Guide to the Child Welfare System

Things you need to know

Below you will find some basic information on the Child Welfare System and links to resources that can help you through this difficult time. You are not alone!

A Families Guide to the Child Welfare System is designed to follow a family’s path through the child welfare system. It is not state specific and was developed through the efforts of many individuals, organizations, and groups. Each sections features real family stories and offers practical tips for families.

  • Section 1 describes what the child welfare system is all about, what it does, how families become connected to the system, and what happens after families become involved with child welfare.
  • Section 2 describes child protective services. It tells what this part of the child welfare system does and what families can expect when they get involved with child protective services.
  • Section 3 describes the service planning process used by the child welfare system. This process is meant to help everyone (you, your child, the child welfare agency, and others involved with your family) come up with a plan for making the changes that need to happen so that your child will be safe and can live in your home.
  • Section 4 explains how you and your family can participate in services in your own home and community that will help your child remain at home.
  • Section 5 discusses how out-of-home placement works. If your child needs to leave your home for a period of time, it will help you understand• where your child might live,
    • how the foster care system works, and
    • how the court hearing process you may be involved with works.
  • Section 6 discusses the dilemma that families face in some states when they cannot afford treatment services for their children on their own. Sometimes these families feel forced to turn to the child welfare system for help.
  • Section 7 discusses the kinds of services and choices for permanent placements that are available to families and children. Most children who are placed outside the home are there temporarily, and they eventually move to permanent placements. Nearly 7 out of every 10 children return to their own homes or to the homes of relatives.
  • Section 8 talks about the Indian Child Welfare Act. It describes what the Act does for tribes and for Indian children and their families.
  • Section 9 provides a summary of your rights and responsibilities as a parent when you are involved with the child welfare system.
  • Section 10 introduces some of the approaches that the federal government, states, and communities are using to make the child welfare system work better and to help families reach their goals.

Additional Resources

Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support
1808 Eye Street, NW, Fifth floor Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 202-467-4441 or 1-888-295-6727 Fax: 202-467-4499

Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support provides comprehensive information about policies, programs, and practices for retaining, recruiting, and supporting foster, adoptive, and kinship care families.

Child Welfare League of America

440 First Street, NW, Suite 310 Washington, DC 20001-2085
Phone: 202-638-2952 Fax: 202-638-4004

CWLA is an association of hundreds of public and private nonprofit agencies that assist over millions of abused and neglected children and their families each year with a wide range of services. CWLA is committed to engaging people everywhere in promoting the well-being of children, youth, and their families and protecting every child from harm.

Family Support America

20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1100 Chicago, IL 60606
Phone: 312-338-0900 Fax: 312-338-1522

Family Support America promotes family support practice as the movement to strengthen and support families by identifying and connecting individuals and organizations that have contact with families; by providing technical assistance, training and education, conferences, and publications; and by promoting the voice of families.

Family Voices

3411 Candelaria NE, Suite M Albuquerque, NM 87107
Phone: 505-872-4774 Fax: 505-872-4780

Family Voices is a national grassroots network of families and friends speaking on behalf of all children with or at risk for special health care needs. Family Voices has chapters across the country. Family Voices has a volunteer coordinator in every state and a small staff working in several locations around the country. The Web site has a list of state chapters and provides links to other organizations in each state.

Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health

1101 King Street, Suite 420 Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: 703-684-7710 Fax: 703-836-1040

This national parent-run organization emerged in 1989 from the grassroots efforts of many individual family members and supportive professionals committed to improving services and supports for children and youth with mental health needs and their families. The Federation offers effective family-driven advocacy to ensure that children’s mental health remains a highly visible, national priority. It offers leadership and resources to a nationwide network of family-run organizations. The Federation provides an opportunity for family members to work with professionals and other interested citizens to improve services for their children with emotional, behavioral, or mental disorders. The Federation represents children, youth, and families from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

National Foster Parent Association

7512 Stanich Avenue, Suite 6
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Phone: 253-853-4000 or 800-557-5238 Fax: 253-853-4001

This national nonprofit volunteer organization was created to support foster parents, agency representatives, and community people working together to improve the foster care system; to promote communication among foster parents, agencies, and organizations; and to recruit and retain foster parents.

Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department for Health and Human Services

Hubert H. Humphrey Building, Room 509F
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202
Phone: 1-800-368-1019 or 1-800-537-7697 (TDD) E-mail:

The office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination by health care and human service providers that receive funds from HHS. If you believe that someone who receives funds from HHS has discriminated against you because of your race, color, national origin, disability, age, and, in some cases, sex or religion, you may file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights OCR. You may call 202-619-0403 or go to the OCR Web site to learn how to file a complaint.

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