Developing a Pilot Program for Child Welfare Reform

The child welfare system has historically focused on finding permanent placements for children, but provided little in terms of post-placement support that could improve outcomes for children and families. Between 2008 and 2013, The Duke Endowment committed more than $3 million for a child welfare reform pilot project in Catawba County, North Carolina, to create new, enhanced, long-term interventions to improve child well-being after children are reunited with their families or adopted. In 2014 and 2015, the Endowment committed more than $875,000 to expand the project into neighboring counties. This initiative is now closed.


Federal law mandates that departments of social services achieve three overarching goals for children in foster care: safety, permanent placement and child well-being. Agencies focus more on the immediate issues of safety and permanency, while long-term well-being falls by the wayside. Even the federal government's own review procedures largely ignore outcomes for child well-being.

Focus on Long-Term Well-Being

Children who age out of foster care at 18 are more likely to become teen parents, engage in substance abuse, become homeless, commit a crime and leave school earlier than children in the general population. And while the implications of "permanent" family placements for foster care children are assumed to be positive, there is no real evidence to prove this theory.

Changing the focus of the child welfare system to focus on and measure child well-being outcomes is a monumental challenge, but doing so could prove beneficial for children, adoptive families and the system itself.


The Duke Endowment believes that children who enter foster care require significant, long-term intervention and support — even after permanent placement — to reach their developmental potential and prepare for adulthood. It also believes that making a sustained investment in supporting children after their time in foster care will ultimately save money.

Ongoing Social Services

To explore this theory, the Endowment supported a pilot project with the Catawba County Department of Social Services to test the feasibility and viability of providing ongoing social services to foster care children after reunification with a family or adoption. Children and families receive these services from Success Coaches. By providing these services, the Endowment hoped to show improved, measurable, long-term outcomes for children.

The Duke Endowment will consider this approach successful if participating children, as they enter adulthood, are:

  • Employable
  • Educated
  • Connected (civically, spiritually and to family)
  • Living in stable housing
  • Have a medical home
  • Making appropriate and wise decisions (e.g., avoiding substance abuse, criminal activity and unwanted pregnancy)

The Duke Endowment's Child Care program area looks for these impact measures throughout its work.

Pilot Project

The Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project,

developed in collaboration with The Duke Endowment, strengthens families to help children who were in foster care.

During the four-year pilot phase, Catawba County and the National Implementation Research Network at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute worked to:

  • Provide evidence-based or best-practice services to children who exit Department of Social Services custody
  • Establish trusting relationships with families in which children are permanently placed
  • Encourage these families to voluntarily participate in the study

The Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project, developed in collaboration with the Endowment, strengthens families to help children who were in foster care.


Area of Work

  • Out-of-home care for youth

Program Area

  • Child & Family Well-Being

Grantmaking Status

This program ran from 2008 to 2014

Areas of Work

  • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

    To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

  • Out-of-home care for youth

    To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

  • Quality and safety of health care

    Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

  • Access to health care

    Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

  • Prevention

    Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

  • Academic excellence

    Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

  • Educational access and success

    Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

  • Campus and community engagement

    Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

  • Rural church development

    Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

  • Clergy leadership

    Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

  • Congregational outreach

    Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities