April 2020Vol. 21, No. 3This Is the Moment for Community
Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly
We are hearing about families and young people facing incredibly difficult situations every day. The public health crisis is exacerbating poverty and vulnerability. Families are more at risk as stress and anxiety rise and social isolation grows. Although we are working as diligently as we can to free up resources and permit new flexible federal funding, these efforts will be inadequate and too slow to meet the immediacy, depth, and breadth of need we know families are experiencing. It is deeply frustrating and deeply worrisome. The federal government will play an important part in meeting the challenge, but it cannot do it alone. We need more, and we need it sooner rather than later.
The frustration and despair can seem overwhelming. But, amid this crisis, there is reason for hope, and there are examples of individuals, communities, and organizations demonstrating the best we have among us.
It will require communities coming together to get through this, and it will require community efforts to prevent many of the challenges we are facing now from happening again. We will get through this together. We must learn from it together so we can be effective in supporting each other during times of crisis and normal times alike.
As is often the case in times of emergency and disaster, we are hearing about remarkable people doing whatever they can to help—things large and small. One example is a legal services attorney using her Amazon account to send food, diapers, formula, and other essentials to the families she represents to help them stem the tide of food insecurity while isolated and told to stay home from work. Another example is a church congregation working to find a home for a mother and her two young children following a very recent eviction—something that is made more difficult when we've been told to be socially distant and avoid contact with one another.
We have heard about community-based prevention programs finding innovative, safe ways to keep food pantries open while abiding by current public health protocols. We have heard about home visitors continuing contact with young mothers via FaceTime. We have heard of programs making sure that parents have internet connection and devices so that their children can continue attending virtual school and so the family can receive telemedicine. We have heard of judges taking the initiative to locate and begin using free teleconferencing technology to conduct critical hearings and reviews to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people in care. We have heard about family time occurring in parks with 6 feet of distance between parents and children, allowing parents to share comforting words and reassurance face to face.
We have heard about counselors and substance abuse treatment providers using technology to continue supporting the parents that have been working hard at recovery. We have heard of neighborhood listservs—existing and newly formed—that are helping to connect people in need with people who can help. And we have heard about doorstep and hallway visits, where neighbors check in on elderly neighbors and other folks who may be isolated and disconnected even under normal circumstances.
Each and every one of these efforts is making a difference. Each and every one of these efforts provides some level of comfort or support, helping people feel less alone—the stuff we all need in times like these, and some have more of this than others. These efforts reinforce family protective capacities. They are community protective factors in action. They are also the exact efforts needed to help prevent child abuse and keep families strong and resilient in normal times. We are grateful and inspired by these efforts.
We know such efforts will continue to be made by caring people all over the country.
While informal acts of kindness and individual efforts by organizations are critical and needed, there is an opportunity to come together at the federal, state, county, and local levels in more coordinated ways. The fastest and most effective efforts we have learned of are truly community driven. We are calling on community leaders from child welfare, the courts, child care, prevention partners, public health, the schools, churches, and all other critical civic and philanthropic groups to hold a virtual conference call or teleconference. All it will take is one group to step forward to organize the initial call. The initial effort could be made by a school principal, a judge, a pastor, business owner, or so many others. Organize around these five very simple questions:
- What are the needs of each section of our community?
- Where does the need exist?
- Who is currently doing something to address any of these needs and for what populations?
- What do we have to offer from our group, agency, congregation, or organization?
- What do we know how to do that could help meet these needs?
We believe you will be amazed at the skills, resources, and talents that exist within the group you assemble.
We can use this challenging moment to become the system that we all would like to be, one that is able to do what will help families individually, that is not divided into silos but one that treats families holistically and with respect, one that will keep children safe, one that will be agile and creative to support parents and help strengthen their protective capacities, and one that is fair and just. We need a system that sees ourselves in one another, a system that is rooted in kindness.
Community has always been the neglected solution. It has been overlooked, undervalued, and cast aside in this day of "doing only what works," which equates in certain sectors as only evidence-based clinical interventions. But anyone who has ever known what community is knows firsthand the power of community to protect, support, and heal.
We have never needed community more. If we can be there for vulnerable families now, we can be there for families in the future.
We can demonstrate what community makes possible now.