Friday, December 22, 2006

Private vs. public foster care agencies: Who does it better?

Child welfare to be studied at UK -
Center to see whether government or private sector does it best
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie, Lexingston Herald-Leader, March 6, 2006, pg. B1.

In many states, the social worker who knocks on a door to check on a vulnerable child no longer works for the government, but for a private agency.

A national center to study the popular trend of handing over child welfare cases to private agencies is opening at the University of Kentucky with a $5 million grant from the federal government, said Crystal Collins-Camargo, the project director.

Kentucky has not privatized social workers' duties. But in Florida, Kansas, Illinois and other states, private agencies now manage child protection cases, oversee foster care and work on adoption placements -- all duties previously carried out by state social workers. The privately hired workers make recommendations to the court.

UK's College of Social Work competed with dozens of other universities and non-profit organizations across the country for the chance to investigate whether governments or private agencies are more effective at helping children, said Collins-Camargo.

"The federal government doesn't know at this point whether it works or whether it's less expensive," Collins-Camargo said. "For something as core as the safety of children, we ought to know."

As many as one-third of the states have privatized at least some social workers' functions. But in most states, investigations of neglect and abuse are still handled by government child-protection agencies, Collins-Camargo said.

Even though the study center will be based in Lexington at UK, Kentucky child protection officials say they have no plans to turn case management and investigations over to private agencies.

"It's not something that we're looking at," said Tom Emberton Jr., commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services. "It's not a solid approach, and in many instances it proves to be expensive. There can also be a lack of accountability."

However, Kentucky does contract with some private agencies to take care of children who require residential treatment. Instead of pushing for privatization, Kentucky child welfare officials are trying to reorganize state case managers to more effectively handle workloads for state social workers.

Critics of the nationwide push for privatization say that some states have moved too quickly or have failed to demand results of private agencies.

That criticism will be scrutinized by the Quality Improvement Center on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services at UK, Collins-Camargo said.

"This isn't a pro-privatization initiative," she said. "We are taking an objective approach."

One of the center's first challenges will be to pull together information on how various states are faring with privatization.

Then, beginning next fall, the center will provide money for research and demonstration projects in selected other states to see how privatization can work.

The Quality Improvement Center will be funded for the next five years by the U.S. Children's Bureau, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The information it provides will help states decide whether to move toward privatization.

A similar center at UK has been working for more than four years on a different aspect of social work: whether giving front-line social workers specific kinds of supervision and support yields better results for the children they are hired to protect.

Crystal Collins-Camargo heads the project at UK.


Post a Comment

<< Home