• November 2020
  • Vol. 21, No. 8

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What Does It Mean To Be All In?

For the past 3 and a half years, the Children's Bureau has made it a priority to meet with and listen to parents and young people with lived expertise. Those efforts took Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner and Special Assistant to the Associate Commissioner David Kelly to 40 states, where they were honored to meet with hundreds of parents, young people, and those who advocate on their behalf. The listening has continued virtually during the pandemic and is ongoing. The wisdom shared by individuals with lived expertise has profoundly influenced and continues to influence the Children's Bureau's vision, priorities, policies, and funding opportunities. It is the wisdom we must all seek, listen to, and act upon to transform our system.

As a way to honor and share that wisdom, Jerry Milner and David Kelly reached out to a number of experts they have come to know for insight on the question: What does it mean to be "all in" for families?

The following offers the collective voices and wisdom of those experts, people who show through words and action that they are all in for families:

"To be 'all in' for families means that we would be completely focused on giving to families the very same things that I want for my own family: unconditional love and belonging, justice, respect, inclusion, the opportunity to pursue aspirations freely, and responsive government."—Jeremy Christopher Kohomban, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer, The Children's Village

"To be all in for families starts with the core belief that most families want to take good care of their children, but sometimes overwhelming obstacles get in the way. We can go all in for families by identifying those obstacles and joining forces with a coalition of family-strengthening partners to provide needed resources to keep children safe and stabilize their families. It's simple, really. Children thrive when their families are strong, and strong families make healthier communities."—Brenda Donald, director, DC Child and Family Services Agency

"I believe to be 'all in' first becomes a decision of self. And that decision becomes infectious to those you are connected to. Permanency has to be a decision from a community, a city, a state, a government. Those who serve in this work get weary, not because they don't like the work but because there are not enough people for the work. This work requires hands and resources, neighbors and policymakers, and donors and organizations. Together, this work can and will impact each and every family that is searching for help. Let this nation be 'all In.'"—Carloe Moser, life insurance agent, independent business owner

"From Rise's perspective, being 'all in' for families and young people means working to dismantle the current child welfare system; eliminate cycles of harm, surveillance, and punishment; and create communities that invest in families and offer collective care, healing, and support. It means creating communities that are free from injustice, family regulation, and separation and a society that is cultivating new ways of preventing and addressing harm. It means making a radical commitment to ensuring that all families have what they need to live beyond survival and truly thrive."—Nora McCarthy, director, Rise Magazine 

"Keep kids safe. Nurture a healing, affirmative relationship with parents. Create opportunities for families to experience hope through incremental change. These are the tasks of child welfare. Child safety is rarely achieved when we coerce parents. On the contrary, being all in for families means that we address the issues that are important to them, while reducing their stress. Start with the basics, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Dispel the myth that we know what's best for families. Stand with parents and their children. Help them rebuild their capacity. Remind our entire profession that every encounter with a family is an opportunity for healing. And lift up the art of listening as a social justice issue."—Paul DiLorenzo, A.C.S.W., M.L.S.P., interim executive director, Philadelphia Children's Alliance, and National Authority Team, Capacity Building Center for States    

"As a former foster youth, being "all in" for families and young people means ensuring we are preventing the entry and re-entry of youth in care and those who have been waiting for forever families; bestowing that becomes a reality. We must create a family child well-being system that allows families to thrive when they need our help and, lastly, ensure our families and youth are safe, supported, and heard."—Ryan Young, national young leader, extended foster youth, and advocate, Phoenix, AZ

"Being 'all in' requires a few things. It requires creating and cultivating a place where those who work with children and families are committed to engaging in a learning and change process. The child welfare system itself must engage in self-reflection, but it is then all of us who must do that. One of our beloved elders said years ago that we need to do this with our heads and our hearts in balance. We have to develop a deep understanding of and be able to articulate the gap between what families need and what current systems/organizations are structured to provide, and then work diligently together to close those gaps. This must include all voices, especially the voices of families and young people. This process and environment requires clarity, kindness, compassion, and bravery. It also requires being fierce. Being "all in" requires us to develop a clear, wide lens and, most importantly, to see and treat each other as relatives, because we are."—Bree Bussey, M.S.W., L.G.S.W., director, Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare Studies, Department of Social Work, University of Minnesota Duluth

"Being 'all in' for families means standing with them, not in judgment of them. It means lifting their voices, listening to their wisdom, and learning from their experiences. It means letting them design the systems that will best meet their needs. And it means standing in kinship with them, in both good times and bad. When we are "all in" we don't serve to change people but serve to allow others to change us."—Vivek Sankaran, clinical professor of law, University of Michigan Law School

"Being 'all in' for families and young people means meeting every family with humility, compassion, and optimism. It means understanding that as human beings, we all share a profound need to connect to our own families, and as professionals, we must resist interventions that undermine the humanity of the children and parents we serve. Most importantly, it means knowing that parents and children are the experts on their own lives and that any effort to help must start with centering their voices and sharing our power."—Kathleen Creamer, managing attorney, Family Advocacy Unit, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

"Most parents are doing the best they can, but now, some are close to breaking points. A September 2020 poll found 60 percent of households with children have lost jobs or wages due to the pandemic. Being 'all in' for families and young people means investing in preventive solutions that support and strengthen well-being and economic mobility. As a kinship and adoptive parent, I have access to parent coaching resources in my area. Families and youth experiencing hardship will weather this storm easier if they too have access to community-based services that help them stay together and strong."—Amy Templeman, director, Within Our Reach, and co-director of Impact, Safety and Resilience, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

"Being 'all in' for families and young people means that you wholeheartedly support the idea that families and youth are the bedrock of our society—the fabric and the keystone of all that we hold near and dear, that they are the soil in which the acorn sprouts a beautiful oak tree and that they should be extended the greatest level of grace and support. It's the not-so-radical idea that pouring all of our care into these cornerstones of society will result in ripple effects throughout every system and improve everyone's quality of life and resilience."—Lino Peña-Martinez, foster youth intern, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute    

"The notion of being 'all in' is radical. It means to fully commit. And it has never been done. If we go 'all in' for families and young people, we are making an unwavering commitment to change. This means the abrupt and intentional abandonment of policies and practices that have decimated families for generations. This means investing in our communities and providing 'upstream' resources before punitive interventions. This means backing up our words with our fiscal budgets, with tangible support, with services and with equitable access. So, let's go 'all in' and not just say it, but mean it."—Jason Bragg, parent ally, Washington State

"In Allegheny County, being all in for children and families means thinking outside the box to help families BEFORE a tragedy occurs. That means developing creative prevention strategies that are nonstigmatizing, antiracist and culturally appropriate, easily accessible, and supported by the appropriate use of data. Current funding restrictions don't allow for that kind of creativity but instead force us to wait for serious child maltreatment before we can intervene. Flexible funding is a must!"— Allegheny County Pennsylvania Department of Human Services

"Families do over 90 percent of our nation's caregiving, teaching, counseling, health-care, and norm enforcement. Many lack requisite resources and skills, facing blame when they fail. Those who serve them (child welfare, teachers, law enforcement, lawyers, health care providers, etc.) may also lack necessary resources and supports.  Family supports require attention to the systemic causes of child maltreatment and the disparities and disproportionalities that affect families of color. 'All-in' strategies require partnerships with families to design and guide tailored resources for family-centered prevention, early intervention, and child protection. Systems that aid children need to have supports for their families."—Katherine Briar-Lawson, professor, National Child Welfare Workforce Institute

"Being all in means truly engaging with and listening to families and doing whatever we can to help ensure that the services and supports they receive are consistent with what they have identified they need. Being all in means challenging the racist policies and practices that have existed in the child welfare system for centuries and advocating for changes that address them."—Angelique Day, Ph.D., M.S.W., associate professor, School of Social Work, University of Washington Seattle

"I can best express what it means to be 'all in' for families and young people with one-word—inclusion. Inclusive practice denotes we have an awareness and acknowledgment of the power imbalances pervasively and destructively woven throughout systems. Inclusion must be intentional and, at times, confrontational, bringing to the forefront policies and practices that contribute significantly to family separation rather than keeping families together. Additionally, inclusion demands that those most affected have an intentional space where their voices are sought and their wisdom valued. With this in mind, let your actions confirm you are listening, inclusive, and, indeed, all in for families."—Shrounda Selivanoff, social service specialist and birth parent advocate, Washington State Office of Public Defense, Seattle, WA

"To be 'all in' means that every individual is included in discussions pertaining to their life, and every individual is able to utilize culturally specific resources. Being 'all in' means every story is given their own spotlight even if they are cut from different clothes. It's recognizing that we should not be listening to only the 'success' stories but every story because we have the most to learn from those who the system failed."—Autumn Adams, youth representative, Yakama Nation

"If we are serious about being 'all in' for families and children, we must understand that families living in poverty are almost never in that position by choice. A litany of causes, notably including decades and centuries of racism; lack of educational and employment opportunities; and disability, trauma, and inadequate governmental and social supports, prevent them from resolving the challenges of poverty on their own. It means implementing a family stability and security system that directly assists parents and children confronting poverty by providing the necessary assistance to address and resolve it—not by traumatizing them though the process of removal. We must be guided by families in identifying their concerns, requests, and needs and not substitute our own judgment. When we are 'all in,' families are able to assert their voices and help us understand how we can better serve their needs."—Jey Rajaraman, chief counsel, Legal Services of New Jersey  

"Being 'all in' is taking the necessary steps to meet the needs of all families. Being truly in social service. Taking time to increase the social capital and community supports for children and families as well as providing quality service to those who need things to go right. Being all in is showing up for the mother, father, child, kinship family member, foster care parent and ensuring that your all is given. Everyone needs a champion regardless of where they are from."—Victor Sims, case manager supervisor at a Teen Division Program at SailFuture, St. Petersburg, FL

"For the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), 'being all in' means sounding a call to advance the vision of the CWLA National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare: That 'all children will grow up safely, in loving families and supportive communities, with everything they need to flourish—and with connections to their culture, ethnicity, race, and language.' This vision is built on the belief that while the formal child welfare system has a varied set of responsibilities, the welfare of children is everyone's responsibility."—Christine James-Brown, chief executive officer, Child Welfare League of America

"Being 'all in' for families and young people means finding creative solutions to complex problems and identifying gaps in services and resources so we can build bridges to new opportunities. It means judicial leadership in systems reform efforts, collaborative partnerships between public and private entities, and coalition building between systems of care and communities. To be 'all in' means meeting every challenge as an opportunity and building capacity where there may only exist a vision. While some may say 'think outside the box,' I would venture to say being 'all in' means we deconstruct the box completely and build something anew—not simply think of what it could be."—Carlyn M. Hicks, county court judge, Hinds County Youth Court, Mississippi

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