The term wicked problem was coined in the policy sciences to refer to social problems that defy ordinary solutions. Child welfare—once considered a tame problem readily solvable by placing maltreated children in foster homes—has grown increasingly wicked over the decades as research has accumulated regarding the lasting adverse consequences of child maltreatment, the healing effects of stable family relationships, and the financial and ethical necessity of grounding child welfare policy and practice in solid evidence of what works.
To build on this knowledge, the Jordan Institute for Families in collaboration with Children’s Home Society of America convened five national meetings. These Wicked Problems Institutes assembled experts, service providers, and government officials to review research, discuss potential solutions, and—ultimately—to identify eight grand challenges in child welfare. These include:
- Preventing and reversing the effects of child maltreatment on brain development;
- Harnessing the natural motivations of parents and kinship caregivers;
- Synthesizing research evidence on the effects of out-of-home care;
- Sustaining family continuity and legal permanence;
- Strengthening the voice of youth in the child welfare system;
- Linking well-being measures to administrative data on child safety and family permanence;
- Attracting private investments and using performance contracts to improve child and family services; and
- Preparing the workforce for child welfare’s future wicked problems and grand challenges.