CHAMPS, which stands for Children Need Amazing Parents, is a national policy campaign to ensure bright futures for kids in foster care by promoting the highest quality parenting. The primary goal of CHAMPS is to drive improvements to foster parenting policies throughout the United States. To achieve this, we offer a policy playbook and related tools that encourage and assist policymakers in championing reforms to strengthen foster parenting in their communities.
CHAMPS partners with a wide range of organizations to increase the public’s understanding of the importance of quality foster parenting in the lives of children and to encourage policymakers at the national, state and local levels to take actions to support stable, quality foster parenting.
The coalition of partners includes parent and youth-led advocacy groups, healthcare and other youth-serving professionals, faith- and community-based organizations, American Indian/Alaska Native child welfare experts, philanthropy, legal experts and others.
CHAMPS builds on research that shows that loving, supportive families—whether birth, kin, foster or adoptive—are critical to the healthy development of all children. For children in foster care, foster parents serve as one of the primary interventions for helping children achieve better health, well-being, educational, social and economic outcomes across their life spans.
The centerpiece of CHAMPS is its policy playbook, which is grounded in research and builds on existing policy examples and best practices in the field. This second edition of the campaign’s policy playbook builds on the campaign’s first playbook, which was published in 2017, and showcases policy and practice examples that aim to inform and inspire ongoing state and tribal policy efforts to improve the lives of children and youth in foster care.
The CHAMPS policy playbook draws on powerful insights from child and adolescent development research that underscore the importance of family in child well-being. It also leverages the knowledge base generated by system reform efforts such as the Quality Parenting Initiative (see text box) as well as lessons learned from the experiences of diligent recruitment grantees and other public, private and tribal agency leaders. Importantly, the CHAMPS policy playbook reflects the perspectives of foster parents and youth themselves regarding what is needed to help children in foster care heal and thrive. Foundational principles that underpin the policies in the playbook include:
- All children need and do best in families. When a child needs foster care, quality foster parenting must be a priority.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Establishing and prioritizing effective approaches to recruiting, retaining and supporting foster parents yield better outcomes for children in foster care and can be cost-effective.
- Foster parenting has often been overlooked as a solution to achieving better results for the safety, permanency and well-being children and youth.
The Quality Parenting Initiative
The Quality Parenting Initiative, a strategy of the Youth Law Center, is an approach to strengthening foster care, refocusing on excellent parenting for all children in the child welfare system. It was launched in 2008 in Florida, and as of 2018, over 75 jurisdictions in 10 states (California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin) have adopted the QPI approach. QPI is based on five core principles:
- Excellent parenting is the most important service we can provide to children and youth in care. Children need families, not beds;
- Child development and trauma research indicates that children need constant, consistent, effective parenting to grow and reach their full potential;
- Each community must define excellent parenting for itself;
- Policy and practice must be changed to align with that definition; and
- Participants in the system are in the best position to recommend and implement that change
QPI is a philosophy and a network of sites that share information and ideas about how to improve parenting as well as recruit and retain excellent families. It is an effort to rebrand foster care by changing the expectations of and support for caregivers. When QPI is successful, caregivers have a voice. They work as a team with agency staff to support children and youth.
Source: QPI website
The Urgent Need to Prioritize Foster Parenting Policies at the State and Local Levels
Several trends are converging that make the need for quality foster parenting more urgent than ever:
Increasing foster care caseloads
News reports are filled with stories about the increase in the number of children entering and staying in foster care, driven in large part by the opioid epidemic. After years of decline, the number of children in out-of-home care increased from 397,000 in 2012 to 442,995 in 2017.2
Foster parent shortages
Many jurisdictions are experiencing a severe shortage of foster families, resulting in children sleeping in hotel rooms and child welfare offices. Contributing to this shortage is the high turnover rate among foster parents, estimated to be between 30 and 50 percent annually nationwide. Foster parents often cite inadequate support and preparation as primary reasons for quitting.
The recently enacted Family First Prevention Services Act is a fundamental shift in child welfare policy. The law emphasizes the importance of stable, supportive family-based care, including with birth and adoptive parents, kinship caregivers and foster parents. In particular, the Act seeks to curtail the inappropriate use of congregate care for children, placing new emphasis on the importance of family foster care for children and youth and seeking to remove barriers to the licensure of kin. The Act aligns with research showing that the vast majority of children in the child welfare system neither need nor benefit from congregate care and that children fare better in family settings.
Promising policy and best practice examples offer evidence of what works to make a difference
We know more now than ever before about the importance of stable, quality caregiving to the health, safety and well-being of children. The Appendix contains summaries of research supporting the CHAMPS principles and policy goals. In addition, CHAMPS has published a separate Annotated Bibliography of Research Studies.
The Importance of Policy
The CHAMPS campaign and this policy playbook emphasize policy because the critical role of foster parenting has been largely overlooked as a catalyst for driving better outcomes. There is relatively little policy at the federal, state and local levels regarding the quality of foster parenting, support and retention of foster parents and the important role that foster parents can play in the lives of birth parents. Federal law pertaining to foster care focuses on matters such as eligibility requirements for foster care maintenance payments, timelines and procedures for case review and permanency decision-making, and the like. It is left to the states and tribes to ensure quality foster parenting. State and tribal law and policy, however, are most often focused on licensing and monitoring foster parents.
CHAMPS Policy Goals
CHAMPS has identified the following six policy goals with extensive input from child welfare experts, foster parents, foster care alumni and health policy experts. These policies reflect an abundance of research on child and adolescent development that underscores the critical importance of safe, stable families to child well-being. These policies build on innovation and evidence of best practice from system reform efforts such as the Quality Parenting Initiative. Many of the policies are low or no cost. Importantly, these policy goals are child-centered and grounded in the understanding that children need and do best in loving, supportive families, including birth, kin, foster, guardianship and adoptive.
- Support relationships between birth and foster families;
- Implement data-driven recruitment and retention practices;
- Engage foster parents in decision-making;
- Provide timely access to trusted, dedicated staff and peer support to foster parents;
- Prioritize placements with family members and other family connections;
- Ensure timely access to physical and mental health services.
Organization of the Playbook
For each of the six policy goals identified above, the playbook includes a discussion of the following:
- Rationale for the policy goal;
- What the research says;
- Recommended policy approaches; and
- Examples of existing policies and programs.
CHAMPS would like to thank all of the individuals and organizations who provided assistance in the development and review of the second edition of the CHAMPS policy playbook. Please see acknowledgements here.