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Washington CASA Association is a network of 10 local programs in Washington state serving 12 counties. Through our valued membership with National CASA/GAL, we belong to a network of 950 community-based programs nationwide, that recruit, screen, train, and support court-appointed special advocate (CASA) and guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteers. Those advocates are volunteers, just like you, who stand up and speak out to help children experiencing abuse and neglect.


Find out how you can become a CASA Volunteer today


Back to School in a COVID World

The U.S. Department of Education anticipates that many schools across the country will return to in-person learning at the start of the new school year. For many children, this will be the first time entering a school building or a child care facility in 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 The vital role schools play as a supplement to the social safety net for the children most in need, is starkly evident with their closure, according to the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research.

Children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect, may be reentering schools after a significant period of remote learning, or entering a new school this year with higher levels of stress and uncertainty. But this is also a time for these children and youth to be excited about reconnect with stability, as they look forward to seeing their friends, teachers and staff, and return to their extra-curricular activities.

 As students return to school, the work of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer continues to be essential now more than ever.

How CASA Volunteers Help

On any given day, there are nearly 7,500 children and youth in foster care in Washington. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect are involved with multiple systems—the court system, the child welfare system, the health care system, and the school system. CASA volunteers  help connect the dots between these systems to ensure that information is shared, when appropriate, to get the best possible outcomes for children and youth.

During the pandemic, Washington CASA/GAL Programs and their volunteers identified gaps in distance learning technology (e.g. laptops, chrome books, iPads and/or internet access) for children and families. As the new school year starts, volunteers will continue to advocate for children to ensure they have access to the educational resources needed.


Outcomes for Children and Youth

A child with a CASA/GAL volunteer is more likely to have better outcomes:

Call to Action

If you would like to support the children, youth and families we serve as they navigate new school year, learn how you can become a CASA/GAL volunteer here.

Latest News

Introduction

A strong body of evidence shows the positive impacts of home visiting on children and their families, including improvements in maternal and child health, child development, and parenting practices. Early childhood home visiting programs rely on well-trained staff to deliver interventions, but little research is available on the educational background or preservice preparation home visitors typically bring to the job, or their experiences with ongoing professional development.

In this short report, we provide a snapshot of the state of the professional development systems for home visiting in 2018, with an emphasis on professional development for home visitors who provide direct services to families. We describe the perspectives of home visitors and home visiting supervisors working in MIECHV-funded agencies and stakeholders with expertise in professional development as it pertains to the field of home visiting. We also describe the ways in which professional development could be improved to help strengthen the home visiting workforce.

In September 2021, we added an Authors’ Note and slight revisions to this short report to clarify the timing of data collection—which occurred primarily in 2018—and acknowledge that these findings represent a snapshot in time. The field has since evolved, but many considerations discussed in this report remain relevant. We also took the opportunity to provide additional clarity regarding some of the findings and their implications.

Primary Research Questions

What opportunities exist for professional development for home visitors and home visiting supervisors?
How do these opportunities vary at different career stages?
What are the perceived gaps in available trainings?
What challenges exist for professional development for home visitors and supervisors at various points in their careers?

Purpose

Early childhood home visiting programs rely on well-trained staff to deliver interventions, but little research is available on the educational background or preservice preparation home visitors typically bring to the job, or their experiences with ongoing professional development.

This short report presents findings from a national descriptive study of the home visiting workforce in local agencies receiving MIECHV funding with a focus on the professional development opportunities and gaps that exist to support the early childhood home visiting workforce.  

Key Findings and Highlights

Analyses of data point to the following key findings:

Home visitors and supervisors have varying educational and professional backgrounds, reflecting the range of home visiting models used and the staffing needs of local home visiting programs. This variation highlights a challenge in preparing people for home visiting as a profession.
Observational assessments and core competency frameworks can be useful tools to measure home visitor performance and guide professional development goals.
A widely used certification or endorsement for home visitors could help encourage standardization of the field, but this approach has benefits and drawbacks.
A range of in-service training opportunities is available to home visitors, but cost and time can be constraints.
Home visitors and supervisors identify topics where they need additional training on addressing sensitive situations such as domestic violence and substance use.

Methods

The findings presented in this report are based primarily on qualitative data collected through key informant stakeholder interviews with individuals who have expertise in the early childhood home visiting workforce conducted in late 2017 through early 2019, focus groups with home visitors and interviews with program managers at MIECHV-funded local implementing agencies (LIAs) in eight states conducted in 2018, and a literature scan conducted in 2017 through 2018. Findings from a national survey of the home visiting workforce conducted in September through December 2018 as part of the larger project are also referenced in the report. Findings for this brief draw primarily on the literature review and expert interviews, but also consider case study findings and results from the surveys.

Introduction

Learning how to succeed in the world of work during the transition to adulthood is a universal need, and young people aging out of foster care are no exception. But research consistently finds that compared with other young people those aging out of foster care have less stable employment, work fewer hours, and earn lower wages as they enter adulthood, while often having greater demands to support themselves financially. This report examines two employment programs that focus explicitly on young people transitioning to adulthood from foster care and purposefully address this population’s unique experiences and needs.

Do such programs improve employment and financial prospects for young people aging out of foster care? Unfortunately, the evidence is limited, often because programs are small and may not be designed or implemented in a way conducive to rigorous evaluation. This study examined two such programs through formative evaluation, shedding light on key features of these programs and the young people they serve. The study highlights the important role of formative evaluation in laying the groundwork for successful future rigorous impact evaluation.

Primary Research Questions

The key research questions for the formative evaluations of iFoster Jobs in Los Angeles County, California, and Mentoring Youth to Inspire Meaningful Employment (MY TIME) in Chicago, Illinois, were the following:

How do these programs operate, and do they operate with fidelity to their logic models?
Whom do the programs serve, and do they achieve their program goals? What are some successes and challenges?
Do these programs have the potential for rigorous evaluation in the future?

Purpose

To date, little is known about how employment programs for young people with histories of foster care operate and whether they are effective in promoting positive employment outcomes. A key finding from the Multi-Site Evaluation of Foster Youth Programs is that many programs serving Chafee-eligible young people are not ready for rigorous evaluation because they lack a clearly articulated logic model or are not implemented as intended. This study fills a knowledge gap using formative evaluation to illustrate what is needed for programs to be ready for successful rigorous impact evaluation. The purpose of formative evaluation is to examine whether programs are being implemented as intended, expected outputs are being produced, and short-term outcomes are trending in the right direction; and to provide feedback to programs about program functioning and data-collection needs.

This series of formative evaluation activities explored how the employment programs iFoster Jobs and MY TIME are being implemented, who is served by each program, and whether participants seem to be reaching their employment-related goals. The study also explores how each program’s goals relate to the young people they serve and their programmatic approaches. Comparing the two program’s goals, populations served, and programmatic approaches provides additional insights into the variation in employment programs for young people transitioning out of foster care.

Key Findings and Highlights

The study found that both iFoster Jobs and MY TIME are generally operating in alignment with the logic models developed through the formative evaluation process, although a few inputs and activities need to be more fully realized in practice. In addition, both programs are preparing their participants for employment and helping them connect to work. Forty percent of iFoster Job participants in our sample got a job, and 58 percent of our MY TIME analytic sample got a job at least once during their participation in the program. However, without a comparison group, these findings don’t show to what extent these outcomes differ from what the young people would have achieved without the programs’ services. Additional refinement of data-collection activities, including participant characteristics, program participation, and longer-term employment outcomes, are needed before a rigorous impact evaluation could be conducted to assess the programs’ effectiveness.

Even though both iFoster Jobs and MY TIME serve young people transitioning out of foster care, the programs serve young people in different circumstances and view the goal of employment differently. This translates into each program taking different implementation approaches despite similar training components. iFoster Jobs focuses on facilitated peer groups to practice work scenarios and uses community partners to provide additional supports. iFoster Jobs serves as a gatekeeper that introduces participants they have assessed as ready for competitive work to interviews for existing open positions with corporate employer partners. Often, these jobs serve as launching pads into industries with the potential for growth. MY TIME training focuses on facilitating individual and group reflections and MY TIME staff use every interaction with participants to build a trusting relationship. MY TIME develops mentoring relationships with its participants and uses early-employment experiences, even if they are not pathways to long-term careers, to help participants develop the skills and resilience that will serve them well in future employment. These formative evaluations of iFoster Jobs and MY TIME illustrate not only the key components and successes of employment programs for young people transitioning out of foster care, but they also highlight that different approaches are appropriate for different populations of young people.

Methods

The study began our inquiries with initial telephone calls to program leadership and then researchers visited each program where they conducted semi-structured interviews and focus groups with program staff, participants, and other stakeholders including local child welfare agency leadership and employer partners. Researchers also observed numerous program activities and informal interactions among young people and between program participants and staff.

Researchers also used program data to analyze participant characteristics, program participation, and employment outcomes. In the case of MY TIME, researchers conducted content analysis of staff notes regarding interactions with participants to explore the ways in which program staff provided a range of supports to participants. In addition, researchers conducted comparative analysis across the programs to explore how and why each program’s approach may work well for each program’s participants and in the context of each program’s goals.

Recommendations

Planning for the alignment between the program model, the population served, and the local context is essential to program success. It is important to clearly articulate how program components are expected to address the developmental needs of the specific population served and to develop a logic model that accurately represents the program’s focus population, program components, and approach to employer engagement. Then, it is essential that programs capture the types of data that define their focus population, youth participation in program components, and employer-engagement activities.

The formative evaluations also highlighted some common barriers to finding and maintaining employment for young people with foster care histories. These challenges can result in young people cycling through components of employment programs without becoming stably employed during program participation. Employment programs need to be aware of these barriers and identify ways of addressing them, including by partnering with local resource providers to serve young people in their program.

Programs, on their own or in partnership with local resource providers, can

provide access to concrete resources such as transportation and cell phones or laptops;
provide access to legal resources;
ensure young people know when and how to communicate their challenges to an employer;
maintain communications with the child welfare system for young people currently in care and community organizations for those who have left care to support participants in maintaining housing; and
prepare their participants for how to handle emotionally triggering or unfamiliar situations in the workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected families with young children significantly, especially as access to safe and affordable child care has been limited and parents have needed to stay home and reduce their work hours. We use data from the most recent (December 2020) wave of the Well Being and Basic Needs Survey, a nationally representative survey of nonelderly adults, to visually illustrate how families with young children were faring in regards to material hardship and the impact of increased child care responsibilities. We find that many adults in these households wanted to work more hours but could not because of child care responsibilities. We also found that adults working fewer hours to provide child care were disproportionately single, had lower incomes, were working part-time if employed, were experiencing job loss, and were experiencing serious psychological distress. These challenges are likely to persist in the coming months because young children cannot yet be vaccinated, and recent research suggests that child care options have become more expensive during the pandemic and may remain hard to find. These families need a variety of supports to ensure they have the health and economic stability necessary to thrive.

The child care subsidy system supports both parents’ ability to work and children’s healthy development by helping parents with low incomes pay for child care so they can work or go to school or training.  Yet many questions remain about equity in the subsidy system: To what extent does it consider inequities that Black and Latino families and immigrant families can face because of structural racism? Specifically, do subsidy policies and practices ensure that families facing barriers rooted in structural racism can access child care subsidies? Are these families able use those subsidies to access child care equal to that accessed by other families? Finally, what steps can policymakers take to ensure their subsidy systems are equitable?

Based on a review of the scant literature on this topic and interviews with 28 experts, this report examines these questions. It first details the range of policies and practices that shape whether families can get and keep a subsidy. These include issues such as experiences families may have in dealing with child care subsidy agencies, whether they are likely to know about availability of and eligibility for subsidies, the ease or difficulty of accessing the agency,  whether they are in a priority group to get the limited funds, the ease or difficulty of applying for subsidies and proving eligibility, and how the state authorizes hours they will pay for child care. The report then examines the policies shaping whether the subsidy system helps address inequities in access to quality child care options that meet these families’ needs. These include the fundamental challenge of relying on the private market, decisions about which providers are eligible to get subsidies, what providers have to do to be approved for payment, how much providers are actually paid, and the role of copayments and other fees. In each of these areas, the report includes detailed suggestions for actions states can take to make their subsidy systems more equitable.

The child care subsidy system supports both parents’ ability to work and children’s healthy development by helping parents with low incomes pay for child care so they can work or go to school or training. Yet many questions remain about equity in the subsidy system: To what extent does it consider inequities that Black and Latino families and immigrant families can face because of structural racism? Specifically, do subsidy policies and practices ensure that families facing barriers rooted in structural racism can access child care subsidies? Are these families able use those subsidies to access child care equal to that accessed by other families? Finally, what steps can policymakers take to ensure their subsidy systems are equitable?

Based on a review of the scant literature on this topic and interviews with 28 experts, this executive summary highlights the key findings from a longer report that examines these questions. It first considers the range of policies and practices that shape whether families can get and keep a subsidy. These include issues such as experiences families may have in dealing with child care subsidy agencies, whether they are likely to know about availability of and eligibility for subsidies, the ease or difficulty of accessing the agency, whether they are in a priority group to get the limited funds, the ease or difficulty of applying for subsidies and proving eligibility, and how the state authorizes hours they will pay for child care. The summary then examines the policies shaping whether the subsidy system helps address inequities in access to quality child care options that meet these families’ needs. These include the fundamental challenge of relying on the private market, decisions about which providers are eligible to get subsidies, what providers have to do to be approved for payment, how much providers are actually paid, and the role of copayments and other fees. The brief includes a table summarizing the challenges and potential actions that states can take to make their subsidy systems more equitable in each of these areas—all of which are described in greater detail in the full report.

This executive summary presents major findings from an in-depth review of the child care subsidy system through an equity lens: Gina Adams and Eleanor Pratt, Assessing Child Care Subsidies through an Equity Lens: A Review of Policies and Practices in the Child Care Development Fund (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2021).

Introduction

For the past two decades, states have been able to access federal funds through the John H. Chafee Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood program to support young adults leaving foster care up to their 21st birthday. Yet young people who have been in foster care continue to face challenges well after turning 21. A recent federal policy, the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) of 2018, responds to this need by giving states the option to extend the provision of Chafee-funded services to age 23.

All states with extended federal foster care (EFFC) are eligible to submit a request to extend Chafee services to age 23 to the Children’s Bureau for approval. States without EFFC, but who currently use state or other funds to provide comparable services, may also submit a request to the Children’s Bureau to extend Chafee services to age 23. However, the FFPSA did not include additional federal funds for Chafee, and states that received extension approval did not receive an increase in Chafee funding.

Study researchers spoke to a sample of states that had and had not taken the federal option to extend Chafee-funded services to age 23 to understand how states approached the extension. This brief describes how some states implemented the extension, why some eligible states did not seek approval to extend Chafee services to age 23, and common challenges states experienced in supporting older young adults. This information may be useful to states considering whether to extend Chafee services to age 23 and can be used by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to develop a learning agenda focused on supporting the extension population.

Primary Research Questions

What influences states’ decisions to take up the extension or not?
What does eligibility for services and the funding allocation look like under the extension?
What are the primary service needs of young adults between ages 21 and 23 that the extension can help states address?

Purpose

The purpose of the brief is to (1) understand why states chose or did not choose to extend Chafee-funded services to age 23, (2) explain how some states have elected to implement the extension, and (3) use this information to identify potential directions for a learning agenda focused on supporting young people aged 21 to 23 who have been in foster care.

Key Findings and Highlights

Among the sample of nine states that chose not to extend Chafee services to age 23, five were using state funds to serve young adults beyond age 21. The lack of additional federal funds was the primary reason these nine states gave for not extending eligibility. The nine states in the sample that chose to extend Chafee to age 23 mentioned several reasons for doing so, such as wanting to continue supporting young adults beyond age 21, creating a gradual transition to independence, and believing extending eligibility for services was the “right thing to do.”

Most extending states in the sample had the same eligibility criteria and service offerings for young people over and under age 21, though some states modified either their criteria or services. For example, two states in the sample offered services for young people ages 21 to 23 that were lower in intensity and had fewer requirements than Chafee-funded services for young people under age 21. And two other extending states in the sample limited their services to housing support or crisis-oriented assistance to young people ages 21 to 23.

A major challenge to serving 21- to 23-year-olds reported by states in the sample was sustaining youth engagement in services beyond the minimum required to receive financial supports. Extending states also struggled with developing age-appropriate supports for young people ages 21 to 23. Finally, the lack of additional Chafee funding for serving young people to age 23 was noted as a challenge by a couple of extending states.

Methods

Researchers from the Urban Institute interviewed representatives from nine states that had extended Chafee services and nine states (including Washington, DC) with extended federal foster care that had not extended Chafee services as of December 2019. Interviews were conducted by phone with state independent living coordinators, division directors, program managers, and policy specialists from April to August 2020. Through these interviews, the researchers sought to answer the following questions:

What influences the decision for states to take up the extension or not?
What does eligibility for services look like under the extension?
What does the funding allocation look like under the extension?
What are the primary service needs of young adults between ages 21 and 23 that the extension can help states address?
How and to what extent have states planned for and progressed toward implementation?
What are the early successes and challenges to serving young adults to age 23, and what are the proposed solutions to the challenges?

The information gathered through these interviews was summarized and used to identify possible directions for a learning agenda focused on the needs of young people served by the extension of eligibility for Chafee-funded services.

Recommendations

The Chafee program requires ACF to study innovative programs that support young people making the transition from foster care to adulthood. Prior Chafee-related studies have not included young people ages 21 to 23 as they were not eligible to receive Chafee-funded services. Hence, the extension of Chafee-funded services to age 23 calls for the development of a learning agenda to provide a strategic roadmap to incorporate this new population in future Chafee-focused studies.

The information gathered through our interviews with states suggests several lines of inquiry for a learning agenda focused on the needs of young people served by the extension of eligibility for Chafee-funded services. Potential directions for a learning agenda include an exploration of

the outcomes targeted by extending Chafee,
developmentally appropriate service models for young adults ages 21 to 23,
how to improve the collection and management of data on young adults transitioning out of foster care, and

the ways states implement federal child welfare policies.

A key question in child care policy is whether quality improvement is in tension with maintaining a diverse supply of care that meets working families’ needs. The District of Columbia provides an ideal context to study this question with its launch (in 2016) and full implementation (in 2018) of Capital Quality, a redesigned quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). Capital Quality brought new ways to measure program quality and a public-facing structure, with the goal of supporting families in making more informed decisions when deciding where to enroll their children.

This report tracks the supply, distribution, and composition of licensed child care in the District from 2016 to 2019. Findings suggest that quality improvement need not disrupt the supply nor capacity of available care. Specifically, in the District of Columbia we found the following:

The overall supply of licensed child care held steady and capacity increased from 2016 through 2019, as the new QRIS system rolled out. There were differences, however, in the number and capacity of facilities over time by care type, geography (ward), and age group.
The overall supply and capacity of facilities participating in the District’s QRIS increased slightly between 2016 and 2019. Facilities in some parts of the District were likelier to participate in QRIS than those in others.
Capital Quality shifted the distribution of quality designations. Whereas facilities often held the lowest or the highest rating possible in the previous QRIS, Capital Quality created a more even distribution of designations across its four tiers. For children receiving subsidies, facilities that served infants and toddlers, nontraditional-hour facilities, and centers, Capital Quality designations were more varied and lower, on average, than ratings under the previous system. But for child development homes, designations improved under Capital Quality.

This project will continue tracking these trends through 2023, as facilities with preliminary designations undergo additional observations and all participating facilities experience the ratings and improvement supports included in the District’s redesigned QRIS.

The American Rescue Plan Act expanded the child tax credit (CTC) to include 17-year-olds, increased the benefit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6 and to $3,000 for children between ages 6 and 17, and made the credit fully refundable so even very low-income families could claim the full value. Making these changes permanent would decrease child poverty (as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure) more than 40 percent in a typical year, meaning 4.3 million fewer children would be in poverty. Child poverty would decline by 50 percent or more in 11 states and would be below 10 percent in all but three states.

Though children face a lower risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 than adults, many families have avoided getting health care for their children during the pandemic for fear that their children could be exposed to the coronavirus. Data from the Urban Institute’s April 2021 Health Reform Monitoring Survey indicate parents’ worries about exposure to the virus continued affecting children’s receipt of care in spring 2021, even as COVID-19 case rates fell from their peak. In April 2021, nearly 1 in 5 parents (19.4 percent) reported they had delayed or forgone care for their children under age 19 in the past 12 months over concerns about exposure to the virus; nearly 1 in 10 (9.2 percent) delayed or did not get care for their children in the past 30 days for this reason. Parents with family incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level were more likely than those with higher incomes to report delaying or forgoing care for their children in the past 30 days. Not receiving needed care can adversely affect children’s health in the short and long terms.

Assistant teachers play an important role in Head Start and other early care and education (ECE) programs. This study found that assistant teachers contribute to classroom quality in the program’s day-to-day implementation. Thirty-eight assistant–lead teaching teams from Head Start preschool classrooms across 14 Head Start centers within the larger agency participated in this study. Dual-language learner (DLL) children were present in each of the 38 classes. The minimum number of DLL children in any class was 3, and the maximum was 20.

The report’s findings shed light on the everyday contributions Head Start assistant teachers make to classroom quality, measured through teacher-child interactions. Findings have implications for policymakers, education administrators, and practitioners interested in understanding the importance of assistant teachers to the quality of Head Start programming, and particularly their role in supporting the growing population of DLL children in Head Start. The findings have implications for policy development that positively supports practices that train, develop, and retain assistant teachers in the workforce pipelines of Head Start and other ECE settings.

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