First-of-its-Kind Partnership Aims to Redesign Child Welfare Into Child and Family Well-Being Systems

Posted September 9, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Mom plays with her child on a slide in the playground

The U.S. Children’s Bureau, Casey Fam­i­ly Pro­grams, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and Pre­vent Child Abuse Amer­i­ca are part­ner­ing to launch a nation­al effort to prove it is pos­si­ble to fun­da­men­tal­ly rethink child wel­fare by cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for strong, thriv­ing fam­i­lies where chil­dren are free from harm.

This first-of-its-kind effort — Thriv­ing Fam­i­lies, Safer Chil­dren: A Nation­al Com­mit­ment to Well-Being — will work across the pub­lic, pri­vate and phil­an­thropic sec­tors to assist juris­dic­tions in devel­op­ing more just and equi­table sys­tems that ben­e­fit all chil­dren and fam­i­lies and break harm­ful inter­gen­er­a­tional cycles of trau­ma and poverty.

Hav­ing invest­ed heav­i­ly in ele­vat­ing the voic­es of par­ents and youth with lived expe­ri­ence in child wel­fare, we now have not only the oppor­tu­ni­ty but the oblig­a­tion to act on what they’ve told us they need to stay strong and healthy,” says Jer­ry Mil­ner, asso­ciate com­mis­sion­er for the Children’s Bureau at the U.S. Admin­is­tra­tion of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies. Our four orga­ni­za­tions are unique­ly pre­pared and dri­ven to do just that, by trans­form­ing child wel­fare into a child and fam­i­ly well-being system.”

Thriv­ing Fam­i­lies will help select juris­dic­tions move from tra­di­tion­al, reac­tive child pro­tec­tion sys­tems to sys­tems designed to proac­tive­ly sup­port child and fam­i­ly well-being and pre­vent child mal­treat­ment and unnec­es­sary fam­i­ly separation.

Every child deserves a safe, sta­ble and per­ma­nent fam­i­ly and all fam­i­lies deserve the oppor­tu­ni­ties and sup­ports to raise their chil­dren safe­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly in their own homes, com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tures,” said Dr. William C. Bell, pres­i­dent and CEO of Casey Fam­i­ly Pro­grams. This impor­tant effort will demon­strate how all sec­tors of a com­mu­ni­ty can work togeth­er to real­lo­cate resources into equi­table, hope-inspir­ing ser­vices and sup­ports that reduce the need for fos­ter care and improve the well-being of chil­dren and fam­i­lies across the nation.”

This mul­ti­year com­mit­ment will pro­vide resources and sup­port from the four part­ners and oth­er rel­e­vant child- and fam­i­ly-serv­ing fed­er­al agen­cies, juris­dic­tions, diverse com­mu­ni­ty stake­hold­ers and the pub­lic, pri­vate, faith-based and phil­an­thropic sec­tors to cre­ate more just, equi­table and humane child and fam­i­ly well-being systems.

The ini­tia­tive will be com­posed of three tiers of action:

  • Tier One — Select juris­dic­tions will serve as demon­stra­tion sites, col­lab­o­rat­ing with the initiative’s part­ners for inten­sive tech­ni­cal sup­port and resources to help real­ize their goal of cre­at­ing child and fam­i­ly well-being systems.
  • Tier Two — The effort will part­ner with juris­dic­tions to focus on pol­i­cy and sys­temic reforms at the state, trib­al or ter­ri­to­r­i­al level.
  • Tier Three — The effort will share lessons learned to help inform and inspire oth­er juris­dic­tions in launch­ing their own jour­neys in build­ing child well-being systems.

Tier One work will soon begin in California/​LA Coun­ty, Col­orado, Nebras­ka and South Car­oli­na. The effort is work­ing to iden­ti­fy and invite Tier Two jurisdictions.

Thriv­ing Fam­i­lies seek to demon­strate that inten­tion­al, coor­di­nat­ed invest­ment in a full con­tin­u­um of pre­ven­tion and robust com­mu­ni­ty-based net­works of sup­port will pro­mote over­all child and fam­i­ly well-being, equi­ty and oth­er pos­i­tive out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies. The part­ners believe it is time to act on what we know: Com­mu­ni­ty and fam­i­ly sup­port helps keep chil­dren safe and well.

Thriv­ing Fam­i­lies is root­ed in the recog­ni­tion that all fam­i­lies need help some­times and that seek­ing help is a sign of strength and resilien­cy and that we should strive to keep chil­dren safe with their fam­i­lies as opposed to safe from their fam­i­lies. The chal­lenges of the glob­al coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic have under­scored the urgency to cre­ate such systems.

Fam­i­lies are our great­est asset in ensur­ing that all chil­dren are safe and have what they need to thrive and suc­ceed — espe­cial­ly now, dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis,” said Dr. Melis­sa T. Mer­rick, pres­i­dent and CEO of Pre­vent Child Abuse Amer­i­ca. This extra­or­di­nary moment pro­vides an oppor­tu­ni­ty to shift the nar­ra­tive from child wel­fare to child well-being. We must lever­age this new way of think­ing to devel­op and deliv­er effec­tive and impact­ful com­mu­ni­ty-based resources that assist fam­i­lies in ways which strength­en and help keep them together.”

The Thriv­ing Fam­i­lies effort will include diverse com­mu­ni­ty stake­hold­ers — most impor­tant­ly fam­i­lies with lived exper­tise — to help them dis­cern and devel­op the sup­ports, resources, ser­vices and approach­es to meet the unique needs of their fam­i­lies and pro­mote the con­di­tions to help them thrive.

Work will focus on cre­at­ing and enhanc­ing net­works of com­mu­ni­ty-based sup­ports and align­ing gov­ern­ment resources to pro­vide a full pre­ven­tion con­tin­u­um that strength­ens com­mu­ni­ty pro­tec­tive fac­tors and parental pro­tec­tive capac­i­ties and mit­i­gate asso­ci­at­ed risk factors.

Now is a time to reimag­ine how we as a col­lec­tive of car­ing and sup­port­ive adults — child wel­fare prac­ti­tion­ers, par­ents, chil­dren and old­er youth, advo­cates and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners — can rede­fine the mis­sion and objec­tives of child wel­fare to help ensure all chil­dren, Black, brown and Indige­nous fam­i­lies who have been over­rep­re­sent­ed in our sys­tems, have the oppor­tu­ni­ties they need and deserve to thrive,” says San­dra Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez, vice pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Sys­tems Inno­va­tion at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. This is the moment to urgent­ly build a child and fam­i­ly well-being sys­tem that pro­pels fam­i­lies to grow and thrive togeth­er on their terms.”

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