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The Georgia Cold Case Project


Chapter 2: The Cold Case Project Plan

Beginning January 2009, the first three months of the Georgia cold case project were devoted to hiring contractors, defining a “cold case” for purposes of the project, and developing and testing file review protocols. The next three months were devoted to selecting a random sample of cold cases for file review, and implementing the program protocol in selected study sites. A total of 214 files were reviewed in 46 counties during the eleven month period between April 2009 and February 2010. Reviews were standardized with a 20-page forms package completed on each case by a team of specially trained child welfare lawyers. The final program protocol can be summarized by the thirteen steps followed for each case review.

Defining a “Cold Case”

Concerns about the lack of national information on foster care children led to the creation of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), administered by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AFCARS includes case level information on children in foster care and children adopted under the authority of the state’s child welfare agency. Since 1995, child-specific data are reported by each state to the federal government. Both state and federal agencies use those data to monitor child welfare case outcomes. AFCARS data were used to define a foster care “cold case” for purposes of this project.

The state of Georgia was reviewed in 2007 for the second round of the federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR). One portion of the CFSR assesses state conformity with national standards on a set of four “permanency composites.” The third of these composites measures state performance in “achieving permanency for children in foster care for long periods of time.” In Georgia’s Program Improvement Plan (PIP), efforts to improve CFSR permanency composite #3 proved most difficult. Staff from J4C asked DFCS if the Cold Case Project could be used to work on improving permanency composite #3, which was readily agreed upon.

For the purposes of this study, a foster care case was defined as “cold” if it would negatively impact state conformity with CFSR permanency composite #3. Composite #3 is a weighted average of three measures: exits to permanency prior to the 18th birthday for children in care for 24 months or more; exits to permanency for children with TPR (termination of parental rights); and children emancipated who were in foster care for three years or more. Each of the three measures is formulated as a percentage ratio, with 100% representing a positive outcome. In the current study, a case was defined as “cold” if it appeared in the denominator of one or more of the three composite #3 measures and did not also appear in a numerator. That is, the “cold” cases had a negative outcome as defined by the CFSR (turning 18 while in care, exiting without permanency with all parental rights terminated, or emancipating after a foster care stay longer than three years).

A set of 4,732 foster care cases from 2007 Georgia AFCARS data were examined to develop a model to predict whether a foster care case was statistically likely to become “cold.” Among the 4,732 cases, 55% met the

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