Racial Equity Impact Assessments Guide Family First Act Planning in Minnesota

Posted September 16, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A mom gives her infant a kiss on the forehead.

Child welfare agencies in Minnesota are using the passage of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act as an opportunity to deploy a racial equity impact assessment — in an effort to help public social services organizations determine the effects of their plans on young people of color.

In early March, the Minnesota Association of County Social Services Administrators (MACSSA) distributed such an assessment to its 87 child welfare departments. The assessment tool was modeled from a template developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), a Washington D.C.-based think tank, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Racial equity impact assessments (REIAs) are systematic examinations of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision. REIAs often appear as questionnaires, discussion guides, surveys or manuals. In some cases, REIAs are used like the fiscal impact statements often required when legislators are working to pass a new law or policy.

In Minnesota’s case, the REIA took the form of a survey that gathered information about existing prevention services and how they could be improved with the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First is a 2018 law that restructured how the federal government spends money on child welfare and put more emphasis on services that prevent the need for foster care.

MACSSA will share a confidential analysis of the survey with their membership in coming months that will illuminate gaps, opportunities and strengths of the planned services for kids of color.

“There is broad optimism around Family First. We were hoping the survey findings would give us a sense of what specific programs counties might be interested in (through Family First),” said Angie Thies, a Family First policy fellow at MACSSA. “We don’t want this to be an opportunity lost to build real and lasting change.”

Utilizing survey responses, Thies, with the support of the CSSP, took the opportunity to assess county capacity and responsiveness to Black and Indigenous families.

Thies said she hoped feedback from the assessment would support and encourage regional cooperation within counties and increase awareness among the state Department of Human Services and elected officials of the need to increase funding for primary prevention and community-based strategies. State officials assured local agencies that information collected from the survey would not be used to penalize departments.

Organizations and legislatures looking to create more equitable policies and laws should incorporate REIAs whenever possible, according to Casey’s guide to race equity.

“This is an exciting statewide, county-specific use of the tool and something that will have an immediate impact on the way organizations develop programs and provide services,” said Megan Martin, a vice president at the CSSP.

Thies worked closely with the CSSP and other partners, such as Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Foster America, to tailor the assessment survey to Minnesota’s organizational structure. In Minnesota’s supervised, county-administered system, counties and county agencies have latitude and autonomy to make programmatic decisions.

“The really important piece is that in Minnesota, there are 87 counties, and no county is the same,” Thies said. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that allows counties to have data-centered conversations, ask questions of each other and build relationships with their leadership, community and elected officials. This is how we can best serve children and families, and prevent out-of-home placement.”

Information from the survey that Minnesota developed is not available to the public, but the racial equity impact assessment template created by the CSSP is free and available to download.

Learn more about how REIAs can lead to effective policymaking

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