Child Welfare:

Complex Needs Strain Capacity to Provide Services

HEHS-95-208: Published: Sep 26, 1995. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 1995.

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GAO reviewed the foster care system and related child welfare services, focusing on: (1) recent trends in the characteristics of the foster care population; (2) whether resources for foster care and child welfare services have kept pace with changing needs; and (3) how states are responding to current foster care and other service needs.

GAO found that: (1) the sharp increase in the number of child abuse and neglect reports and foster care caseloads have increased the demand for child welfare services and have greatly restricted resources for those services; (2) resource constraints have resulted in restrictions on the use of federal foster care funds, diversion of funds to child abuse and neglect investigations, caseworker recruiting and retention problems, shortages of foster parents, and difficulties in obtaining outside services; (3) states have adopted various cost saving methods to meet their service needs while protecting children; (4) family preservation services and kinship care reduce costs while maintaining family ties; (5) specialized foster care for emotionally disturbed and medically fragile children is less costly than institutionalization; and (6) while proposed legislation creating a block grant for child welfare services and foster care would give states greater flexibility in allocating funds to match needs and reduce administrative costs, Congress must consider provisions that reflect lessons learned from earlier attempts to provide block grants for child welfare services.

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