Over the years, federal child welfare policy has supported parent engagement and family support strategies through various Children’s Bureau funded state formula grant programs, research and demonstration discretionary grants, and technical assistance. This article highlights programs funded by two federal laws, Promoting Safe and Stable Families and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and Children’s Bureau’s efforts to test innovations and disseminate knowledge about promising and evidence-based practices regarding parent engagement and family support. The article begins with a brief legislative history and then describes several grant programs that are supported by the legislation. The article concludes with lessons learned and a discussion of the new opportunities for system changes through the Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration projects.

Key Take Away Points

  • The Children’s Bureau incorporates family engagement and family support through many of its state formula and discretionary grant programs and within the technical assistance provided for grantees.
  • There is the clear recognition and value placed on those two strategies in order to effectively work with families brought to the attention of the child welfare system.
  • Formula grants provide a relatively stable, albeit limited, source of funds for states that want to infuse parent engagement and family support into their programs.
  • The discretionary grant programs are opportunities to test and evaluate new and innovative approaches for engaging and involving parents and other family members in services.
  • Tailored technical assistance for all grantees is definitely an important federal investment.
  • New opportunities to re-design child welfare through the Child Welfare Waiver Demonstration projects, and other discretionary grant initiatives are underway and more will be learned about family engagement through these efforts.

Author Biography

Melissa Lim Brodowski is the Acting Early Childhood and Prevention Team Leader at the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect (OCAN) at the Children’s Bureau, US Department of Health and Human Services. In this capacity, she oversees several discretionary grant programs, technical assistance, and research activities related to early childhood and prevention. In addition, she leads and supports various Federal and non-Federal interagency early childhood and prevention initiatives. She has over 20 years of experience working in the field of child welfare and human services. Prior to her current position, she worked as Management Analyst at a county child welfare agency and as a counselor at a substance abuse program. She completed her Masters Degree in Social Welfare and Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1997. She recently completed her PhD from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Social Work and her dissertation was titled, “Factors Associated with Changes in Parental Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Multi-level Analysis of Parents at High Risk for Child Maltreatment.”

Liliana Hernandez serves as a program specialist with the Children’s Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families in Washington DC. Her work focuses on the title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program, the Child Welfare Waiver Demonstrations and the Family Connection Kinship Navigator Grants. She received a Masters of Social Work and a Masters of Public Policy from University at Albany. She has coauthored the following articles: “Promoting Higher Education for Youth in Foster Care: College Preparation and Campus Based Programs,” Scholarships and Supports Available to Foster Care Alumni: A Study of 12 Programs Across the US; “The Foster Youth Housing Crisis: Literature, Legislation and Looking Ahead” and an editorial piece titled: Kicking Kids out of Foster Care that appeared in Colorlines magazine in 2008.

Angelique C. Brown is a third year doctoral student at the National Catholic School of Social Services at The Catholic University of America. Her research and scholarship interests include child welfare practice and policy issues with a focus on the disproportionate representation of children of color in the child welfare system and the domestic trafficking of minor children. Her area of experience and expertise include policy analysis and program implementation. As a senior associate with ICF International, she currently provides direct support to the Division of Program Implementation at the Children’s Bureau in the Administration for Children Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Brown is an adjunct professor at both Trinity Washington University and The Catholic University of America. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Administration of Justice from Howard University and her Master of Social Work from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Christine R. Lamble is a lawyer and Masters level social worker with expertise providing public policy, regulatory and legislative analysis and development for human service programs including child welfare, mental health, intimate partner violence, housing and vocational rehabilitation. Ms. Lamble currently works as a consultant for ICF International, providing direct public policy support to the Children’s Bureau in the Administration for Children Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She received her Bachelor and Master Degrees in Social Work from the University of Kansas and her Juris Doctor from Loyola University, New Orleans. Ms. Lamble recently served as a guest lecturer for Social Policy and Program Analysis in the Master’s Degree program at the University of Kansas school of social work and currently serves as a Board Member to Friends of Infant and Toddler Services of Johnson County, Kansas.


We also want to thank other Children's Bureau staff who reviewed and provided input on the article: Joe Bock, Gail Collins, Cathy Overbaugh, Krista Thomas, and Catherine Nolan.