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Child Welfare 101

The child welfare system is a group of services designed to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safety, achieving permanency, and strengthening families to care for their children successfully. While the primary responsibility for child welfare services rests with the States, the Federal Government plays a major role in supporting States in the delivery of services through funding of programs and legislative initiatives.


The primary responsibility for implementing Federal child and family legislation rests with the Children’s Bureau, within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Children’s Bureau works with State and local agencies to develop programs that focus on preventing child abuse and neglect by strengthening families, protecting children from further maltreatment, reuniting children safely with their families, or finding permanent families for children who cannot safely return home.


Most families first become involved with their local child welfare system because of a report of suspected child abuse or neglect (sometimes called “child maltreatment”). Child maltreatment is defined as serious harm (neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse or neglect) caused to children by parents or primary caregivers, such as extended family members or babysitters. Child maltreatment also can include harm that a caregiver allows to happen or does not prevent from happening to a child.


Child welfare systems are complex, and their specific procedures vary widely by State. Child welfare systems typically:

* Receive and investigate reports of possible child abuse and neglect

* Provide services to families that need assistance in the protection and care of their children

* Arrange for children to live with kin or with foster families when they are not safe at home

* Arrange for reunification, adoption, or other permanent family connections for children leaving foster care

Why Foster Care

Short video about foster care

How Child Welfare Works

Click here to read the Federal Department of Health & Human Services, Children's Bureau fact sheet on the Child Welfare System

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