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University of Kentucky Gets Grant to Study Child Welfare Programs

University of Kentucky Gets Grant to Study Child Welfare Programs


      A national center to study privatizing the handling of child welfare cases is opening at the University of Kentucky, even though the state itself has no plans to turn over the service to outside agencies.

      The center, funded by a $5 million federal grant, will be housed at the university’s College of Social Work. The center will look at whether government or private agencies more effectively help children, says Crystal Collins-Camargo, the project director.

      As many as one-third of the states, including Illinois, Florida and Kansas, have at least partially privatized social workers’ functions. In most states, though, government child-protection agencies handle neglect and abuse investigations, Collins-Camargo says.

      “The federal government doesn’t know at this point whether it works or whether it’s less expensive,” she says. “For something as core as the safety of children, we ought to know.”

      While the center will be at the University of Kentucky, the state’s child protection officials say there are no plans to privatize case management and investigations. Instead, says Tom Emberton Jr., commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services, Kentucky is attempting to reorganize state case managers to handle workloads more effectively for state social workers.

      “It’s not something that we’re looking at,” he says. “It’s not a solid approach, and in many instances it proves to be expensive. There can also be a lack of accountability.”

      The center, through the Quality Improvement Center on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services, will investigate whether some states moved to quickly to privatize social services, Collins-Camargo says.

      The Quality Improvement Center will be funded for the next five years by the U.S. Children’s Bureau, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

      “This isn’t a pro-privatization initiative,” she says. “We are taking an objective approach.”

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