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August/September 2020Vol. 21, No. 6Prioritizing Family Well-Being and Strong Communities

Written by parents from the Birth Parent National Network

Now is the time to develop a strong and widely available community-based approach that promotes family well-being. As members of the Children's Trust Fund Alliance's Birth Parent National Network (BPNN), we are sharing our perspectives as parents on (1) what changes need to occur to create a strong community-based family strengthening approach; (2) why we need to make this change; and (3) how this approach will help children and families.

According to Kimberly Mays, a parent with lived experience with the child welfare system, "As parents, the hardest thing in the world to face is not being able to meet the needs of our children and having to ask for help. We go back and forth in our thinking—should I pick up the phone and ask for help? Will you judge me for asking? Are you going to call child protective services? All we want to do is provide for our children." Kimberly Mays lost custody of 9 of her 10 children, and they have now all reunited with her as adults. Kimberly has a master's degree in public administration and helped start the first parent partner program in Washington state.

Across the country, we already have some established community-developed prevention programs that strengthen and support families. These programs reduce the need for child welfare to remove children from their parents and communities. We need to greatly expand these effective strategies with dedicated funding. Below are some key components of this approach:

  • Establishing a culture of antiracism and inclusion that mitigates biases with continual alignment and opportunities for process improvement 
  • Having hope
  • Ensuring parent partners and families lead the cross-systems approach with strong partnerships among community-based prevention organizations, family-strengthening agencies, and an accountable child protection system
  • Including parents with lived experience in decision-making bodies that address policies and practices that impact families
  • Providing opportunities for parents with lived experiences to work as staff alongside peers and/or professionals
  • Instituting parent partner programs in every state so parents with system experience are employed to support system-involved parents
  • Ensuring resource families partner with the entire family unit (For tools that help birth and foster parents partner effectively, please visit the Children's Trust Fund Alliance website.)
  • Providing a multidisciplinary legal representation model to all families
  • Having a fully staffed workforce with reduced attrition
  • Providing ongoing training and support for child welfare staff in building protective factors and building on family strengths using a culturally informed approach

The current system too often fails to identify the strengths and needs of families it is intended to serve. Below are key reasons we must develop a broader family well-being, community-based approach:

  • Families and children have the right to resources, support, kindness, compassion, and love—the key components of success.
  • Children cannot be raised by systems. "We spend more money in the existing child welfare system keeping families apart than we do putting them back together. How can we justify paying a foster parent 18 years of monthly payments when the challenges facing the parent whose child got taken were housing, poverty, and lack of resources and support?" (April Lee, BPNN parent advocate, Pennsylvania).
  • Foster-to-adopt and concurrent planning for families prioritize the permanent separation of children from their families and communities and do not support maintaining the biological family.
  • Relatives caring for children who otherwise would be in foster care are not afforded the same resources or respect as foster/resource parents nationwide.
  • "It is very confusing for a parent to walk into court and hear everything negative about themselves—some true, some not. We should be looking at families' strengths and protective factors and reminding them that their children need them." (Alise Morrissey, BPNN parent advocate, Washington).
  • Children and families are being failed and traumatized by a system that is supposed to be promoting their well-being.        

Additionally, as stated by April Lee, a BPNN parent advocate from Pennsylvania, "The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) puts parents on a time clock that starts as soon as the state takes custody. After 15 months, you risk losing your child forever. This law results in permanently separating families who are disproportionately Black and Brown. The presumption that adoption is the solution when a family cannot reunify quickly is short sighted, especially when foster care is financially incentivized by the government and reunification of family is not....ASFA needs to be abolished because it prioritizes permanently destroying family relations when other more family-friendly options, like legal guardianship, are available."

This new strengths-based approach to families and communities will cultivate creative solutions to build resiliency, well-being, and healing for generations. Some benefits include the following:

  • Families are informed about available support and can trust that providers will have their best interests at heart.
  • Families can ask for help without fear of stigma.
  • Child care, housing, transportation, education, parenting skills development, job training, and health care will be readily available to all.
  • Families will have the autonomy to access personalized services that fit their unique needs.
  • Reunification rates and time children spend in care improve when parents work with parent partners to support and guide them through the system (Child Welfare Capacity Building Center for Courts, 2020).
  • Stable or increased funding for effective, racially equitable support and services will ensure more families' needs are met, which can keep them safe and strong.
  • Partnering with parents in planning, implementation, oversight, and evaluation of programs and strategies can ensure that community resources and supports respond specifically to the needs of families.

Alise Morrissey, a BPNN parent advocate in Washington, noted, "It is the kindness and compassion from people who saw in me what I could not see in myself. This is the power of peer mentors, of amazing parent attorneys, social workers, community agencies, and of every professional who is excited to partner with families to be the best they can be. My three children will never have to experience the pain I did because the cycle stops here...."

Action is urgently needed. Strong families are essential to strong communities. Please join us now to ensure communities have the capacity to support safe, strong, and resilient families.


Child Welfare Capacity Building Center for Courts. (2020). Outcome evaluation report for Washington state's Parents for Parents program. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.