The core of all efforts to understand permanency and reunification in the current context is careful monitoring of system performance. Analysis of administrative data is central here, but should be augmented by special studies, as indicated earlier. Of particular importance is follow-ups for reasonable periods of time of children in various permanency arrangements, follow-ups that go beyond data contained in administrative systems.
Beyond the tracking of system performance, we need studies in a number of other areas:
- How decisions are made by child welfare workers, administrators, and judges. This includes the use of risk assessment procedures and their effectiveness. It also includes an assessment of how concurrent planning is working.
- Evaluations of components of permanency and reunification practice, such as foster parent mentoring and family group conferencing.
- Evaluations of drug courts.
- Evaluations of other approaches directed at substance abuse in families in the child welfare system.
- Evaluations of specific programs for permanency and reunification, in particular, wraparound programs and community oriented programs such as Family to Family.
These studies, if conducted in the most rigorous manner possible, will provide the solid evidence necessary to make policy and program decisions that will serve the best interests of children and families.