Joan Smith: insights Interview Summary

insights: What do you believe are the primary messages that need to be communicated in relation to federal child welfare finance reform?


What you pay for gets measured, and what you measure gets done.  How financing is structured will determine how programs are structured. Unfortunately, this often leads to a misalignment between what is best for children and families, and what programs are actually designed and implemented.

There has to be accountability that comes along with change.  More local and state spending usually means more flexible systems, and that is good because there is more room to test. But, flexibility must be coupled with measurement and accountability for learnings and improvements.

Waivers are stepping stones, but they are by no means the answer.  Waivers just don’t go far enough. If you know that you’ll eventually have to go back to the old way of doing things, then how far are you really willing to stray from the old system.

insights: Do you think the Title IV-E waiver program has helped or hindered reform?


Both. It has helped reform by:

Freeing up states to think about how to invest in their systems. Overall, this has worked well.

Bringing out much more information to help inform the debate on national finance reform.

Sending a message to the federal government that states want something better and are willing to take risks and try new things to get there.

Confirming that there is no one-size-fits all solution. If anything is going to work nationally, there must be room for local customization.

It has hindered reform by:

Being slow to produce learnings and evidence-based improvements. Some of the bigger states didn’t produce as much information about their tests and what really drove the change. Along the way states have learned a lot about how to structure waiver programs to pull out more learnings and demonstrate greater accountability.

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