2019 SIGNATURE REPORT
ON THE PATHWAY
safe children | strong families | supportive communities
Keeping families out of crisis
Across America, conversations are growing about how to ensure the safety and success of children and families. They turn on this key question: What would the child welfare system look like if we could better support families before they are in crisis, before children are separated?
Today the child welfare system in America is entering a watershed period. With greater knowledge about what works best to keep children safe, strengthen families and address the lifelong impact of trauma, leaders in government, business, nonprofits, philanthropy and communities are thinking, planning and acting in ways that can help transform our approach to child protection into a true system of child and family well-being.
From San Francisco to Hagerstown, Maryland, communities across America are on the pathway of hope for children and families.
At Casey Family Programs, we are focused on supporting public and tribal child welfare systems’ efforts to safely reduce the need for foster care. By working directly with more than 1,000 children and families, we seek to demonstrate and spread practices that can help more children have the safe, stable and permanent family they deserve. And we work to promote reinvestment of resources at the federal, tribal, state and local level into building stronger, more supportive communities and child- and family-serving systems.
This year marks an important step forward in the country’s collective effort to better invest our resources in preventing and responding to child abuse and neglect. Beginning in October, states and American Indian tribes will be able to take advantage of significant new federal funding under the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First).
Before Family First, the vast majority of federal child welfare funds were available only after a child had experienced significant abuse or neglect and was placed in foster care. This landmark law, passed in 2018, will help child welfare systems move toward better support for struggling families before a child is removed. It allows states and tribes to access new federal child welfare funds to support evidence-based mental health treatment, drug addiction treatment and in-home parenting programs. The law provides significant new resources to work with families to keep children safe.
However, realizing the full potential of Family First will require the vision and commitment of local leaders across the nation to begin shifting long-held models for responding to abuse and neglect and embracing new approaches that can build on the strength of all sectors in a community.
STRONG STEPS IN BUILDING COMMUNITIES OF HOPE
Building hope in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Family Resource Center Initiative provides parents with a range of support services, including child care, counseling, parent education, mentoring, case management and other activities that strengthen families and improve child well-being. The multisector effort brings together government, community, nonprofits, business and philanthropy to share resources and use data to track their progress.
Each of the city’s 26 resource centers offers a different level of service based on its community’s needs. Some provide basic support services, while others provide more intensive or comprehensive services, including evidence-based parenting classes, hands-on interaction with children, and referrals to other resources with case management support.
They focus on prevention and collaborating among agencies, using data to help them decide where a resource center should go to focus on early intervention, helping families before they enter the child welfare system.
The family resource centers are a critical part of the city’s strategy to keep more children safe from harm and with their families. The results have been impressive. Since 2008, the city has safely reduced the rate of children in foster care by 52 percent. Perhaps even more promising, the substantiated rate of child abuse has dropped by 60 percent.
A better way in Bester
Hagerstown is a historic manufacturing and transportation center in Maryland whose nickname, Hub City, reflects its status as a meeting point for rails and roads that connect Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia in the heart of the Great Appalachian Valley. Like many communities in America, the city of nearly 40,000 some 75 miles west of Baltimore is struggling mightily with opioids, compounding decades of manufacturing job losses and other factors that can impact the health and stability of families.
People in the city’s Bester neighborhood were looking for better ways to support families and safely reduce the high rate of children being removed from their families due to abuse or neglect. Business as usual wasn’t the answer. Instead, they chose a different pathway of hope.
From 1883 to 1927, San Mar Family and Community Services was an orphanage in Bester. The orphanage moved about 10 miles away in 1927, increasing services over time and opening a group home providing clinical care. But in 2013, CEO Keith Fanjoy attended a conference with child welfare leaders who had changed their approach. They spoke about strengthening family bonds and working with communities to identify and help at-risk families before they were in crisis.
So he proposed a radical shift in San Mar’s model: moving toward prevention instead of solely reacting after a crisis had already occurred.
The organization used data to pinpoint where the greatest needs were, and that pointed them back to Bester, where they were 90 years prior. That’s now home to the Bester Community of Hope, which brings together community partners, local businesses, government, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations to support children and families in the Bester Elementary School neighborhood.
STORIES OF HOPE
Hope comes in many faces and places. These parents, family members and advocates work to help others on their journey.
From her porch in New Iberia in rural Louisiana, Raven Sigure watches her children chase each other around the yard, playing in the warm sun. That the mother of five could enjoy this simple scene is a remarkable achievement. Her children had been removed from her care due to parental neglect, the result of Raven's 15-year struggle with drug addiction.
The story could have ended there. But it didn’t. Today, Raven works for the very system that removed her children, serving as one of the state’s first “parent partners.” The program pairs parent mentors who have successfully navigated the child welfare system with parents whose children have been removed and placed in foster care.
When a child is abused or dies, blame often falls on the child protection agency. Why wasn’t more done to protect the child? Yet child protection agencies are just one part of a child welfare system. A government agency alone can’t prevent the estimated 1,500 deaths of children each year due to abuse and neglect. Nor can it singlehandedly impact the flow of children being removed from their families and entering foster care — more than a quarter-million in 2017.
The ongoing opioid addiction crisis continues to challenge families, contributing to the recent increase of children in foster care and those living with relatives. In fact, an estimated 2.6 million children are being raised by grandparents or other extended family and close friends because parents aren’t able to take care of their children.
Michigan grandmother Jan Wagner, a 2019 Casey Excellence for Children Award winner, took in her grandson because of her daughter's addiction problems and eventually adopted her grandson. She uses her experience to help others and believes that if kinship caregivers are given the help and resources they need, they can provide their children with the future they deserve.
Family First provides new resources to support extended families like the Wagners, who provide safety, stability and love for a child and keep critical connections to shared cultures and communities.
Casey Family Programs partners with tribes and American Indian/Alaska Native communities to support their development of effective and culturally responsive child welfare services. Our Indian Child Welfare Program works on national and tribal initiatives that strengthen tribal nations’ capacity to keep children healthy, safe and connected with their families, communities and cultures.
Stephanie Benally understands the need for this connection. A 2019 Casey Excellence for Children Award winner, she serves as the Native American Specialist for Utah Foster Care and works to educate state child welfare workers, judges, attorneys and guardians ad litem on the importance of placing Native American children with kinship caregivers to ensure they have a connection to their families and culture. This is in keeping with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Pathway of hope
From San Francisco to Bester, a pathway of hope runs through communities across the nation. Communities large and small — from Salem, Oregon, to Paintsville, Kentucky; from Gainesville, Florida, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — are rethinking how they keep children safe and families strong.
This approach to building Communities of Hope requires all of us — the public, business, nonprofit, philanthropic and community sectors — to collaborate to improve the safety and success of children, families and the communities where they live. And while each community identifies its unique needs, strategies and solutions, they share a common set of values and a commitment from local leaders to think, plan and act together.
Just as every family is unique, so is each community. And this distinctiveness creates the opportunity and the freedom for partners to work together to map the best routes — the ones that meet families where they are and encourage them to move forward — on the pathway of hope.
On The Pathway of Hope:
2019 Signature Report
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On The Pathway of Hope: 2019 Signature Report