Rachel Morpeth, Business Operations Specialist, Binti
Duke Storen, Former Commissioner, Former Virginia Department of Social Services
Countries around the world place the wellbeing of children as a high priority, but struggle to address their needs in a comprehensive fashion or prevent the need for services altogether. In the EU, one in four children are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. In the United States, this figure is one in six. Fortunately, emerging policy and practice reforms offer models for replication that can be transformative.
In recent years, countries have introduced legislation to improve outcomes for children and address the increasing burden on child welfare systems. These reforms focus on prevention and a holistic service delivery model. In the EU, the European Child Guarantee established in 2021 seeks to guarantee a set of services, such as free medical care, adequate housing, and universal education. In the United States, the 2018 Families First Prevention Services Act seeks to provide prevention services to families with a child at risk of entering the child welfare system, thereby increasing the number of children who can safely remain at home. Both pieces of legislation challenge the historical, reactive approach to child welfare, and instead seek to improve the system by reducing the demand through prevention services.
In addition to changes in policy, improvements can be quickly achieved through changes in practice. Child welfare reform requires a holistic approach, involving collaboration across agencies to deliver the right services at the right time. Siloed efforts run the risk of fragmented service delivery, and often leave constituents feeling frustrated and unclear about how to obtain the resources they need. While many citizens may have formal access to resources like education and healthcare, stark disparities exist in effective access to these resources. This is particularly the case for children experiencing housing or food insecurity, and children with disabilities, mental health challenges, or a minority ethnic background. Digital tools can help to bridge these cross-agency gaps. In Denmark, for example, child welfare information is entered into an IT system that is shared across the country. Embedded search functions allow social workers to find specific competences related to the child’s needs. Elsewhere, tools like Binti allow for a unified social worker system that improves child outcomes through better data, communication, and workflows across a child welfare agency.
This need for a holistic approach is being recognized by governments big and small. Malmö – the Swedish city hosting this year’s European Social Services Conference – has established seven family centres dubbed a “one-stop-shop” to provide integrated services ranging from childcare to health counselling to language learning. These centres also offer referral services to different clinics based on a family’s needs. In the US, 20 states are in various stages of implementing Family Connects, a heavily researched model designed to “support whole-person, integrated health,” starting at birth. Nurses working with Family Connects conduct home visits three weeks after delivery to assess the health of mothers and newborns, and connect them with community services based on their individual needs and preferences. In meeting with every family regardless of economic status, this programme aims to administer preventive services more quickly and accurately.
Emerging practices like these offer actionable measures that can be taken to improve outcomes in child welfare. Bringing together the best models and technology from around the world is no small task, but a coordinated effort will ensure that, irrespective of background or income level, children will have an opportunity for a better future.