Improving Collaboration between the Child Welfare and Behavioral Health Systems in Philadelphia

Statement of Problem

Many children who enter child welfare systems, including Philadelphia’s, have a history of trauma and significant mental health needs. In Philadelphia, this means that they must be served by multiple public systems, including both the foster care system and the behavioral health system. On a city-wide level, these systems operate as separate entities, and it is often unclear how service providers should collaborate across systems. Additionally, various policies hinder efforts to share foster children’s records between the agencies, further impeding cross-system collaboration. As a result of these barriers, the behavioral health needs of children in child welfare may go unaddressed, or these children may experience delays in treatment. 

The Cross-System Collaboration for Child Well-Being Study (CCCW) seeks to enhance the collaboration between the behavioral health and child welfare systems in Philadelphia. This project aims to monitor how child welfare and behavioral health information are used between the systems, track what services children in child welfare use, and increase communication between government agencies and providers. This project also seeks to make recommendations to alleviate the barriers faced by children in child welfare as city agencies work to increase access to quality behavioral health services. CCCW plans to achieve these aims through two study arms:

  1. Conducting qualitative interviews and focus groups with foster parents, foster care social workers and mental health providers to learn more about opportunities and barriers to obtaining quality behavioral health services and current strategies these adults use to help children access the services they need.
  2. Enhancing cross-system information sharing efforts at the population-level between Philadelphia’s child welfare and behavioral health systems. This includes enlisting the help of the city agencies’ legal teams to examine patient privacy provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the law’s implications for sharing records across the child welfare and behavioral health systems. The legal and policy team leads this second study arm of this project.

Successful integration of behavioral health and child welfare data will provide constructive lessons to other child welfare systems grappling with similar challenges. The team intends to disseminate the lessons from this project both regionally and nationally to support other jurisdictions that are confronting similar challenges.

Suggested Citation

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Improving Collaboration between the Child Welfare and Behavioral Health Systems of Philadelphia [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: plug in date accessed here].