Key Processes

Key Processes

Many of the key processes and organizational capacities needed for effective policy development are similar to those required to implement guidance in other guidances. Some that are of particular importance in the formulation and adoption of public policy are listed below.


Data Generation and Analysis

Policy making is strengthened to the extent that data and logic inform decision-making. Child welfare agencies are subject to numerous federal, state and local obligations and it is tempting to excuse bad policies with some variation of “our hands are tied.” Agencies that develop robust policy agendas based on their own practice model and other strategic goals and use sound data analysis are much better positioned to rationalize imposed obligations or to argue persuasively for policy changes that are better aligned.


Strategic Relationships

Five relationships are of particular importance in the development and formulation of public policy, those with courts, tribes, contractors and allied state agencies. Each of these partners has legal obligations that directly and materially affect how child welfare conducts business.

  • Child welfare agencies increase positive outcomes for children when they work cooperatively and consistently with domestic and family courts. As with all stakeholders, child welfare directors need to develop a strategy for building and improving relationships with the courts. Child welfare agencies with consent decrees have an additional burden. They must make a convincing case that their practice model and the policies informing it are sound and will lead to improved outcomes. Absent that case, courts can and do substitute their ideas (or those of other advocacy groups) for improvements that can be time-consuming and unrelated to the causes of non-performance.
  • Child welfare agencies in states with strong unions have the additional obligation to forge working relationships with the union(s) covering their employees as well as with appropriate human resource personnel which will generally handle negotiations. Starting with a presumption that workers and management want the same outcomes for clients goes a long way in negotiating difficult differences.
  • Federally recognized tribes also have statutory obligations (reference legislation) to vulnerable Native American children, youth and families. Failing to understand and honor those obligations and cultures can result in outcomes for Native American children and families that are not only illegal, but damaging to children and families.
  • Child welfare has a long history of using outside agencies to perform tasks that either the agency cannot perform or believes are better performed by another entity. Many of these partnerships are quite effective and result in positive outcomes for children, youth and families. They generally do so when the terms of the partnership and contracts are clear. Contractors ultimately serve at “the pleasure” of the agency and are subject to it policies and accountable for achieving results. In turn, contractors can be more responsive when the agency invites their input into decisions affecting their ability to perform.
  • Robust systems of care require robust relationships with related governmental agencies inside or outside an umbrella agency (e.g., mental health, public health, etc.). Child welfare agencies see better results when they proactively seek out needed partners, are clear about their vision and lead by example.

Negotiation and Consensus Building

This capacity is particularly critical in building and implementing a policy agenda. The connections and intersections among and between other human services programs and agencies require that all parties understand the logic and purpose of child welfare’s policy agenda; that opponents are invited to the table and given voice; that benefits and limitations of the policy are honestly assessed and responded to; and that the implications for related policy and practice are understood and rationalized, i.e., cross-walked.


Structure and Culture

All policy speaks to the structure and culture of an organization. Taken as a whole, policies speak to the level of empowerment in an organization. They are more or less restrictive, more or less mandatory and more or less prescriptive. They deal with overarching issues or get caught up in minutia. Well thought out and well written policies are clear about the roles and responsibilities of each level in the agency in implementing and monitoring the effects of the policy. Agencies that are living “crisis to crisis” will want to resist the temptation to “fix” problems by formulating one more policy or issuing one more directive.



Policy, as reflected in statute, regulation and administrative rules, is the legal basis for accountability. As such, agencies want to give careful thought to how and when policy is formulated and when and under what conditions it will be reviewed, modified, eliminated or reinforced. Effective agencies will have a formal system for weeding out old or contradictory policies or those having significant unintended consequences. Those that do not, leave it to the field to decide what policies they will honor and which ones they will not. The sheer number of policies can often be so overwhelming that even well-meaning staff will disregard them.

Agencies will provide training and appropriate supervision to embed new policy and they will establish clear monitoring standards to reinforce expected performance.


Learning and Innovation

Learning and innovation do not happen by chance. They happen when a number of conditions exist in an agency, but require in all cases policies that deliberately allow reasonable risk-taking in decision-making and actions such that new ideas and approaches can be tested and evaluated. The way policies are formulated and implemented either encourages or iscourages risk-taking and agencies will want to deliberately think through the amount and type of risk they are ready to assume.

Change & Innovation Agency
FEi Systems
PCG Human Services
Governing Magazine