NASW Practice Snapshot:
Promising Practices in Child Welfare

Social workers in child welfare often seek out research and best practice models for guidance in helping children improve their lives. A significant amount of research has been done to address the overrepresentation of children of color in the child welfare system. This issue is of concern to practitioners and policy makers because there are more children of color in the foster care system than in the general population.

This Snapshot considers the University of Iowa 's National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice's (NRCFCP) work to reverse this trend. It also considers the importance of fostering resiliency in children by reviewing the work of the Search Institute and the Family Connections program.

National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice

The ( NRCFCP works to promote family-centered, culturally responsive practice across human service delivery systems through research, evaluation, training, technical assistance, and information dissemination. Their Disproportionate Minority Confinement Resource Center is working with the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) in two local demonstration sites to reduce the overrepresentation of minority children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The sites employ African American caseworkers that are responsible for developing a comprehensive care plan for all families referred into the project. Based on information provided by IDHS and through in-home family assessment, the care plan identifies family strengths and needs to include the psychosocial needs of the family, family income, health, housing, food, clothing, and educational concerns.

A key feature of the program is the role of the project case manager. When referrals are made, the case manager attends meetings to ensure that the cultural and ethnic needs of the family are taken into consideration when services are planned or provided. Additionally, an African American care worker is employed to act as a coach/helper to families in the project, a role which may include the provision of emergency transportation, help with meal preparation, and assistance with emergency child care.

Search Institute

The Search Institute offers research and other resources that promote healthy children, youth, and communities. Their research suggests that a key program innovation for fostering resiliency in children is to acknowledge, but minimize, the role of risk factors while emphasizing protective factors, or those strengths that help children and youth contend more effectively with risk factors and stressful life events. Resiliency is a strength-based approach that focuses on an individuals ability to develop and/or maintain healthy functioning despite adverse circumstances (Greene, 2002).

Caring relationships that promote high expectations for a child's learning and behavior, and opportunities that offer children a chance to participate in engaging, challenging, and interesting activities or “flow” experiences foster the whole range of resilient strengths. Also, b uilding "developmental assets" can help to reduce many forms of youth substance use, particularly when asset building engages the whole community in contributing to a child's healthy development. Children with low levels of developmental assets are two to four times as likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs than those who have above-average asset levels, according to the Search Institute's report, “ Unique Strengths, Shared Strengths: Developmental Assets Among Youth of Color, (2003).” This relationship is true for young people from all racial/ethnic, family, and socioeconomic backgrounds, the report states.

In addition, the Search Institute offers the Prototype Early Childhood Developmental Assets Framework (ECDAF): A Practical and Ecological Approach to Promoting Positive Development. It is a tool used fo r assessing the developmental assets for early childhood by combining knowledge of what fosters holistic early childhood development with a practical approach that offers specific guidance to practitioners, parents, family members, and policy makers. To access the framework, go online to

Family Connections

Family Connections, a community-based neglect prevention program, has been shown to improve protective factors such as parenting skills and attitudes, and reduce risk factors such as parent depression, caregiver drug use, caregiver stress, and children's behavioral problems. The program also demonstrated reduced incidents of child abuse and neglect and increased child safety and well-being.

It targets at-risk families with children between the ages of five and 11. The program, based at University of Maryland in Baltimore , was the only program in the nation designated as "demonstrated effective" in showing positive outcomes in the prevention of child abuse and neglect in the 2003 report, “ Emerging Practices in the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect .” The program is now being replicated in eight communities with funding from the Children's Bureau , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

You can learn more about this program by going online to


Greene, Roberta R. (2002). Resiliency: an integrated approach to practice, policy, and research. Washington , DC : NASW Press.

Leicht, Thomas. (2003). Emerging practices in the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Available at:

Sesma, Arturo, Jr., & Roehlkepartain, Eugene, C.  (2003). Unique strengths, shared strengths: Developmental assets among youth of color. Search Institute Insights & Evidence, 1 (2), 1-13. Available at:

NASW, March 2005
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