Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Promising and Difficult Path to Accountability and Effective Partnership: New Research on Citizen Participation in Child Welfare



School of Public, Nonprofit & Health Administration


College of Community and Public Service

Date Range



There seems to be a perpetual challenge in balancing bureaucracy's focus on expertise and efficiency with democracy's pursuit of openness and inclusion. Over the past half-century, significant governmental efforts have been made to create greater opportunities for citizens to influence administrative decisions. Often, this has been done within the realm of a vast system of federal-to-state/local grants, where funding eligibility, at least partially, has been tied to the recipient jurisdiction's willingness and ability to facilitate public involvement. Such mandates require administrators to consider how inclusive to be in terms of quality of interaction and potential for public impact. Child welfare is among the fields where greater public inclusiveness has been institutionalized in this way. Federal laws such as the Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act (CAPTA) have mandated state child welfare agencies to develop a system by which citizens are involved in policy and practice evaluation. These mandates have been directive such as the mandate for Citizen Review Panel development in states or suggestive, as with the Child and Family Service Reviews inclusion of community stakeholders in their evaluation of state child welfare systems. Despite the increased federal focus on citizen participation in child welfare, there is little evidence about what variables promote authentic citizen engagement and partnership. This workshop will provide an overview of the historical context of citizen participation in public agencies, with a specific focus on public child welfare agencies. We will discuss the federal legislation mandating citizen involvement. This historical review will demonstrate how the developmental legislative narrative can shape the tone of interaction that subsequently develops between the citizen-participants and government agencies. For example, the original language in CAPTA took on a stern tone, suggesting to some that CRPs serve as watchdogs over the agency leading to an adversarial relationship between the CRPs and the child welfare agency in many states. Additionally, we will review the literature in this area with special focus on the handful of studies focusing on citizen-child welfare agency relationships. Special attention will be paid to the CRP research and professional expertise yielding practical tips as to how CRP members and administrators can work together in productive partnership. Finally, we will discuss more recent evidence which suggests that there is a movement underway in some parts of the country to re-frame the CRP narrative from an us-versus-them paradigm into a more collaborative model. This represents an important conceptual shift, and we will highlight states which are leveraging citizen power in this way. Recent research results point to both structural and procedural approaches which may be useful for child welfare administrators and CRP members to work more effectively in partnership while still complying with the federal intent for the panels. Areas for future research will be highlighted which will further explicate effective approaches to citizen participation in the child welfare system. In this time of increasing need for accountability and innovation to improve child safety, permanency and well-being the productive implementation of CRPs may be a critical strategy. The 40th anniversary of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) proves a timely reminder that Federal statute has directed states to foster citizen involvement, in particular with the creation and support of Citizen Review Panels (CRPs). Numerous challenges exist, yet some research suggests that CRPs can be a helpful device in promoting citizen participation and supporting child welfare agencies in their quest for better outcomes. Building on the Conference theme Making Meaningful Connections, this session discusses the research and offers practical tips to citizens and child welfare administrators seeking meaningful partnership. Learning Objectives: Summarize the historical and contextual background of CRPs. Assess the results of new research related to child welfare administrator and CRP partnerships across an array of states. Identify ways for CRPs and child welfare agencies to partner more effectively in the protection of children based on results of recent research.

Conference Name

National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect

Conference Location

New Orleans, LA

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