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The Quality Improvement Center on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services was established by the Administration on Children and Families in recognition of the fact that States and Tribes are striving to determine how best to provide high quality core services to families and children within the context of multiple demands and limited resources.  Some states have taken the approach of subcontracting particular functions or sections of the service array to private providers.  Some states, such as Kansas and Florida, have undergone significant reform, moving large segments of their service array into the private domain, while others have taken a much more limited approach, implementing pilot initiatives, outsourcing small segments of the service array for particular groups of clients, or particular geographic areas.  However, the extent to which this is occurring, what these partnerships look like, and best practices for managing these relationships are largely unknown.  A key function of the QIC PCW is to assess the current status of privatization of child welfare services, and to pull together evolving information and make it widely accessible.

Privatization in a Historical Context

The provision of child welfare services by private organizations is not a new concept.  In fact, in many ways, the private sector was engaged in serving families and children long before it came under the purview of governmental agencies.  Even after federal and state legislation mandated the provision of certain child welfare services as a governmental function, child welfare agencies have a long history of contracting with the private sector to meet the needs of children and families for specialized services.  An important question to be explored is how more recent trends to “privatize” core child welfare functions is different than these arrangements that have historically been in place.  A central feature seems to be the extent to which the public agency has transferred responsibility for day-to-day case management within the particular program to the private provider, and who maintains decision-making authority at critical junctures as the case progresses.

Other fields have moved into privatization of their systems much more substantially and over a longer period of time than child welfare.  For example, physical, mental and behavioral health services, as well as the educational and corrections industries have substantially more experience in public/private partnership for the provision of core services.  The field of child welfare would do well to benefit from the lessons learned from these other fields.  The QIC PCW will be focusing on what has been learned to date from three important domains:  the status of child welfare services, including what is learned through the ongoing Child and Family Service Review process; privatization reform models from other fields, such as children’s mental health; and established child welfare privatization models.

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Definition of Privatization

The field has not reached consensus on what the term “privatization” means within the child welfare context.  A number of other terms are used interchangeably, including “outsourcing,” “public/private partnership,” and “community-based care.”  The QIC PCW is engaged in working to build consensus around a definition of child welfare privatization.  Based on what has been learned to date, key components seem to be:

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