Meeting the Needs of Young Children in the Child Welfare System

Young children in the child welfare system are at risk for developmental problems because of poverty, parental substance abuse, and early trauma and neglect.  According to national data, nearly 80% of young children placed in out-of-home care were exposed prenatally to substance use. Nearly 40% were born prematurely or at low-birth weight, and over half had a chronic health condition and/or developmental delay.  Unfortunately, only a small proportion of children were identified by child welfare caseworkers as needing any early intervention services.

In 2005, Cutler Institute received funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a case study in Colorado examining the degree to which three systems that serve families and children—early intervention/preschool special education, early care and education, and child welfare—were collaborating to address the developmental needs of young children in the child welfare system. Their research demonstrated a confusion of roles among professionals in the three systems, a lack of adequate information sharing and stronger collaborations between child welfare and early intervention/ preschool special education than between child welfare and early care and education.

In 2010/2011, Cutler Institute research associates Helen Ward and Barbara Wirth developed a DVD and training curriculum demonstrating how to address the developmental needs of this population of children. Both the DVD and the curriculum are designed so that other states can customize with state-specific information. Already, these materials have attracted the attention of policymakers at the national level who are interested in disseminating training in other states.