• October 2020
  • Vol. 21, No. 7

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Children's Home Society of North Carolina to Launch the Institute for Family

Provided by Matt Anderson, M.S.W, vice president of programs and business development, Children's Home Society of North Carolina

Matt Anderson, M.S.W, published an article in the August/September edition of the Children's Bureau Express (CBX) called "A Time To Listen." The article centered on a call to action to promote and advance family well-being and commit to examine our past, listen to and learn from families, and partner with them to imagine and create a new future.  

The following is a question-and-answer piece conducted via email between Matt Anderson, vice president of programs and business development, Children's Home Society of North Carolina, and CBX on the topic of the upcoming launch of the Children's Home Society of North Carolina's Institute for Family initiative:

CBX: What are the goals of the Institute for Families?

Matt Anderson:
Children's Home Society of North Carolina is answering the Children's Bureau's call to action. We are launching the Institute for Family to build the movement toward family well-being. The Institute for Family is grounded in our mission and 118 years of working with children and families in North Carolina. We serve over 3,000 children and families every year who are involved in child welfare. We believe in our mission and we see the opportunity to more fully achieve it by extending our work beyond direct programs and beyond the borders of North Carolina. The Institute for Family will focus on addressing the broader issues and conditions that impact families across the country. Now is the time for more than just the intervention of foster care. We need new ways to prevent child maltreatment while drastically reducing our reliance on foster care. The movement toward family well-being has begun and the Institute for Family will build momentum by working with public and private sector leaders, advocates, and families.

CBX: Where will the Institute for Family focus its efforts and how will it contribute to the transformation from child welfare to family well-being?  

Matt Anderson:
The Institute will engage in a variety of activities to promote the role of family in our lives, communities, and society. Initially, we will advance a focus on family well-being by partnering with families to lift up the power of their voice and story. Together, we will educate audiences, build empathy, and compel people to act on behalf of families who are at risk of child maltreatment. Our goal is to advance policies, practices, and resource flow that will increase upfront prevention-based approaches and decrease the over reliance on foster care. We will promote parent voice being at the table to advocate for, design, and implement these new approaches. Additionally, we will build an online platform for family education content. We will help families by creating easy access to high-quality family education resources. We will create our own original content and aggregate it from other organizations. Our goal is to provide families with the resources, information, and support they need to help them parent confidently and successfully.

CBX: The Institute for Family will use storytelling to shift how we see families involved with child welfare. Why is this necessary? How can stories help us become more caring, compassionate, and humane?

Matt Anderson:
Sharing personal stories—lived expertise—is a powerful way to be heard on the matters that most profoundly impact our lives. A well-told story can inspire the kind of action that leads to lasting change. We want to partner with families who have experienced child welfare because when we listen to them, trust what their experiences teach us, and then act together, we become more compassionate and more inspired.   

This approach is grounded in our proof of concept project, where we listened to young people's stories of aging out and together we produced the documentary, From Place to Place, about America's foster care system seen through the experiences of three young adults. The film is often cited as part of the origin story of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) and the Permanency Innovation Initiative in North Carolina. One of the primary authors of FFPSA said that the youth who came to Capitol Hill to share their experiences were the catalyst to what led to FFPSA.

While From Place to Place was one story about improving the foster care experience, the Institute for Family will be an enduring initiative that tells uplifting and dignifying stories about preventing foster care in the first place.

CBX: How do you plan to follow stories through the Children's Bureau's Thriving Families initiative to illustrate how we can promote family well-being from the ground up?

Matt Anderson:
We plan to work together with Thriving Families, Rewiring, and other initiatives that are starting or already doing the work. The "seeds" of a family well-being system already exist in communities across the country. We want to spotlight these innovations and the organizations and families who are both co-creating and benefiting from them. We are considering documentary series and podcasts as vehicles to engage and educate audiences, while building campaigns that advance our collective goals. Audiences will see that while parents may need help, they love their children and want the best for their them, just like any other parent. We want to show that families have what they need to thrive and that these initiatives can address the conditions that hold them back.

CBX: How can readers be prompted to think about how they can use storytelling to improve their approaches, services, and systems?

Matt Anderson:
There are so many ways, but it starts with listening. I was talking to the leader of a large child welfare organization about the Institute for Family and he said to me, "We can talk very clearly about what we do (i.e., our programs and services), but do we know what families need us to do?" This is a powerful question. He went on to say they are filming interviews to ask families this question and will share the answers with their Board of Directors. He wants to shift the conversation from what they do to what families need them to do. Listening to families can be easy, but learning from their experiences and taking action with them to create new solutions can be challenging. However, it is a powerful way to improve our services and systems. It also demonstrates to families that we believe in them and are working toward a vision where all families thrive.   

CBX: How can individuals and organizations be involved in this emerging work?

Matt Anderson:
Stay tuned!! We have announcements coming about our launch in late October. In the meantime, we would love to hear about the work happening in local communities to advance family well-being. We want to talk to the individuals, families, and organizations who are planting the "seeds" of a family well-being system. Beyond that, in October, we will publish the Institute website, social media presence, and ways to engage. For example, we will open registration for a webinar series that we are hosting to advance the conversation about family well-being. In early 2021, we will fully launch the Institute for Family and announce more ways to get involved.

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