CHAMPS Policy Playbook

Research-Based Policy Solutions 

CHAMPS promotes policies that encourage and support quality foster parenting so more children will be safe and healthy, experience greater academic success, build healthy relationships, and leave foster care to join permanent families. The playbook showcases six research-based policy goals, including state and local policy examples, to inform and inspire ongoing state and tribal efforts to improve the lives of children in foster care.

The six CHAMPS policy goals include:

  1. Support relationships between foster and birth families; see policy primer on goal #1;
  2. Implement data-driven recruitment and retention practices; see policy primer on goal #2;
  3. Engage foster parents in decision making; see policy primer on goal #3; 
  4. Provide timely access to trusted, dedicated staff and peer support to foster parents; see policy primer on goal #4;
  5. Prioritize placements with relatives; see policy primer on goal #5; and
  6. Ensure timely access to physical and mental health services; see policy primer on goal #6

See here for an overview of CHAMPS Policy Solutions brief, and here for an infographic. 

A downloadable PDF version of the CHAMPS policy playbook features recommendations for policy approaches, examples of existing policies and programs, and supporting research.

Visit our online Policy Playbook

Related Policy Tools

for agency leaders legislators and advocates

Policy discussion guides on:

  • Data-driven foster parent recruitment and retention (here);
  • Foster parent advisory councils (here); and
  • Foster parent peer support networks (here)

The CHAMPS Guide on Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention provides a road map to help agencies to go beyond creating simply a plan to design a comprehensive program that prioritizes and sustains effective policies and programs. A copy of the guide is available here.

An Analysis of State 2020-2024 Foster and Adoptive Parent Diligent Recruitment Plans  highlights innovative approaches to foster parent recruitment and retention and encourages child welfare agencies to draw on these examples as they continue to develop and implement their own state and local strategies. The report also offers recommendations for federal and state policymakers on strengthening family-based foster care.  Report here.

CHAMPS Point of View of the Family First Transition Act. In December 2019, Congress enacted the Family First Transition Act, which provides $500 million in federal funds to help child welfare agencies implement the Family First Act. This CHAMPS brief urges agencies to devote at least 50 percent of the transition grant funds in support of strengthening family-based care.

A one-page handout highlighting opportunities for state legislators to get involved in supporting foster parenting policy improvements.  See here.

A state policy update highlighting legislation enacted in 2019 related to foster parent recruitment, retention and support, see here.

  • Read about Indiana Senate Bill 1, which was enacted in 2019
  • Read about legislation enacted in Alaska through House Bill 151
  • Tune into this new podcast produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures featuring Sen. Erin Houchin (R-IN) and Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-AK) speaking about challenges and opportunities to caring for teens in foster care and related policy initiatives to support foster parents and better meet the needs of children and youth.

Family First Prevention Services Act

and CHAMPS Policy Goals

On February 9, 2018, Congress enacted the Family First Prevention Services Act –  or Family First for short. This new law brings historic, sweeping policy changes that hold great promise for strengthening families, including birth, kin, foster and adoptive families

Family First reforms federal child welfare policy to emphasize the importance of keeping children safety with their families when they are at-risk of entering foster care. Family First also emphasizes the the importance of family-based care for children who do enter foster care.

Together, Family First and CHAMPS offer important new opportunities to significantly improve outcomes for children and families involved in the child welfare system.

CHAMPS has created and gathered a number of important resources related to Family First and makes those available in our resource database:

  • CHAMPS brief on the Family First Transition Act, passed in December 2019 to provide $500 million in federal funds to help child welfare agencies implement FFPSA. The CHAMPS brief urges agencies to devote at least 50 percent of the transition grant funds in support of strengthening family-based care.
  • A one-page overview highlighting ten ways that CHAMPS and Family First promote better outcomes for children;
  • A one-page fact sheet on CHAMPS and Family First.

The Children’s Bureau organizes a wide array of Family First information on this website.

  • See here for a list of states with approved Title IVE Family First plans.

Other resources on Family First are available in the resource database.

Resource Database

Children's Bureau Guidance on Improving Foster Parenting

Children’s Bureau Information Memoranda

The federal Children’s Bureau has issued several Information Memoranda (IMs) that are relevant to CHAMPS policy priorities: strengthening foster-birth parent relationships and data-driven foster parent recruitment.

Foster Care as a Support to Families

Information Memoranda ACYF-CB-IM-20-06 (April 29, 2020) highlights best practices, resources, and recommendations for using foster care as a support for families in a way that mitigates the trauma of removal for the child and parents, expedites safe and successful reunification, and improves parent and child well-being outcomes. The IM emphasizes the importance of state and tribal child welfare communities building and supporting relationships between foster families and parents to facilitate improved engagement of parents, promote timely reunification, build protective capacities in parents, and strengthen overall child and family well-being, while ensuring child safety.

Family time and visitation for children and youth in out-of-home care

Information Memorandum ACYF-CB-IM-20-02 (February 5, 2020) provides research, best practices, policy examples and recommendations to promote safe and meaningful family time and visitation for birth parents and their children in foster care. The IM describes the harmful effects that can result from removing children from their homes and separating them from their parents in order to protect their safety. What follows is an extensive review of research and best practices on the positive outcomes associated with regular, meaningful family time, which include enhanced parent engagement, greater likelihood of reunification, expedited permanency, reduced likelihood of re-entry into foster care, and improved emotional well-being for parents and children. The IM stresses that family time should commence soon after removal, that supervision can often compromise the quality of parent-child interaction, and that a child welfare agency should not assume that family time should always be supervised. The IM provides examples of state laws and policies as well as best practices identified by national organizations that support quality family time.

Data-Driven Foster Parent Recruitment 

Information Memorandum ACYF-CB-IM-20-03 (February 10, 2020) addresses technology support for recruitment, approval, and retention of foster homes. The purpose of this IM is to “inform title IV-E agencies on how to use CCWIS (Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System), non-CCWIS information systems, websites, and applications to support child welfare program activities related to the recruitment, approval, and retention of foster homes.”

The IM notes that less than one-third of states reviewed during round three of the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs) had a strength rating for Item 35, the Diligent Recruitment of Foster and Adoptive Homes. Systemic issues noted in the reviews included the lack of a statewide recruitment plan, inability to determine whether background checks were completed, and challenges in administering the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

The IM discusses a list of practice barriers in the areas of recruitment, approval and ongoing service and retention and possible technology solutions. These include, for example, the following:

  • Matching: use of business intelligence and/or artificial intelligence using child welfare data to conduct intelligent matching between a child and a family;
  • Improving efficiency and timeliness of recruitment and approval: tracking milestones such as key dates in the approval process and reasons families withdraw from consideration;
  • Tenure: use of data to determine average tenure of foster parents and exit reasons in order to analyze placement trends;
  • Quality: gather data from foster youth and caseworkers regarding placement safety and quality of foster parenting.

The final part of the IM consists of a list of recruitment resources developed by AdoptUSKids–including the Family Intake Tracking Tool (FITT) and related data elements, and the Diligent Recruitment Navigator–and some examples of best practices in foster parent recruitment, namely market segmentation, geo-mapping, intelligent matching and digital assistants or chatbots.

Some Welcome Federal Input on Foster Home Recruitment and Family Visitation

See this op-ed by CHAMPS team member, Lynn Tiede, published in March 2020 in the Chronicle of Social Change for commentary about the Children’s Bureau’s IM on improving foster parenting.

Children Need Amazing Parents

supporting research   

The CHAMPS policy playbook draws on powerful insight from child and adolescent development research that underscores the importance of family in child well-being. CHAMPS also leverages the knowledge base generated by system reform efforts such as the Quality Parenting Initiative as well as lessons learned from the experience of public and private agencies that have been innovating and developing solutions. Importantly, the CHAMPS policy goals align with what foster parents and youth say is needed to help children in foster care heal and thrive.

Foundational principles that underpin the policies in the playbook include:

  1. All children need and do best in families. When a child needs foster care, quality foster parenting must be a priority.
  2. Foster parents are one of the primary interventions for ensuring the safety and well-being of children in foster care. Quality foster parenting helps children be safe and healthy, experience greater academic success and have more stable lives.
  3. Foster parents help children and families heal and play a central role in creating permanent families. In addition to caring for children, foster parents provide support and mentorship to birth parents, help nurture the parent-child bond, and support other family connections. This is a vital role because half of children who enter foster care return home.
  4. Strengthening foster families often leads to strong and stable adoptive families. Half of the children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents.
  5. Establishing and prioritizing effective approaches to recruiting, retaining, and supporting foster parents yields better outcomes for children in foster care and can be cost effective.
  6. Foster parenting has been overlooked as a solution to achieving better results for the safety, permanency and well-being of children and youth.

See Supporting Research

A National Priority

Why Focus on Foster Parenting?

One of the most powerful ways we can help children in foster care is to ensure they have supportive foster parents to help them heal from trauma, grow and thrive. They offer children what they need most: a safe family to care for them until they can return home or, when that’s not possible, be placed in another permanent family.

Despite their significant role in the lives of children, prior policy reform efforts have largely overlooked the pivotal role of foster parents. Yet, we know from innovation in the field that reforms focused on family-based care and quality foster parenting can catalyze systemic child welfare reforms and drive better outcomes for children. For example, communities that have undertaken the Quality Parenting Initiative show improvements in stability, sibling connectedness, and permanent families for children and youth in foster care.

A number of factors point to why focusing on quality foster parenting is an urgent matter and merits policy makers’ attention.

  • Increasing foster care caseloads. News reports are filled with stories about the increasing numbers of children entering foster care. In many communities, the rise is due to the opioid crisis. In fact, this is the fifth consecutive year where the numbers of children in foster care has increased, with 442,995 children in care in fiscal year 2017.
  • Foster parent shortages. Many child welfare agencies are struggling with foster parent shortages, which can lead to children sleeping in hotel rooms or child welfare offices. Contributing to this shortage is the high turnover rate among foster parents, estimated to be between 30-50 percent annually nationwide. Foster parents often cite inadequate support and preparation as a primary reason for quitting.
  • New expectations . Implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act seeks to curtail the inappropriate use of congregate care for children and places a new emphasis on the importance of family foster care. The current policy landscape offers a variety of opportunities to strengthen foster parenting policies.
  • Innovation has generated promising approaches. We know more now than ever before from a deepening body of research about the vital importance of caring adults in the healthy development of children, especially children who have been traumatized by abuse or neglect

See our PowerPoint

A Shared Mission

Who’s Involved in CHAMPS?

CHAMPS is led by a coalition of organizations committed to creating brighter futures for children in foster care.

CHAMPS brings together research, policy expertise, and influential stakeholders that work collectively to encourage and support policy change efforts. This includes:

  • A national steering committee that serves as the leadership hub of the campaign and is comprised of eight organizations representing key stakeholder groups such as youth, families, service providers, and faith-based partners
  • A national research partner, the Brookings Institution, contributes its research expertise and services as the campaign’s primary convener, hosting round tables and other events to engage leaders in campaign activities
  • A child welfare leaders’ advisory group that advises CHAMPS and helps spread the word about solutions for strengthening foster parenting policies and programs
  • A state legislative advisory group, comprised of state legislators – many of whom have personal experience as foster parents – who serve as advisors to CHAMPS and champion reform reform efforts in their states and nationally
  • A network of state-based organizations that mobilize and direct state advocacy campaign activities, including public awareness and policy advocacy to spur improvements
  • A network of philanthropic partners that support the state and national campaign, serve as advisors and engage in campaign activities.
  • Staff and consultants serve as support staff to the steering committee and other campaign partners and coordinate all aspects of the campaign’s policy and communication activities.

For a list of campaign partners, see this handout.

See the CHAMPS Partners Page

Get Involved

We invite you to get involved in CHAMPS and be part of building bright futures for kids in foster care.

Sign the Pledge

Sign the pledge to show your support for today’s amazing foster parents and the importance of quality foster parenting.