Department of Health and Family Services
Division of Children and Family Services
DCFS Memo Series 2000-07 /ACTION
March 13, 2000

To: Area Administrators/Assistant Area Administrators
Bureau Directors
County Departments of Community Program Directors
County Departments of Developmental Disabilities
     Services Directors
County Departments of Human Services Directors
County Departments of Social Services Directors
Licensing Chiefs/Section Chiefs
Direct Services Supervisors
Tribal Chairpersons/Human Services Facilitators
From: Susan N. Dreyfus


 The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires each state to establish Citizen Review Panels. These Panels will provide opportunities for citizens to play an integral role in assuring that States are meeting the goal of protecting children from abuse and neglect. Wisconsin will be establishing four or five panels throughout the state (including one to serve Milwaukee County). The requirements for the panels, as well as the application process for counties interested in establishing a panel, are described in this memo. Properly established, these review panels have the capacity to promote creative problem solving with the involvement of community members who represent a variety of disciplines. In addition, the annual reports of these boards have the potential for recommending needed changes and greater collaboration between the child welfare system and other service delivery systems.

General Background and Information

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), as recently reauthorized, requires each state to establish Citizen Review Panels. The purpose of these panels is to provide new opportunities for citizens to play an integral role in assuring that States are meeting their goals of protecting children from abuse and neglect. The Governor’s certification that accompanied the State CAPTA plan included a required assurance that the citizen review panels required by CAPTA would be implemented.

Although the federal requirement of citizen review of a state’s child protective services is new, citizen review panels have been around in differing formats for some time. Citizen review boards originated in the 1970’s as a result of state-based initiatives to review the status of children in the foster care system. In the early 1980’s, there was a dramatic increase in the creation of citizen review boards in response to federal P. L. 96-272, which required reviews of each child in foster care every six months.

Today, many states have established these review boards by statute or through judicial appointment. These foster care review boards have evolved as a major mechanism for case specific and system accountability and have served as effective lobbyists for foster children, as well as for state agencies. These boards have resulted in increased community awareness and ownership of child abuse and neglect issues and the strengths, weaknesses and challenges facing the child welfare services delivery system.

The Division of Children and Family Services believes that an active and creative partnership among the state, counties, tribes, private agencies and the community at large is the key to the future of public child welfare. There is a need to have the community involved if we are to be successful. We must make use of this opportunity to build a constituency for the public child welfare system and develop partnerships that share the goals of protection and permanence for children. The established panels are not intended to review policies and programs in all 72 counties, but are intended to provide a "snap shot" and give the general impact of policies and programs statewide. The Citizen Review Panels represent the community and consumer point of view. Their role is one portion of program and policy evaluation to assist the Department and counties in continually assessing the work we do and the services we provide to children and families in Wisconsin.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Citizen Review Panels is to assure that children and families in the community are provided the best possible services within the context of available resources and that children are protected from maltreatment. This mission will be achieved when the broader community has an understanding of and a voice in evaluating and assessing the child welfare system, advocating for the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the Child Protective Services system and those of the other community agencies that which support the child welfare system, promoting quality child protective services practice, advocating for the strengthening of and necessary resources for child protective services agencies, recommending and advocating for policies and procedures that promote the highest quality child protective services practices and emphasizing cross-system problem-solving involving both formal and informal support agencies, groups and individuals and the development of mutual goals and the desire to enable effective changes.

What the Federal Law Requires

  1. Each state must establish a minimum of three (3) citizen review panels.

  2. Each panel must meet, at a minimum, quarterly.

  3. Citizen review panels must evaluate the extent to which the State’s child welfare system (both at the state and local levels) is effectively fulfilling its child protection responsibilities in accordance with the State CAPTA plan by:
  1. Examining the extent to which the State CPS system is coordinated with the foster care and adoption programs established under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.

  2. Considering any reviews of child fatalities and near fatalities.

  3. Panels may review other criteria that they consider important to assure the protection of children, including the extent to which the State child protective services (CPS) system is coordinated with the foster care and adoption assistance programs.
  1. Panels must prepare and submit an annual written report. These reports must be completed no later than October 31st of each year and should, at a minimum, contain a summary of each panel’s activities and findings. Division staff will develop one report based on the panel reports for submission to the Administration for Children and Families.

The focus is on child welfare agencies in terms of monitoring (rather than the court systems, etc.), although those other systems must be considered in the context of the CPS system’s ability to perform its functions.

Goals for Citizen Review Panels

  • To help build a constituency for child welfare

  • To help educate the public and the community about critical CPS issues, practices, philosophy, etc.

  • To evaluate policy vs. practice issues

  • To evaluate resource issues/capabilities

  • To evaluate and measure the impact of the relationships/philosophies/etc. of agencies external to the child welfare system in terms of their perspectives of themselves and of the child welfare system

  • To measure success/effectiveness/outcomes

  • To utilize learning and experience to affect/guide the development of the CAPTA plan

 Expectations of Citizen Review Panels

  • To determine to what extent resources are provided to county agencies to help them meet requirements, standards, laws, etc.

  • To determine to what extent requirements, policies, laws, etc., work to achieve the ends for which they were designed.

  • To identify systemic issues that impact on the manner in which child welfare services are provided (e.g., corporation counsel has inadequate staff, policies and operations). Regional office will continue to respond to individual complaints.

  •  To review how the many agencies that provide services to children and families (e.g., mental health, alcohol and other drug abuse programs, schools, law enforcement, courts) are performing their functions relative to the child welfare system (e.g., funding, policies, operations).

  • To explore the current nature of the relationships among various agencies (courts, law enforcement, schools, etc.) and how those relationships might be improved.

  • To identify community expectations of the child welfare system, to compare those expectations with policies, practices and standards and to share with the community the parameters within which the child welfare system operates.

  • To assist county and state policy-makers in assuring the quality of the services provided by the child welfare system (e.g., policies, rules, laws and laws).

  • To utilize state standards to provide consistent information to decision-makers at both the county and state levels of what is occurring in the child welfare system: what works and what doesn’t.

Make-up of Panels (Recommended)


10 to 15


CPS system representatives
Judiciary and other legal system
       representatives (e.g., Guardians ad
       Litem, District Attorneys, Corporation
Local elected officials (mayor, county board
       supervisor, legislator, et. al.)
Community leaders
Professional organizations
Service organizations (e.g., Lions, Rotary,
Provider agency representatives (e.g.,
      medical health, mental health, AODA,
      developmental disabilities, domestic
      violence, abuse and neglect prevention)
Representatives of schools
Tribal representatives in counties in which
      tribes are located

To the extent possible, panel members should reflect the programs, agencies and organizations indicated above and should also have mediation skills, listening skills, community organizing experience, knowledge of applying for grants and other funds. Panel members should also reflect the cultural make-up of the community.

The citizen review panel requirement need not create unnecessary duplication at the state and local level. The federal law allows states to utilize existing panels (e.g., child fatality panels, foster care review panels, multidisciplinary task forces), so long as the panels perform the functions required by the law. Therefore, while each of the panels must perform all of the functions required by the statute, the panels are not limited to only these functions and the depth and breadth of the review can be determined within the state. Accordingly, there is considerable flexibility in designing these panels. It is the county agency’s decision whether or not to utilize and expand an already existing panel. This is only one option available.

Meetings Each panel must meet at least quarterly. Each panel can decide how long it will meet (e.g., half-day, full day) and whether it will meet more frequently. Where the meetings will occur will be the decision of each panel

(Note: The Department is currently researching whether these meetings must be open under Ch. 19, Stats.)

Term of Office Each person would be asked to make a 3-year commitment but there would be no limit to the length of time an individual could serve. (Initially, 1/3 of the group would be appointed to a 1-year term, 1/3 to a 2-year term, and 1/3 to a 3-year term.)
Structure The panel chairperson would be selected from and by the group
Support* Records of meetings
Preparation and dissemination of materials to the panel prior to each meeting
Preparation of an annual report
Preparation of data (from both counties and statewide) for presentation to panels
Counties can consider utilizing contracted facilitators

(*some of this is pre-determined if these will be open meetings)


  1. Wisconsin will create four citizen review panels. One of these will be the Partnership Council (or a subgroup or enhancement of that group) in Milwaukee County.

The remaining three panels will operate on a pilot basis that will include a strong evaluation component to determine the efficacy of various models. To that end, the remaining three panels will be developed using three different models:

  1. Panel #1 will be comprised of all of the counties in one DHFS region.

  2. Panel #2 will be comprised of all of the counties in one Judicial District.

  3. Panel #3 will be one county.

These three panels will be comprised of distinct counties. That is, Panel #3 will not be in the same region as Panel #1 or the same district as Panel #2. Similarly, Panel #1 and Panel #2 will be comprised of counties that are not in the same geographic areas.

  1. Panel #1 will consist of individuals recommended by each of the counties in the region subject to the make-up requirements indicated above. The county recommendations will be to the Administrator of the Division of Children and Family Services who shall, in consultation with the county agency directors and DHFS regional staff, appoint panel members from among the recommended individuals.

Panel #2 will consist of individuals recommended by each of the counties in the Judicial District subject to the make-up requirements indicated above. The county recommendations will be to the Administrator of the Division of Children and Families and to the Chief Judge of the Judicial District who shall, in consultation with the county agency directors and DHFS regional staff, jointly appoint panel members from among the recommended individuals.

Panel #3 will consist of individuals selected by the county agency director in a manner to be determined by that director. The director may wish to consider creating a new panel or utilizing an existing group, modified as necessary (such as the Family Preservation and Support Committee, fatality review panel or permanency planning review panel) to assure multidisciplinary involvement. The organization and composition of the panel shall be the county’s decision subject to the make-up requirements indicated above.

  1. The Department will provide funding to support the panels in an amount or amounts to be determined. Department regional and central office staff will provide technical assistance and consultation to each panel to the extent feasible. The applications to establish panels must include a proposed funding request from the Department.

  2. The Department will develop and provide basic training for all panel members, consisting of a review of the statutes and Department policies, the CAPTA plan and other controlling documents.

  3. Counties will provide additional information for panel members on local policies, procedures, practices, caseload standards and sizes, agency organization and other information necessary for the panel to achieve its goals and realize the mission described above.

  4. Panels will review the policies and programs in the county in which it is organized (Panel #3) or the counties within the region or district in which they are located (Panels #1 and #2).

How to Apply

Those interested in volunteering to establish a panel should complete the attached Notice of Interest indicating that it will establish a panel to meet the requirements in this memo. The Notice of Interest should be submitted no later than April 7, 2000 to:

Amy Smith
Child Protective Services Specialist
P.O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53708-8916
or FAXED to Ms. Smith at (608) 264-6750.

The Division will consult with Department regional staff and specific county agency directors for Panel #1 and regional staff, county agency directors and the Director of State Courts office for Panel #2.

We are willing to schedule an information meeting in the near future to discuss the specifics of the requirements and the panel operations if interest is expressed.

I encourage you to consider volunteering to become involved in this pilot program. I believe that this process will offer a great deal to all of us in improving the system of providing services to children and families. 

Child Protective Services Specialist
Bureau of Programs and Policies
1 West Wilson St., P.O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53708-8916
Phone: (608) 267-7732
FAX: (608) 264-6750
c: Director of State Courts
Notice of Interest in Forming a Citizen Review Panel

The Department of Children and Families, protecting children, strengthening families, building communities.