• October 2020
  • Vol. 21, No. 7

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Colorado Solutions Lie in Listening to Families

Written by Heather Hicks and Fikile Ryder, members of the leadership team for the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families

As parents, we are at the center of a societal transformation in Colorado. We are striving for systemic change within all communities, emphasizing shifts to support all families across our great state by utilizing a shared responsibility model with no one system carrying the weight of child maltreatment prevention. This metamorphosis is being driven by members of the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families (the Partnership), an improvement collaborative working to create the conditions for strong families and communities where children are healthy, valued, and thriving. Parents don't just have one seat at the table guiding this work, we are true partners and our voices are driving a sense of urgency to strengthen families right now.  

Our experiences as families navigating systems safely to access resources for our children are guiding conversations. Our stories advocating for programs that supported our families in those critical early years are illustrating what too many families are missing out on in too many communities. As immigrants, we have shared our fears about gaining access to and navigating the system. As mothers, we have shared stories of the most difficult moments in our lives during pregnancy and throughout the first 5 years of our children's lives, hoping to shed some light on how the health-care system is not working for us. As fathers, more and more, we are opening up about our frustrations about parenting and expressing interest to learn more about child development only to find too few spaces for us. No one parent's experience is guiding this work. We are taking the time to understand what families are experiencing and how they are feeling in order to assist them in reaching their full potential individually and as a whole family unit. 

We are proud that Colorado is one of four states chosen by the U.S. Children's Bureau, Casey Family Programs, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Prevent Child Abuse America to participate in a national effort to prove it is possible to fundamentally rethink child welfare by creating the conditions for strong, thriving families where children are free from harm. The technical assistance and resources that national partners are investing in us will enable Colorado to approach this work differently, as a county-administered human services system, by embracing local and creative solutions to prevent abuse or neglect of children before it ever occurs. Using the socioecological model to stress a shared responsibility within local and state systems—well beyond child welfare to include public health, economic development, and health-care systems—our new system shares responsibility for the prevention of child maltreatment and the well-being of children and families.

Our work in Colorado is unique because there are so many differing perspectives on how to accomplish the same goal: reducing child fatalities and child maltreatment for all children aged 0 to 5. A wide variety of community leaders, state and county partnerships, and family voices from across the state are aiming to strengthen our neighborhoods and society as a whole.

It is exciting to be a part of this work because we know we can prove that families and children will prosper living in a society that believes in fundamental equality and access to adequate health care, resources, and positive community connections. The placed emphasis on empowering families of all colors and creeds to be a part of identifying the changes that need to be made is also driving a greater insistence on equal quality care for all and need to better equip individuals with the tools they need in order to thrive. Nothing is designed for us, without us.

Together, we are focused on three key priority areas:

  • Aligning funding streams, programs, and outcomes within state and county human services, public health, and health care systems
  • Strengthening services and support throughout pregnancy and the first year of parenting
  • Changing community norms to increase social connections and community support for families

These priorities are important to us because they will reshape and redefine what it means to be a part of and live within a thriving village in Colorado. A village that relies on healthy policies, focuses on breaking down barriers, and transforming communities through empathy and understanding of the real experiences of families trying to raise children. A future where our village reaches out to us to decrease social isolation, where the services we need are known to us and easy to access, and where mothers of color can trust that they will get the health care they need so having a baby isn't life or death.

The pandemic highlighted to the world our preconception that prenatal and family systems are unstable. Our dialogue on what it means to seek and receive care, guidance, and assistance—not only during vulnerable times but also during the stable and secure moments—needs to change.

Every aspect of our present well-being is due to the lack of work spent on creating a collaborative system that we can all benefit from:

  • Colorado has one of the highest rates of low-birth-weight births in the country, at about 9 percent but as high as 26 percent in some counties.
  • A total of 27.3 percent of women felt down, depressed, or hopeless since their baby was born sometimes, often, or frequently.
  • An estimated 54,000 parents in Colorado reported that they felt aggravation from parenting usually or always in the past month. On the 2017–2018 National Survey of Children's Health, over 10,000 Colorado parents admitted that they didn't think they were handling the day-to-day demands of raising children well, and 1 in 5 parents stated they did not have anyone to turn to for day-to-day emotional support with raising children.
  • Colorado has seen a 12 percent increase in the number of children that were victims of first-time child maltreatment in the past 5 years.
  • Of Colorado child maltreatment fatalities in state fiscal year 2017–2018, 52.9 percent of children were under the age of 1 year, and 82.4 percent were under the age of 5 years.

Children's development does not have a pause button. We, too, cannot wait until this pandemic is over to change. Families need improved access to health care, social connections, mental/emotional support, therapy, affordable housing, reliable transportation, parent education, and, most importantly, positive encouragement now. Look for Colorado to shine a light on how to get everyone in the community involved in building a village in which we can all thrive by transforming our current systems and connecting with each other to create a new system that proactively supports child and family well-being.

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