time and energy.
  • Provides the basis for communicating with clients, stakeholders and other interested parties. 
  • Well-articulated policy provides the logic behind various actions and decisions thus increasing transparency.
  • Provides the basis for decision-making and behavior, whether mandatory or discretionary. Such consistency is required to ain trust with clients and other stakeholders.
  • Basis for evaluation and research. Effective policy is built on a set of hypothesis that can be used to track and test results

How will Outcomes be Achieved for and with Children, Youth and Families?

  • Effective policy reinforces fidelity to a robust practice model that provides for family involvement in critical decisions and actions.
  • Effective policy allows workers to “customize” treatment while honoring best practices.
  • Effective policy starts with the “end in mind.” That is, it starts with the desired outcomes and identifies the actions considered most likely to achieve those outcomes.
  • Effective policy making processes encourage creative thinking, link to other related programs and resources and provide consistency across related programs.
  • Effective policy takes into account the complexity of the work of public child welfare without making the policy unnecessarily complex, vague or obtuse.
  • Effective policy making increases ownership and investment among staff which in turn invites positive interactions with children, youth and families and increases the likelihood of positive outcome.

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