Racial Equity Impact Assessments Guide Family First Act Planning in Minnesota

Posted September 16, 2020
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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