This report and survey are a collaborative effort between Child Trends and ZERO TO THREE.

To understand what policies and services are already in place for infants and toddlers in care and at risk of entering care, as well as where the child welfare field can leverage the opportunities provided by the Family First Act, Child Trends fielded the 2019 Survey of Child Welfare Agency Policies and Practices for Infants and Toddlers in, or who are Candidates for, Foster Care. The survey, supported by ZERO TO THREE (ZTT) and the Health and Human Services Administration (HRSA), aimed to understand the current array of policies and practices intended to serve this population, and how this array may have shifted since the initial fielding of the survey in 2013. The goal of the survey and report were to identify and share innovations in policy and practice and highlight key challenges that child welfare agencies face in meeting the needs of very young children who have experienced maltreatment. By collecting and sharing such information, we hope to support agencies in strengthening their approaches to serving this population.

With the Family First Act, states have a new opportunity to use federal funds to support children who are at risk of entering foster care (also known as candidates for foster care) and their families. Healthy early development requires stable, nurturing relationships with caregivers (Center on the Developing Child, 2007). For young children who are safe and supported, staying with their families rather than entering foster care is particularly beneficial.

Although the 2019 survey was fielded early in the implementation of the Family First Act, its findings show where states have existing strengths and infrastructure to provide prevention services to families with infants and toddlers. Findings also shed light on where states need to increase their capacity to provide a robust array of services for infants and toddlers who are candidates for foster care, as well as their families.

Three overarching themes emerged from the 2019 survey.

State policies and practices for maltreated infants and toddlers and their families have not changed significantly since the 2013 survey was administered.

In 2013, we learned about many potential areas for improvement by child welfare agencies serving maltreated infants and toddlers. For example, we found that few states were implementing best practices for meeting the urgent developmental needs of infants and toddlers. These needs include greater frequency of visitation when young children are in foster care (as compared to other age groups) and the provision of training on early childhood development for adults who support young children in foster care, including agency staff, foster parents, and court personnel (Jordan, Szrom, Colvard, Cooper, & DeVooght, 2013).

In 2019, services and supports for maltreated infants and toddlers and their families remain largely the same as in 2013. For example:

  • In 2019, no states reported that policies require more frequent caseworker visits for infants and toddlers in foster care, relative to children in care from other age groups. This is consistent with findings from the 2013 survey, in which just one state reported more frequent caseworker visits.
  • In 2019, a little over half (57 percent) of states reported that the initial permanency hearing for infants and toddlers in foster care must occur within 12 months of initial removal; in 2013, 49 percent of states reported that the initial permanency hearing must occur within this timeframe.
  • Barriers remain around the implementation of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requirement for referring maltreated infants and toddlers to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C services. As in 2013, these barriers include parents, caregivers, and court personnel lacking familiarity with Part C, lacking the training needed to recognize the developmental needs of infants and toddlers, and/or being hesitant to use Part C services. In both 2013 and 2019, states reported using similar strategies to overcome barriers: leadership engagement and collaboration, delineation of roles and responsibilities, and formal information sharing.

Despite areas of strength, fewer states have implemented policies or practices to support candidates for foster care as compared to children in care. The Family First Act is an opportunity to expand services to candidates.