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April 2024Vol. 25, No. 3What's Up That Stream? A Message From the Associate Commissioner

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

Recently, I had the opportunity to share a story about when I became a kin caregiver a few years ago. I mentioned that, even though I was working for the local child welfare agency, child protection professionals still came to my home to interview me and inspect the physical condition of the child. I knew they were coming, but I didn’t know when. I recalled being cooperative but feeling annoyed, slightly offended, and nervous.

Child protective services (CPS) has never knocked on my door unexpectedly for any reason. Often, I wonder how I might react if I ever felt the real fear of a parent threatened with separation from their child. Knowing what I know about myself, I’d immediately call someone I trust who has knowledge and authority. I can say for sure—without any hesitation—that my first two questions would be “What should I do?” and “What are my rights?” 

Sadly, there have been too many tragedies and too many children lost to abuse. Even one abused child is one child too many. As adults, we must do everything we can to prevent children from being harmed. This is primarily the parent’s responsibility, but it also falls to the extended family and community. As child welfare professionals, we are in a constant state of readiness. We are vigilant, even hyperalert, to prevent the next catastrophe because the previous ones never leave our minds. We commit wholeheartedly to prevention even if we sometimes struggle with what it really means.

There is no single preventative solution. Unless we understand that it must be customized, prevention can be elusive. One person may need access to SNAP, two people may need affordable housing and, another person may need affordable child care. What I need may not be what she needs. What she needs may not be what they need. For prevention to work, unfettered access to a comprehensive array of options must exist. 

Lest we forget, in our Nation, we have certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Do those rights extend to access to SNAP, housing, and child care? Or is there an invisible line in the invisible sand?

So, in a hypothetical scenario where CPS is knocking on my door, I’m asking what I should do and what my rights are now, but I’m also wondering what should have happened before this point? Should I have had access to the customized support I needed somewhere up that “stream” we always reference? What supports did I have the right to ask for? 

At the Children’s Bureau, we are working on addressing those issues. We are supporting states’ implementation of their prevention plans and supportive kinship care policies. We’ve also proposed rules that would allow federal support for legal representation to prevent foster care involvement, and we’ve put funding directly into the hands of communities that are crystal clear about what primary prevention means for them. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are listening.

As we celebrate National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let’s commit to a customized approach that treats preventative family support as an inalienable right.