June 30, 2020 – By Sixto Cancel, Sherry Lachman, Marina Nitze, Katie Sullivan, and Emily Tavoulareas

This content also appears on Foster America, New America, and Think of Us.

Carol* has been caring for her two young grandsons for the last six months because her daughter (their mother) is struggling with an opiate addiction. She is 63 and struggles to cover the costs of her grandchildren’s food, clothing, and school supplies with her job as a cashier at a local grocery. She knows a foster parent license would help her cover these costs, so she began the process in January. After providing a notarized divorce decree from her divorce 24 years ago, providing proof of her childhood immunizations, even though she is 64, and completing 35 hours of training, in person, with no childcare provided, she’s still waiting. And the final background check–from a state she briefly lived in four years ago–will take another year to complete. It feels like a struggle at every turn, and sometimes she just wants to give up.

In the United States, approximately one in 17 children will spend time in foster care. While the need for foster care services is great, in many states the process of licensing foster families can exceed 200 days largely because of cumbersome processes and outdated requirements. This leads children to spend time living in group homes or with strangers while waiting for relatives or other known adults to navigate a complex and often frustrating bureaucracy.

While these challenges are not new, the unique circumstances posed by COVID-19 are exacerbating complexities in the licensing process and adding to the delays. As families contend with the impacts of the virus, caretakers like Carol will need even more support and flexibility from foster care agencies.

In response to these existing and escalating challenges, the Beeck Center’s Digital Service Collaborative launched a partnership with Foster America and New America.** Together we created the Resource Family Working Group, which consists of representatives from 15 states and counties working with us on this effort to share best practices and test new ideas. Through this collaboration, the partnership created an actionable resource for anyone serving children in foster care and their families: the Child Welfare Playbook.

The Child Welfare Playbook outlines tangible, proven best practices that child welfare agencies can implement to improve their efficiency and impact, with an emphasis on low-cost, practical solutions that can be implemented in the short-term. It is written in plain language, designed to be as simple and usable as possible, and will be updated regularly with new practices. It is available to the public and can be freely replicated, adapted, and scaled by child welfare practitioners nationwide.

Today, we are pleased to digitally release the first four chapters of the Child Welfare Playbook:

While these tested practices or “plays” are often small changes to office workflow, information management, and employee training, they ultimately help agencies provide better and faster services. For people like Carol, this means that instead of spending hours trying to get a clear answer, she can call a phone number and receive a prompt return call from a social worker. That social worker can check disqualifying criminal history standards in her Background Assessment Guide (a playbook best practice), and then nonjudgmentally explain that her single shoplifting arrest will not disqualify her from licensure. As a result, both Carol and her grandchildren can be better served by the system.

Bringing this group together, opening the conversation, and sharing best practices across the country is a success in itself. In just a few months, the working group has shared a number of easily implemented ideas, captured in the playbook, including:

  • Safety inspection checklists, which have reduced the need for follow-up visits and helped one state cut licensing time by over half: from over 200 days to under 90.
  • A statute-aligned checklist that helps decision-makers clearly understand the source of a problem, asking if it should change the requirement or if the policy behind this requirement needs to be modernized. For example, one state requires foster parents to have a landline phone, creating an unnecessary obstacle to licensing.
  • Providing temporary licensing to deal with delays due to COVID-19 related state staffing shortages.

To develop solutions to more substantial challenges raised by states, working group members are collaborating on a number of licensing issues, like designing new home study tools that better account for the specific needs and realities of kin families. The best practices developed by these project groups will be incorporated into the playbook as they are created.

By making the Playbook openly available, we encourage other jurisdictions to join so we can capture a broader range of best practices and case studies to share back into this growing community of practice. By helping people understand how to better navigate the licensing process or complete background checks, we give the thousands of people like Carol the chance to get kids placed into homes more quickly with the people they know and love.

*Carol is a composite of various foster care parents.

**This work is also in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation.

 

Sixto Cancel is the Founder and CEO of Think of Us.

Sherry Lachman is the Founder and Executive Director of Foster America.

Marina Nitze is a Public Interest Technology Fellow at New America.

Katie Sullivan is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation.

Emily Tavoulareas is a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation.

February 7, 2020 | By Kyla Fullenwider & Katie Sullivan 

Cover of 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook
Download the Playbook

Last month, the 2020 Census kicked off in Toksook Bay, a remote Alaskan fishing village, as the head of the U.S. Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, arrived to personally interview the village elder and start the decennial process. While Bureau workers will travel around Alaska “on bush planes, snow machines, or snowmobiles, and dog sleds to get to villages,” this year, for the first time, millions of U.S. residents will have the option to respond to the decennial census online or over the phone, alongside the traditional mail-in form. Federal workers will use handheld mobile devices to conduct the count and social media channels will catalyze rapid, real-time sharing of census news and information. 

Though the first “digital” census presents an opportunity for a more participatory count, it also raises a number of obstacles that may threaten the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census. An incomplete census count leads to unrepresentative distribution of federal funding and political power while raising inaccuracies within the foundational dataset that is used by planners, policymakers, and researchers nationwide. An accurate census count is vital in ensuring the integrity of our democratic institutions for the next decade and beyond.


For the first time, issues such as data security, digital access and literacy, online form navigation, and social media driven misinformation and disinformation campaigns must be addressed.


Since the last decennial count in 2010, the political and technological landscapes of the United States have changed dramatically. While some challenges such as an increase in “hard to reach” populations persist across census counts, the digital nature of the 2020 Census raises new threats. For the first time, issues such as data security, digital access and literacy, online form navigation, and social media driven misinformation and disinformation campaigns must be addressed. With historic levels of distrust in the federal government, city and local governments will play a critical role in ensuring a complete count of their constituents. City leaders understand the importance of the census in allocating dollars and political representation to their most vulnerable communities. However, many cities lack sufficient preparation and resources to lead the charge in promoting an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census count. 

Today we are pleased to publish the 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook which helps address some of these challenges by providing a set of practical resources and explainers on some of the most challenging issues facing local governments as they prepare for the 2020 Census. The playbook provides:

  • A framework city leaders can use to understand the unique challenges posed by the 2020 Census including disinformation, cybersecurity, the digital divide, and data privacy. 
  • Accessible one-page overviews giving decision makers information they need to recognize threats to the census’ integrity.
  • In-depth how-to resources helping city leaders plan their response, avoid digital census pitfalls, and increase participation. 
  • Comprehensive answers to commonly-asked questions about new issues in the 2020 Census including the internet response option. 
  • A series of case studies highlighting how cities like Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis are developing new and innovative approaches fostering census participation.

The 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook was drafted in close collaboration with city officials, subject matter experts, and in partnership with the National League of Cities, Code for America Brigades and National Conference on Citizenship. We invite you to read and share the playbook to better understand the challenges ahead and to help ensure that everyone counts in 2020.

Additional Resources

The rollout of the 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook complements other Beeck Center efforts to support an accurate and inclusive 2020 Census count. 

 

Kyla Fullenwider is a Beeck Center Fellow leading our work around the digital implications of the 2020 Census, specifically, what local governments, journalists, leading digital platforms, and the public can do to prepare and participate in this crucial function of our democracy. She previously served as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau. Follow her on Twitter at @KylaFullenwider

Katie Sullivan is a Beeck Center Student Analyst, currently pursuing a Masters in Global Human Development at Georgetown University. Follow her on LinkedIn or email her.