Child Welfare

Child Welfare

Journal of Public Child Welfare, Vol. 5:145–166, 2011

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1554-8732 print/1554-8740 online

DOI: 10.1080/15548732.2011.566750

Participation and Influence in Federal Child Welfare Policymaking

HEATHER R. EDWARDS University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX, USA

Howard University, Washington, DC, USA

DAMON U. BRYANT Adaptive Assessment Services, La Place, LA, USA

TRICIA B. BENT-GOODLEY Howard University, Washington, DC, USA

Very little current empirical evidence exists to guide U.S. child wel-

fare policymaking interventions. This article builds on the knowl-

edge base to determine the factors that best predict a witness’

level of influence in federal child welfare policymaking. This con-

tent analysis of 150 randomly selected congressional child welfare

hearings testimonies from the 10-year period covered by the 106th–

110th Congresses (1999–2008) uses a binary logistic regression

model. Researchers found that witness affiliation and the Congress

in which the witness submitted testimony were significant pre-

dictors of a witness’ level of influence. The political ideology of

Congressional leadership and the committee to which the testimony

was submitted were not significantly associated with a witness’

level of influence. The article concludes with implications for re-

search and practice.

KEYWORDS child welfare, congressional hearings, political par-

ticipation, political influence, policy practice

Children and families with abuse and neglect issues need social workers to stand with them to advocate for change at the agency level. Significant change for this vulnerable population must also involve legislative advocacy.

Received: 03/03/10; accepted: 05/26/10

Address correspondence to Heather R. Edwards, School of Social Work, University of Texas at Arlington, 211 S Cooper St., Box 19129, Arlington, TX 76019, USA. E-mail: heather


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Despite the substantial benefit and primacy of legislative policy practice, very little current empirical evidence is used to guide child welfare policymaking interventions. As a result, child welfare change agents likely rely on practice wisdom generated by individual experiences. These workers would benefit from access to additional information produced through systematic inquiry of aggregated observations. This study seeks to better equip child welfare workers for legislative advocacy by providing details about the political process through analysis of empirical data from congressional child welfare hearings.

The focus of this study is a unique departure from most of the current literature informing legislative advocacy efforts. In studies of general policy practice, social welfare policy is largely underrepresented. In addition, social welfare literature related to policy practice features very few current em- pirical studies of policymaking interventions. The existing literature boasts a large body of guidance based on practice wisdom or literature reviews (Kleinkauf, 1981; Mmatli, 2008; National Association of Social Workers, 1982, p. 260; Ortiz, Wirz, Semion, & Rodriguez, 2004; Patti & Dear, 1975; Roberts- DeGennaro, 1986). In addition, several social work researchers have stud- ied the types of political activities in which social workers engage (Bent- Goodley, 2003; Hamilton & Fauri, 2001; Ritter, 2007). Scholars have also conducted considerable inquiry of effective pedagogies for teaching social work students about policies and policy practice (Anderson, 2006; Anderson & Harris, 2005; Davis & Bent-Goodley, 2004; Gregory & Holloway, 2005; Scanlon, Hartnett, & Harding, 2006; Weaver & Nackerud, 2005; Weis, Cnaan, & Gal, 2005; Wolfer & Gray, 2007). Furthermore, scholars have encouraged social workers to increase their policy practice efforts (Bent-Goodley, 2003; Figueira-McDonough, 1993). Despite the wealth of knowledge in these areas, very little empirical study of social welfare policymaking exists (Weiss-Gal & Gal, 2008).

This article addresses gaps in the literature by providing (a) an overview of the U.S. child welfare system, (b) a description of the policy-making process, (c) presentation of new research, and (d) the practice and research implications of this work.


The United States child welfare system provides services that ensure the safety, permanency, and well being of children and youth (U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO], 2006). It works to accomplish this task by providing services to prevent children’s removal from their homes due to abuse or neglect, providing safe places for children to reside when they cannot safely remain in their homes, supplying services to families to de- crease or eliminate abuse and neglect risk factors, and matching children

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with permanent placements (Ashby, 2007). In fiscal year 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, 702,000 children were abused or neglected (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, 2010).

Throughout the 20th century, the federal government has become in- creasingly involved in child welfare policymaking. Prior to this time, the states were primarily responsible for crafting, monitoring, and sanctioning their own child welfare systems (Samantrai, 1992). Today, the federal gov- ernment continues to allow states and local governments a large degree of discretion, but it has provided definite guidelines and boundaries within which states are required to function (GAO, 2007). The process through which Congress constructs these mandates has clear implications for the manner in which federal, state, and local governments implement child welfare laws. The following section will discuss some of the issues created by child welfare laws.


The U.S. child welfare system has made significant improvements over the past 30 years, but it still struggles to address the country’s child abuse and neglect needs. Specifically, the policies that shape the child welfare system throughout the country do not sufficiently address the problems they target. Many policies actually exacerbate problems by causing negative unanticipated consequences. For example, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA; P.L. 105-89) decreased the amount of time that children could remain in out-of-home care with their parental rights intact. This policy intended to free children for adoption more quickly. Yet, these timelines have caused difficulties in cases with substance abuse issues because the system is ill equipped to provide adequate services to persons with substance abuse problems in a timely manner. This delay makes achieving reunification more lengthy than anticipated (Chipungu & Bent-Goodley, 2004). Delays in service initiation and inadequate services decrease reunification rates and increase the likelihood of parental rights termination (McRoy, 2004). Consequently, the law irreparably separates families who may have been able to remain together with proper supports, and increased public outlays for youth in care (Schroeder, Lemieux, & Pogue, 2008).

In addition to creating problematic outcomes, the process of child wel- fare policymaking warrants greater attention. For example, lawmakers were not satisfied with the strength of the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA, PL 103-382) because they had not witnessed an increase in adoptions. This dissatisfaction was due, in large part, to the fact that MEPA had not yet been implemented (McRoy, Mica, Freundlich,& Kroll, 2007). During the short period after the passage of MEPA and before its implementation (McRoy et al.,

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2007), members of Congress attached the Inter-Ethnic Placement Provision (IEP) to the Small Business Jobs Protection Act of 1996 (PL 104-88, Section 1808). The IEP amended MEPA to exclude race as a consideration from pre-adoptive matching altogether. Legislators may not have made the same decision had the IEP been considered in an open and deliberative process that included stakeholder input. The inconspicuous passage of IEP reinforces the need for child welfare workers to be knowledgeably and intimately involved in child welfare policymaking.


Thus far, the article has discussed some challenges apparent in child welfare policy. This section aids the reader in understanding those challenges in their political context by providing an overview of the policymaking process. This course is consistent with the work of Ritter and colleagues (2007) who aptly assert that one must understand the policymaking process in order to fully maximize opportunities to influence it.

Legislative Committees

Titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act of 1935 (P.L. 74-271) account for slightly over half of the funding for the child welfare system (GAO, 2007). As a result, major legislation related to the child welfare system stems from the Committee on Ways and Means in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Finance Committee in the Senate. These committees are two of the most influential committees in Congress because they control taxation, the main method of generating funds for operation of the nation’s government. Taxation also happens to be the fiscal engine of the Social Security Act, which guides the country’s child welfare system.

Legislative Hearings

The committee(s) or subcommittee(s) with jurisdiction over an issue may elect to hold public hearings on the proposed legislation. Hearings serve as symbolic acts to involve constituents or data gathering exercises to aid in decision-making (Brasher, 2006; Stolz, 1985; Svihula & Estes, 2007). It is important to note, that, oftentimes, congressional hearings serve as a formal venue for voicing opinions that have already been shared with members of Congress behind closed doors (Brasher, 2006). The formal process is still important. Some constituents use participation in hearings to evaluate their members of Congress. Elected officials bear this in mind during the hearings. In addition, submission of written testimony gives disenfranchised persons an opportunity to be heard.

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Key Players in the Child Welfare Policy Process

Several parties play key roles in the policy process. Obviously elected offi- cials and their staff are essential to the process. In addition, scholars, child welfare advocates, and individuals with first-hand child welfare experience are often called to testify. Furthermore, representatives of professional and advocacy organizations aid in identifying policy problems, recommending policy solutions, and motivating policy change (Baumgartner & Jones, 1991; McCool, 1998; Sabatier & Weible, 2007).


Elected officials play a necessary role within the aforementioned legislative process. Without their involvement, ideas will be unable to make the transi- tion to law. Once an issue enters the national agenda, legislative actors have exclusive access to the portions of the policy process that will determine the fate of the proposed legislation. For example, members of Congress can use their influence to help determine whether a bill will be referred to a resistant or amenable committee for consideration. Many members may also provide input related to which bills will be considered and which ones will simply languish (Baumgartner & Jones, 1991).

Despite their powerful position in the policymaking process, elected officials have difficulty creating informed child welfare policies. A prime barrier to knowledge diffusion lies in the fact that the child welfare system charged with addressing these issues is a complex amalgamation of funding streams, various social services, and multiple professions. Consequently, few policymakers take the time to familiarize themselves with these intricacies (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005).

Members charged with legislative oversight related to child maltreatment also have oversight on issues such as taxation, transportation, and trade. As a result, congressional staff is charged with maintaining a highly diverse reper- toire of knowledge about additional complex issue areas. Furthermore, child welfare does not get the same degree of attention awarded to high profile issue areas that are the subject of powerful lobbying activities (Gainsborough, 2006).

Moreover, members of Congress are ever mindful that their reelection depends on their ability to attend adequately to their constituents’ identified needs. Child welfare is not of concern to most voters unless a tragedy occurs. In such cases, the electorate wants to see something done to prevent similar instances in the future, but does not know enough about the complex child welfare system to advocate for specific or effective policy responses. Members are likely to attend to their constituents’ need for action, but, due to the limitations previously discussed, they are not likely to pursue action that requires significant knowledge acquisition (Gainsborough, 2006).

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These limitations do not mean that child welfare policy is neglected all together. Policymakers speak publicly and vehemently about society’s need to ensure the safety, permanency, and well being of abused and neglected children (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005). Such outcry is especially visible following a critical focusing event like a child death (Gainsborough, 2006; Portwood & Dodgen, 2005). Despite their interest in serving vulnerable children and families and/or serving their electorate, legislators suffer from limited time and limited knowledge of the highly complex child welfare system (Howlett, 2007; Portwood & Dodgen, 2005).

Nongovernmental Policy Advocates

Whereas elected officials have limited knowledgeof the child welfare system, limited time to spend on system issues, and limited motivation from their constituents to work extensively in this area, child welfare advocates play an important role in making up for these limitations. Nongovernmental political actors with a mission related to child welfare service or advocacy understand the factors that constrain legislators’ attention. In addition, these groups are more singularly focused on the unique needs of vulnerable children and families than legislators are or their staffs are able to be. As a result, many of them play an active role in the policy process. Specifically, advocates draw on their expertise to identify social problems, bring attention to the issues, aid in forming solutions, translate research findings to understandable language, and utilize their unique population perspective to identify potential intended and unintended policy consequences (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005).

While members of Congress are charged by the Constitution and the public to legislate on behalf of families with abuse and neglect issues, advo- cates have a shared responsibility to use their expertise and experiences to aid in the creation of informed and effective policy (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005; Teater, 2008). Members of Congress depend on these advocacy assets to validate their existing beliefs, to gain the support of other members, and to garner an understanding of unfamiliar areas (Rich, 2001). Consequently, the work between advocates and the legislative body occurs in a reciprocal fashion (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005).


The environment within which a political system exists influences the way in which it functions (Easton, 1979). The political context considered in this study identifies some system and witness characteristics that affect the policy process. This study defines witness characteristics as influence, witness affiliation, and number of previous testimony submissions. The following paragraphs discuss these characteristics in greater detail.

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System Characteristics


The party with the most members controls the agenda within its chamber of Congress (Gailmard & Jenkins, 2007). As a result, the agenda reflects the ideology of the ruling party. Typically, Republicans range from fiscally to culturally conservative. Fiscal conservatives favor less government regulation while cultural conservatives prefer governmental regulation related to moral issues like abortion. Conversely, Democrats tend to seek out government regulation in areas related to the general welfare, for example, the environ- ment, income maintenance, and education (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009; Karger & Stoesz, 2010, p. 519; Svihula, 2008). In summary, both parties may support protecting abused and neglected children but their method for doing so has a tendency to differ.


Each Congress occurs during a 2-year period. Any legislation that is intro- duced within a Congress that is not signed into law is either void or it must be reintroduced in a subsequent Congress. The time marked by each Congress also has significance because all members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of U.S. Senators have terms that begin at the start of a Congress.

Witness Characteristics


Witnesses provide hearing testimony from multiple perspectives. Witnesses can be formal members of the policy subsystem (i.e., members of Congress, bureaucrats). Witnesses can also provide input from outside of the formal political institution (i.e., service consumers, think tanks). The degree to which legislators regard the information that witnesses present is influenced by witness affiliation. For example, Larsen and colleagues (2006) found that, in hearings related to pharmacy policy, elected officials looked to pharmacy professionals rather than other groups for information. In addition, testimony presented by governmental officials tends to be more centrist than that presented by others (Weible, 2007).

Studies examining relationships between witness affiliation and policy- making have noted that the policy process can exclude or mute valuable stakeholder perspectives. In other words, all groups are not always included in discussion, and sometimes those who do participate are not regarded to the same degree as others (Blevins & Anton, 2008; Svihula, 2008). Finally, anecdotal stories tend to be more compelling when delivered by service consumers (Bryant, 2004; Teater, 2008). As a result, one does not wield

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influence solely based on the soundness of their ideas, and the groups with which one affiliates play a considerable role in determining the weight of their words.


Testimony given at congressional hearings comprises a key component of the policy process (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005; Svihula & Estes, 2007). Congres- sional hearings testimony also has utility following the passage of legislation. Members of the judicial branch use both invited and non-invited testimonies to decipher legislative intent in reviewing the law during litigation (Wechsler & Faith, 1992). Anyone may participate in legislative decision making through submission of oral or written statements (Johnson, n.d.; Portwood & Dodgen, 2005). The type of testimony submitted serves as a proxy to measure the degree of influence that the witness has with the committee holding the hearing. The two types of testimonies are those invited and those submitted without an invitation.

Committee or subcommittee staff invites organizations, experts, and citizens to submit oral testimony for hearings. Congressional committee staff invites persons to give oral testimony when staff perceives potential wit- nesses to have something relevant to convey on the issue. Democratic and Republican staff can both extend invitations, and this ensures that opposing perspectives are included in the process (Mead, 2006; Svihula & Estes, 2007). While testimony, in any form, serves to persuade and inform members of Congress, invited testimony carries more influence (Burstein, Bauldry, & Froese, 2005; Burstein & Hirsh, 2007). In addition, policy interventions employed by the most influential witnesses are likely to be the most effective (McNutt, 2006). These witnesses are likely to have more intimate knowledge of the policymaking process by function of their degree of association with elected officials. As a result, notation of influence provides guidance for selecting policy interventions.


This publication focuses on a portion of the policy process that is of particular significance to social workers and the child welfare community: federal laws. These national mandates provide the framework for federal administrative rules, state laws, local laws, and local agency policy. Through the implemen- tation process, federal agencies, state governments, local governments, and child welfare organizations interpret federal law more specifically. In doing so, each entity makes sure that they are not in contradiction with the federal guidelines. This makes federal laws the driving force behind child welfare service provision. It also makes the legislative process an intervention point at which to improve child welfare laws.

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Through systematic inquiry, this research builds on the existing knowl- edge base to explore and describe prominent political context factors in the federal child welfare policymaking process. This study will review child welfare hearing testimonies from the past five full sessions of Congress. By exploring congressional child welfare hearing testimony, this research demystifies the child welfare policymaking process, and equips child welfare workers to create informed interventions. To this end, descriptive data were used to describe the political context and witness factors present in child wel- fare policymaking. A logistic regression model was used to determine what factors best predicted a witness’ level of influence: a particular Congress, the committee holding the hearing, the dominant political ideology, or a witness’ organizational affiliation. We made the followinghypothesis: political context factors significantly predict level of influence. Study results could lead to increased use of effective political intervention strategies. Such a shift toward evidence-based policy practice will encourage policies and practices that yield better outcomes for children and families involved in the child welfare system. The following section provides a detailed discussion of the methods used to examine participation and influence in federal child welfare hearings testimonies.


This content analysis retrieved information from congressional child welfare hearings testimonies from the 10-year period covered by the 106th–110th U.S. Congresses (1999–2008). The sample consisted of testimonies from 33 hear- ings occurring between 1999 (beginning of 106th Congress) and 2008 (end of 110th Congress). These hearings received testimony from 484 witnesses (238 invited and 246 submitted). The sample included testimonies submitted for hearings related to the mainstream child welfare system overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau Administration for Children and Families that serves families with abuse and neglect issues.

Sample Selection

Using the LexisNexis Congressional database, all hearings between 1999 and 2008 connecting to the search terms foster care or child welfare were examined. These terms were used because child welfare includes the name of the system under study and foster care is a main function of the system. The child welfare system spends approximately 60% of its federal bud- get on foster care (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2007). Hearings related solely to appropriations were excluded because they involve the distribution of funds rather than substantive policy issues. Hearings regarding non-child- welfare-related issues like energy or transportation were also excluded. In

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addition, hearings solely related to the Indian Child Welfare system, and those not primarily dealing with child welfare, such as Headstart were also excluded. Furthermore, criminal acts against children are primarily funded and addressed by the criminal justice system. As a result, the hearings on these criminal issues were not included in the review.

Study Variables

The study variables include the following: (a) influence, (b) witness af- filiation, (c) number of previous testimonies, (d) Congress in which testi- mony was submitted, (e) committee to which testimony was submitted, and (f ) dominant political ideology. Each one is described below.


Testimony type serves as a proxy to measure the degree of influence that the witness has with the committee holding the hearing. There are two types of testimonies: invited and noninvited. The official hearing report produced by the Government Printing Office (GPO) indicates the type for each hearing.


Several studies have included witness affiliation as a variable (Burstein & Hirsh, 2007; Svihula & Estes, 2007; Wechsler & Faith, 1992). This investigation drew from these previous studies to create a comprehensive typology of affiliation. To assist with data analysis, each affiliation was grouped into five value categories: (a) research organizations, (b) private interest organiza- tions, (c) service consumers and private citizens, (d) service providers, and (e) government.

Research organizations were conceptualized as higher education insti- tutions and organizations with a primary mission to conduct and dissem- inate research. Private interest organizations are professional membership organizations and private organizations with a primary mission other than conducting research or providing services. Service consumers include current and former foster youth, foster parents, adoptive parents, biological parents, and kinship caregivers. Private citizens are persons who have submitted testimony on their own accord without an affiliation with a specified group. These persons have likely been directly or indirectly impacted by the child welfare system. Service providers primarily provide direct services to child welfare service consumers. Witnesses with government affiliations are mem- bers of Congress, and employees in federal or state administrative agencies. Each witness was classified based on his or her testimony introduction or an Internet search of the organization to which the witnesses belonged.

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The value categories for the Congress variable correspond to each session of Congress that occurred during the study period. These sessions are 106, 107, 108, 109, and 110. The official hearing report produced by the GPO indicates the Congress during which the hearings were held.


As stated earlier, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee have primary jurisdiction over child welfare is- sues. The Committee variable indicates the committee to which the testimony was submitted. The categories for this variable are (a) Ways and Means and (b) other. The other category includes the Senate Finance Committee; the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; the House Committee on Government Reform; and the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor, and Pensions. The Ways and Means Committee stands alone in a category because a considerable majority of the hearings were held by this committee.


The dominant political ideology variable indicates the political party leading the committee convening the hearings for which testimony was submitted. The values for this variable are Democrat and Republican. The above parties are the only two parties to have been in leadership positions from 1999–2008 due to their majority status. Websites maintained by the U.S. Senate (http:// and the U.S. House of Representatives ( house_history/partyDiv.html) provided data for this variable.

Data Collection

Data collection for this study began with downloading the reports for each hearing published by the GPO from Using a data collection form, the authors retrieved data for each testimony and then imported the contents of the data collection into the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences 17 (SPSS).

Before executing the binary logistic regression in SPSS, the researchers evaluated model assumptions. First, the researchers ensured the absence of multicollinearity, a high correlation between the independent variables, using the Phi and Cramer’s V test statistics produced by the crosstabulation function in SPSS (Abu-Bader, 2010; Tabachnick & Fidell, 2006). Bivariate comparisons of the study variables contained a correlation coefficient below .40, indicating a lack of multicollinearity. Tolerance and the variance inflator factor (VIF)

156 H. R. Edwards et al.

values of all predictors were determined to be within an acceptable range to evaluate the model.

The Pearson’s Chi-square test statistic was used from the cross tabula- tion output to determine whether significant associations existed between the criterion variable (Influence) and the predictor variables (Congress, political ideology, committee, and witness affiliation). Significant associations were found to exist only between influence and Congress and between influence and affiliation. These variables were retained for the binary logistic regression.


Preliminary Analysis

Congress held 33 hearings on child welfare issues between 1999 and 2008. Witnesses submitted 484 testimonies for these hearings. The number of testimonies per hearing ranged from 4 to 30.

During the study period, Republicans held leadership in each chamber of Congress with the exception of the Senate in the 107th Congress and the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 110th Congress. The Senate held no child welfare hearings in the 107th Congress. As a result, wit- nesses submitted 382 testimonies (78.9%) under Republican leadership and 102 (21%) under Democratic leadership. Furthermore, the House Ways and Means Committee received 397 testimonies (82%). Slightly more testimonies were submitted without invitation (N D 246, 50.8%) than were invited (N D 238, 49.2%).

The number of testimonies submitted per Congress ranged from 31 (6.4%) during the 107th Congress to 156 (32.2%) during the 108th Congress. Private interest organizations comprised the group that delivered the most testimonies (N D 218, 45%). Table 1 presents additional descriptive analyses.

This research also found that 16 groups were responsible for submitting 40% of the 484 testimonies. Table 2 contains a list of these organizations. Of these submissions, private interest organizations submitted 14.80 percent (N D 72), government entities submitted 13.20 percent (N D 64), and service consumers and private citizens submitted 12.20 percent (N D 59) of the total testimonies. It is interesting to note that all of the testimony submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Florida Department of Children and Families were invited. In another regard, no testimonies from adoptive parents and those with no organizational ties were invited.

Primary Analysis

Using the enter method, a binary logistic regression analysis was conducted to test a model predicting the probability of a witness’ level of influence

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TABLE 1 Number and Percent of Testimonies Submitted

Testimony f %

Influence No invitation 246 50.8 Invited 238 49.2

Affiliation Research organization 27 5.6 Private advocacy organization 218 45.0 Service consumers and private citizens 72 14.9 Government 120 24.8 Service provider 47 9.7

Congress 106 102 21.1 107 31 6.4 108 156 32.2 109 93 19.2 110 102 21.1

Committee Other 87 18.0 Ways and means 397 82.0

Ideology Republican 382 78.9 Democrat 102 21.1

TABLE 2 Organizations That Submitted the Greatest Amount of Testimonies

Witness organization Frequency %

Organization testimony invited (%)

Member of Congress (House D 31; Senate D 6) 37 7.6 56.76 Child Welfare League of America 20 4.1 25.00 None stated 19 3.9 0.00 Biological parent 19 3.9 18.75 Former or current foster child 13 2.7 69.23 Administration for Children and Families, HHS 11 2.3 100.00 Government Accountability Office 10 2.1 100.00 Voice for Adoption 9 1.9 11.11 National Indian Child Welfare Association 9 1.9 33.33 American Public Human Services Association 8 1.7 87.50 Adoptive parent 8 1.7 0.00 North American Council on Adoptable Children 7 1.4 42.86 National Council for Adoption 7 1.4 42.86 Prevent Child Abuse America 6 1.2 16.67 Florida Department of Children and Families 6 1.2 100.00 Children’s Defense Fund 6 1.2 50.00

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(invited D 1 and submitted without invitation D 0). In all, two out of five fac- tors were significantly associated with the dependent variable using the Chi- square test of association. These two variables were Congress and affiliation, and they were measured at the nominal level. In order to recode the variables for analysis in the logistic regression, we followed the recommendations of West, Aiken, and Krull (1996) in order to create weighted effect coded variables.

The results of the binary logistic regression reveal that three affiliation effect codes and one Congress effect code emerged as significant predictors of witness’ level of influence. The significant affiliations were research orga- nizations (�2(1) D 4.82, p < .05), consumers and citizens (�2(1) D 13.81, p < .01), and government (�2(1) D 44.25, p < .01). In other words, compared with private interest organizations, research organizations, consumers and citizens, and government affiliates have a significantly higher probability of submitting invited testimony. The 106th Congress was also a significant predictor of influence (�2(1) D 20.36, p < .01). In other words, when compared to the 108th Congress, the 107th, 109th, and 110th Congresses were not significant predictors of influence.

The results show that the overall model significantly improves the pre- diction of influence level among child welfare hearings witnesses, �2(8) D 102.127, p < .001. This model has a very good fit to the data (–2 log likelihood D 568.707, Hosmer & Lemeshow, �2(7) D 4.79, p D .686).

The results of Cox-Snell and Nagelkerke R2 indicate the model accounts for 19.1% to 25.4% of the variance in level of influence. Finally, the model correctly classified 79% of the ‘‘noninvited’’ cases and 62% of the ‘‘invited’’ cases. Overall, this model has a success rate of .71. Table 3 includes values from the statistical analysis.

TABLE 3 The Results of Logistic Regressiona,b

Factor B �2 Df p Odds ratio

Affiliation Private interest groups vs. research organization .12 4.82 1 .03* 1.13

Consumers/citizens �.32 13.81 1 .00** .73 Government .71 44.25 1 .00** 2.03 Service provider �.06 1.00 1 .32 .94

Congress 108th vs.

106 .62 20.36 1 .00** 1.85 107 .02 .08 1 .77 1.02 109 �.17 1.84 1 .18 .85 110 �.04 .09 1 .77 .96

Constant .01 .00 1 .96 1.01

aOverall model: �2(8) D 102.127, p < .001. bGoodness of fit: �2LL D 568.707; �2(7) D 4.79, p D .686.

*p < .05; **p < .01.

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The binary logistic regression featured in this study examined the factors that best predict a witness’ level of influence. In other words, the study determined which political context and witness factors best predict whether congressional staff invites witnesses to give testimony at congressional hear- ings. The present study found that these factors were witness affiliation and the Congress in which the witness submitted testimony. It was also found that the political ideology of the congressional leadership and the committee to which the testimony was submitted were not significantly associated with a witness’ level of influence. In other words, Republicans were not more likely to invite testimony than Democrats and the Ways and Means Committee was not more likely to invite testimony than other committees. Influence in congressional child welfare hearings depends on one’s affiliation and the temporal policy context. A detailed discussion of these results follows.


Testimonies submitted by government and research organizations were in- vited more often than they were uninvited. Government entities submitted invited testimonies 78.3% of the time while research organizations submit- ted invited testimonies 74.1% of the time. Meanwhile, consumer, private, and provider witnesses tended to submit more uninvited testimony than invited (75%, 61.5%, and 53.2% uninvited testimonies respectively). Of all the invited testimonies submitted during the study period, most were sub- mitted by government entities (39.5%) and private interest organizations (35.3%). These groups also submitted the most testimony overall. On the other hand, provider, consumer, and research organizations submitted 9.2, 7.6, and 8.4 percent of the overall invited testimonies, respectively. Thus, government and private entities are the most active in the federal policy- making process and the most influential.


The session of Congress in which witnesses submitted testimonies serves as a significant predictor of influence. Therefore, influence may ebb and flow over time for many child welfare policy practitioners. The presence of influence at one point does not guarantee influence at another point, and change agents must work to sustain relevancy in changing temporal contexts.

It was found that an inconsistently low number of child welfare hearings occurred in the 107th Congress. This Congress occurred from 2001–2002. This low number of hearings is likely a result of significant historical events.

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For example, the September 11, 2001 attacks and the congressional anthrax scares occurred during the aforementioned period.

Committee Holding the Hearing

The U.S. Committee on House Ways and Means was not significantly more likely to invite witnesses than the other congressional committees. However, Ways and Means held considerably more child welfare hearings than all of the other committees combined. Therefore, Ways and Means heard more invited testimony. More hearings present advocates with more opportunities to persuade decision makers. This discovery provides policy actors with a forum to target for intervention because an advocate is more likely to have an influential interaction before Ways and Means than another committee. As a result, change agents should actively monitor the Ways and Means announcements for hearings notices.

Political Ideology

The study found that Congresses led by Democrats or Republicans were not significantly more or less likely to produce hearing invitations. This instructs child welfare advocates that members of Congress from either party may seek out their expertise. In addition, change agents must not reserve their energies in anticipation of the rise of a particular party. Eight of the 10 years in this study period featured Republican majorities. Lying in wait for Democrats to resume power would have precluded several significant policy advances. It would have also delayed the discourse that lead to the passage of the Fostering Connections Act (P.L. 110-351), the most recent major child welfare law.

Furthermore, the absence of an overall difference between the numbers of hearings held in Democratic or Republican controlled Congresses demon- strates that both parties have a similar level of interest in child welfare issues. While the degree of interest is similar, one cannot assume that the content and direction of policy preferences are alike. Researchers must conduct further study to determine whether the content of information considered in the policymaking process differs based on ideology.


The measure of affiliation used in this study does not take into account the fact that witnesses have multiple affiliations. For instance, some witnesses were affiliated with a child welfare agency that is a member of the Child Wel- fare League of America. As a result, these witnesses were affiliated with a ser- vice provider and an interest group. Moreover, some former foster children were encouraged to submit testimony by a service providing organization,

Federal Policymaking 161

giving them a consumer affiliation and a service provider affilitation. Despite this limitation, the study methods advance the existing knowledge base by using witness’ primary affiliation. In addition, the study only examines a small portion of the federal child welfare policymaking process. The study does not account for administrative rulemaking, judicial review, or nongovernmental policy formation. This exclusion may also be seen as a strength because it focuses study resources on a narrow phenomena to produce rich and novel data. The results of this study provide guidance for policy practice and research related to child welfare policymaking. The following sections discuss these implications in detail.



To deliver one’s message during the policymaking process, child welfare advocates must (a) collaborate with others with multiple affiliations, (b) es- tablish relationships with Ways and Means Committee staff, and (c) duplicate the efforts of the most influential interest groups. For instance, members of Congress submitted a large amount of invited testimony. Child welfare change agents can form relationships with members who are amenable to delivering testimonies on the advocate’s behalf. Furthermore, interest groups should maintain relationships with groups with varying affiliations to ensure dissemination of their message through whatever affiliations are most influential at the time. In addition, groups should seek out relationships with Ways and Means Committee staff in an effort to increase their level of influence. Such an approach will be helpful because this committee holds the most child welfare hearings. Finally, child welfare policy actors should review the strategies used by the most influential interest groups: Child Welfare League of America, National Indian Child Welfare Association, American Public Human Services Association, North American Council on Adoptable Children, National Council for Adoption, and the Children’s Defense Fund. Emulation of these groups’ tactics may yield desirable results.


This study suggests that legislative policy interventions can be further sup- ported by research related to: (a) the presence of the frontline perspective in testimonies and (b) analysis of the content and effectiveness of testi- monies. Two known factors are: (a) frontline workers have a wide degree of discretion in implementing policies, and (b) the degree to which these policies will be implemented in accordance with the original intent depends on the degree to which frontline workers understand and agree with the policy (Murray, 2006; Vesneski, 2009). As a result, consideration of frontline perspectives in the policymaking process will likely yield better frontline

162 H. R. Edwards et al.

implementation. Therefore, child welfare researchers should study the extent to which this perspective is present in the congressional hearings discourse. Are members of Congress hearing and listening to what biological parents, foster youth, foster parents, adoptive parents, kinship caregivers, and direct service providers have to say? No adoptive parents received invitations to testify. Were any invited witnesses speaking on their behalf?

While determination of influence provides a useful tool for intervention planning, identification of effective strategies will also benefit policy practice (Hoefer & Ferguson, 2007). It is also uncertain how interest groups aim to change child welfare policies. A rhetorical analysis of the argument structure used by witnesses and an examination of the relationship between argument and subsequent legislation could aid policy actors in constructing more effective arguments.


This study sought to better inform child welfare workers about policymaking with a description of the legislative hearing process and its relationship to policymaking. Testimonies presented in the 106th through 110th Con- gresses (1999–2008) were examined to present descriptive statistics about congressional sessions, political ideology, witness affiliation, congressional committees, and witness influence. A binary logistic regression model re- vealed that affiliation and Congress were significant predictors of witness influence. While this study provides a unique picture of the child welfare policy practice process, a strong need exists for additional study. The po- tential for examination of the child welfare policymaking process to inform policy change in a proactive manner makes it a worthwhile venture for the children and families most impacted by the child welfare policymaking process.


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Heather R. Edwards, MSW, is a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is also a Roy E. Dulak Post Doctoral Fellow in Community Practice Research in the School of Social Work at Howard University.

Damon U. Bryant, PhD, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Adaptive Assessment Services in La Place, LA.

Tricia B. Bent-Goodley, PhD, MSW, is a Professor in the School of Social Work at Howard University in Washington, DC.

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