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Child Welfare Privatization Initiatives - Assessing Their Implications for the Child Welfare Field and for Federal Child Welfare Programs


During the 1990s, a number of state and local child welfare agencies began experimenting with privatization of child welfare services in order to improve performance and reduce costs.  Models of privatization vary across the country, from statewide reforms to more limited initiatives.  States continue to look for best practice measures to fuse programmatic and fiscal reforms.  However, because little sound research and few outcome evaluations have been conducted on these initiatives, little information on effective practices and models is available.

To assist state and local child welfare policymakers who are considering  or implementing  privatization reform, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) undertook The Child Welfare Privatization Initiatives Project (CWPI).  This project developed a series of topical papers drawing from the experience of child welfare and other social services programs which have privatized services and is intended to provide insights about factors that should be considered when approaching or improving upon privatization efforts.


The following topical papers were produced under this contract:

  1. Assessing Site Readiness:  Considerations about Transitioning to a Privatized Child Welfare System.  This paper assists child welfare administrators in thinking through key issues about transitioning to a privatized system of service delivery.  The paper is organized around 12 questions that administrators need to ask themselves when assessing the readiness of their site to undertake this type of systems reform.
  2. Program and Fiscal Design Elements of Child Welfare Privatization Initiatives.  This paper presents a range of program and contracting models currently used by sites across the country and explains how these models have evolved over time.  It also provides information about what has been learned to date about the challenges and benefits of different approaches.
  3. Evolving Roles of Public and Private Agencies in Privatized Child Welfare Systems.  This paper presents both the challenges and lessons learned about transitioning from publicly to privately delivered services.  It provides examples of how states have divided roles and responsibilities across systems once privatization occurs.
  4. Evaluating Privatized Child Welfare Programs:  A Guide for Program Managers.  This paper provides state and local child welfare administrators a how to guide for evaluating the effectiveness of their reforms.  This includes establishing policy relevant research questions appropriate to the initiative, determining appropriate short and long term outcomes, identifying appropriate data, and selecting the best outcome evaluation design.
  5. Preparing Effective Contracts in Child Welfare Systems.  This paper describes what the field has learned about developing contracts in child welfare and related social services including writing clear expectations about services provision and performance standards, billing and payment arrangements, and standards for reporting.
  6. Ensuring Quality in Contracted Child Welfare Services.  This paper focuses on key responsibilities and challenges that public agencies often face in effectively monitoring the organizations with which they contract, including primary responsibility for different areas of contract monitoring, information system needs, commonly used performance measures, and agency appeal and grievance processes.

More Information

This project was carried out by a partnership between Planning and Learning Technologies Inc. of Arlington, VA, and The Urban Institute of Washington, DC.  It builds on knowledge gained during a national needs assessment of child welfare privatization efforts conducted for the Childrens Bureaus Quality Improvement Center for the Privatization of Child Welfare Services ( as well as research on privatization conducted in other closely related social services (