The Three Branch Institute




The Three Branch Institute Toolkit is now available to view and download.  

NCSL, the National Governors Association and Casey Family Programs developed a Toolkit for Success: Reforming Child Welfare Through a Three-Branch Approach to help states collaborate across the three branches of government to improve policies and practices affecting vulnerable children. The toolkit draws lessons from coordinated three-branch initiatives and contains strategies for states interested in launching similar efforts.

Each branch plays a role:

In the executive branch, the governor sets a vision and statewide priorities for agencies that manage child protection and child welfare systems.

The legislative branch develops the policy framework for child protection, appropriates funding for child welfare and provides oversight.

TThe judicial branch makes critical child protection decisions, including when children should remain at home or be placed in an alternative setting.

Several states, including Virginia and Oregon, have developed cross-branch collaborations to work on planning and implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act after recognizing that no single branch of government can reform child- and family-serving systems on its own.

There also was a webinar accompanying the release of the toolkit.  You can view an archived version of the webinar.



NEW! Virginia Family First Three-Branch Model. The Virginia Department of Social Services used a Three-Branch approach for planning and implementation around the Family First Prevention Services Act.

The Three-Branch Institute is a partnership between the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association. The Institute is designed to bring the three branches of government together to develop an action plan to address the most pressing child welfare issues. This is accomplished with a national convening of all the teams, as well as regular in-state meetings among the three branches.

The Institutes

2016-2017: Child Safety and Child Fatality - Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin

2013-2014: The Social and Emotional Well-Being of Children in Care - Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

2011-2012: Older Adolescents in Care - Colorado, Delaware, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

2009 and 2010: Safely Reducing the Numbers of Children in Foster Care - 12 states

2016-2017 Three-Branch Institute

Three Branch Institute Webinar slide 1The purpose of the 2016 - 2017 Three-Branch Institute on Improving Child Safety and Preventing Child Fatalities was to help participating states develop an integrated and comprehensive approach for improving the safety of children known to the child welfare system or at risk of child welfare involvement by aligning the work of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government. The Three-Branch Institute encouraged partnerships between child protection agencies and community partners also responsible for child welfare—including mandatory reporters (such as medical/health professionals and school personnel), law enforcement and service providers. The Three-Branch Institute was an opportunity for state teams comprising representatives from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government to identify ways to strengthen, coordinate and enhance existing safety efforts through cross-system collaboration and by leveraging a variety of federal and state funding streams to support effective practice.

The 2016 Three-Branch Institute included teams from eight states—Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin— comprised of representatives from the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to develop state strategic plans to improve the safety of children known to, or at risk of becoming involved with, child welfare agencies and those most at risk of child abuse or neglect. The teams met for national convening in 2016 and 2017.

The institute included presentations from several Commissioners from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, experts in the area of predictive analytics designed to help focus child welfare efforts on those most at risk of abuse and neglect, substance abuse and substance-exposed infants in particular, safety science used to change the culture of child welfare agencies to be more supportive of their workforce, child maltreatment prevention, child fatality review efforts and child welfare financing.

See the Three-Branch Agenda

The 8 state teams developed comprehensive action plans to bring back to their states. With the help of the Three-Branch partners as well as an expanded home team, the teams will work on an implementation of the work plan over the next 18 months. Work plans include improving screening and assessment procedures, addressing substance abuse, reviewing past child abuse fatalities to prevent future injury and death, and coordinating state agencies, among other ideas aimed at the youngest and most vulnerable children at risk of abuse or neglect.

The 2016 - 2017 Three-Branch Institute national partners held a Bidders Webinar on Friday, April 22, 2016, to help interested applicants learn about the Insitute generally, the application process, and the scope of the issue we intend to cover at the national convening on July 20-22, 2016. The webinar is available by clicking the button below.

View the Webinar

News About the 2016-2017 Three-Branch Institute

The excitement about the findings from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities and the Three Branch Institute on Improving Child Safety and Preventing Child Fatalities has been great. See several articles about these two efforts and the work being done in states:

Legislator Three-Branch Toolkit

State legislators play a critical role in the success of the Three-Branch Institute and any multi-branch effort. The ability to convene stakeholders from all branches, advocacy organizations and local programs is invaluable. As part of the continuing Three-Branch effort, NCSL has developed a Legislator Three-Branch Toolkit to assist state legislators who are thinking about trying a three-branch effort in their state with the basic logistics and the role that NCSL can play.

See the Legislator Three-Branch Toolkit

Actions Legislators Can Consider

One component of the Legislator Three-Branch Toolkit is a check-list of actions for legislators to consider, including reviewing state policies, procedures, laws and data, examining the needs across the state, enacting legislation, convening and educating stakeholders and developing and strengthening the three-branch infrastructure within the state.

Review State Policies, Procedures, and Laws
  • Request an interim study committee to examine child maltreatment safety issues
  • Review existing policies, processes, standards
  • Review screening and assessment policy and practice; identify gaps in current screening and assessment practice
  • Consider other oversight mechanisms that already exist
  • Conduct a review of existing CAPTA-related laws; child maltreatment fatality and near fatality related legislation
  • Map current structure of death review teams
  • Review reporting and testing for substance abuse among pregnant women
  • Review policies and funding mechanisms for referral to early intervention services
  • Review best practice in other states
  • Learn about promising and evidence-based practices to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen families who have contact with, but do not enter, the child welfare system
Review Data
  • Partner with your state’s child welfare agency, and state health and public health agencies, to explore child safety and child maltreatment fatality and near fatality data
  • Review child maltreatment fatalities for the past 5 years; review multidisciplinary data and information across all agencies
  • Identify key data questions to be answered; the data sources for that information and how to access that data
  • Review data sharing across agencies, including challenges and potential solutions
Examine Needs Across the State
  • Work with community providers and agencies to learn what the needs are for families at risk
  • Map existing efforts, develop new initiatives around safe plans of care or treatment for mothers and substance exposed newborns
  • Examine the service array (treatment and support services) across jurisdictions in your state
Enact Legislation
  • Enact legislation around definitions and expanded definitions of kin and relatives
  • Mandate, expand safe sleep and traumatic head injury education before discharge from the hospital for both parents and/or caregivers
  • Mandate pilot projects to test evidence-based strategies in urban and rural areas of the state and with different populations including by age, and consider piloting projects to connect with families not known to the child welfare system but deemed at-risk by other systems such as law enforcement, medical, educational
  • Require evidence-based practices
  • Mandate data sharing across jurisdictions, agencies
  • Work with your child welfare agency to plan required “responses” (which could include immediate screening and assessment, automatic services, automatic higher risk levels) to maltreatment reports on children under age 1
Convene and Educate Stakeholders
  • Hold a joint hearing, briefing for full legislative body
  • Hold a town hall meeting or a regional roundtable
  • Convene meetings with judges
  • Create a training program for judges and investigate the need for additional statutory language on training
  • Mandate, develop children’s caucuses
  • Visit courts
  • Participate in legislator “ride-a-longs” and/or spend a day with a caseworkers
  • Prepare packets with information and data for other legislators, legislative staff on related committees such as health, education, judiciary, safety, mental health
  • Develop an understanding of and strategies to address opioid and other drug addiction issues in families which affect child safety
Develop and Strengthen Three-Branch Infrastructure
  • Develop the expanded “home team”
  • Determine the appropriate long-term “home” for Three-Branch work
  • Create charter/scope for the short- and long- term three-branch work
  • Connect with Fatality Review Teams, children’s caucuses, ombudsman offices, commissions, task forces, and other oversight bodies
  • Explore funding opportunities
  • Request technical assistance to strengthen, expand your Three Branch team

About This NCSL Project

The Denver-based child welfare project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child welfare issues before Congress and the Administration. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or

Additional Resources