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October 2023Vol. 24, No. 8Spotlight on Creating a More Equitable Child Welfare System

This issue of CBX highlights the importance of prioritizing and advancing racial equity in child welfare. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about the dream of creating an equitable family support society and the collective responsibility we all share to actualize this challenging but attainable goal. This issue also includes the latest resources and tools for child welfare professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Sweet Dream, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Sweet Dream, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

    I was happy to hear that the spotlight theme for this issue is “Creating a More Equitable Child Welfare System.” However, when I think critically about that theme, I would probably remove the word “more.” Let’s just create an equitable system. On another level, we could exchange the term “child welfare” for “family support” and just create an equitable family support system. It may feel like I’m going down a rabbit hole, but what if we replaced the word “system” with the word “society"? Let’s just create an equitable family support society. That would mean we should decide to be a society that literally puts the needs of its families first. We would each have a responsibility to ensure that families in our communities are supported. Corporations and entities with financial capital would graciously accept the responsibility to help provide families with concrete supports. Every person, entity, or agency would be required to ask, before taking any sort of action, “What does this family need?”

    Is that utopian? Am I dreaming?

    About 2 years ago, in my message titled "Equity Is a Right," I wrote about dreams—the American dream, my ancestors’ dreams, and, frankly, the deferred dream of an equitable society. Dreams are an important tool, especially with regard to achieving equity, because I’m afraid we’ll lose sight of it if we don’t dream about it. Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” I think that’s true; I also think that if there are no dreams, there is no progress.

    I want to dream, but I can’t be asleep at the wheel. So, I have to dream in a conscious state. I have to dream while awake. We all need to be awake. We have to dream with our eyes wide open about an equitable family support society. You might ask “Who’s we?” If so, I’d point you to the Kwanzaa principle of ujima—“collective work and responsibility” and “to build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.” This is the answer: we are we.

    I am proud to say that we—the Federal Government—have worked tirelessly and steadfastly to realize the dream of an equitable family support society. We aren’t where we were 2 years ago. We are supporting families in new and lifechanging ways by promulgating new regulations and policies regarding child support for children impacted by foster care, supporting kin caregivers, legal representation, reimagining Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Child Care and Development Fund, and even access to diapers. We are thinking about disaster equity and equitable recovery. We are changing the way we think about federal funding opportunities, and we are letting communities design and decide how to allocate federal funds.

    It is true that we are riding uphill (a steep one!), but we are still on the bike, headed to the summit where the dream of an equitable family support society is very real.

  • Applying an Equity Lens to Collaborative Practice

    Applying an Equity Lens to Collaborative Practice

    The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) released the brief Key Considerations for Applying an Equity Lens to Collaborative Practice. The brief is a response to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) information memorandum Equity in Action: Prioritizing and Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities, which makes clear ACF's commitment to elevating the importance of equity at all levels and lists actionable steps programs can follow to prioritize equity.

    The brief focuses on the memorandum's first recommendation, which calls on human services providers to review existing policies to assess how they affect disproportionality and disparities and revise those policies to create systems-level change. The brief provides key considerations for systems-level policy efforts and practice strategies and innovations. 

    This brief is also a companion piece that builds on the Center for Children and Family Futures (CCFF) resource Comprehensive Framework to Improve Outcomes for Families Affected by Substance Use Disorders and Child Welfare Involvement. This framework is a set of strategies for communities to improve equitable outcomes, and the resource provides an introduction to five systems-level policy efforts and practice strategies.

    The NCSACW brief includes several questions to consider alongside the key considerations from the CCFF framework, which teams can use when evaluating their policies and practices through a lens of equity. These questions can help guide conversations that are centered on equitable access and reducing disproportionality and disparity. Resources to help support each consideration are also included.

    Read the full NCSACW brief and access the additional resources.

  • Family Support Programs: Promoting Race Equity and Preventing Child Maltreatment

    Family Support Programs: Promoting Race Equity and Preventing Child Maltreatment

    A scoping literature review from Prevent Child Abuse America aims to understand how primary prevention family support programs—particularly evidence-based home visiting programs and family resource centers—actively promote racial equity efforts within their communities. The report Understanding How Family Support Programs Promote Race Equity and Prevent Child Maltreatment: A Scoping Literature Review details the results of the review. The report authors found that the available research shows how family support services promote equitable outcomes, support service access and engagement, and identify factors that increase service engagement. The authors suggest that this knowledge will help in building racial equity-focused primary prevention infrastructure in communities.

    The research found, for example, that when home visiting programs broadly incorporated features like coping skills, empowerment, and targeting institutional disparities in health care, they showed promise in reducing racial disparities. When looking at infusing equity into home visiting programs, the research suggests considering community dynamics and complexities—including any multilevel structural barriers to engagement—or considering providing additional resources. Research also suggested that understanding the cultural variations in beliefs and home visitors sharing demographic characteristics with the families both aid in increasing engagement.

    Following an evaluation of the literature review's methodology and results, the report includes recommendations to aid in advancing racial equity within family support programs focused on primary prevention:

    • Continuing research
    • Enhancing equitable community engagement
    • Continuing promotion of systems-level primary prevention
    • Enhancing initiatives to increase a diverse family support program workforce
    • Building a compendium of evidence-based best practices to further understand how family support programs use an equity lens in service delivery and advance equity in access to services and the workforce

    Read the full report, Understanding How Family Support Programs Promote Race Equity and Prevent Child Maltreatment: A Scoping Literature Review, to learn more about the literature review's results and recommendations.

  • Webinar Provides Strategies for Reaching and Engaging Families of Color

    Webinar Provides Strategies for Reaching and Engaging Families of Color

    A webinar, "Racial Equity in Targeted Recruitment and Support: Strategies for Reaching and Engaging Families of Color," from AdoptUSKids explores the question, "How does our pool of families relate to racial equity?" It suggests that part of addressing racial equity is recruiting and supporting families that reflect the diversity of children waiting to be adopted and using data to identify disproportionality and disparity. Part of recruiting to address this need is using unique, culturally responsive strategies and authentically engaging communities of color to build relationship equity.

    Tips for recruitment include the following:

    • Include diverse members of the community in recruitment efforts
    • Assess your agency's cultural competence
    • Take time to build relationships in communities of color
    • Emphasize and tailor efforts for the intended audience
    • Enlist support from diverse churches
    • Reach out to the types of people your agency has successfully recruited before

    The webinar also provides a closer look at what directed recruitment practices look like, as well as an introduction to data and survey collection. Data and survey collection—and being able to use data effectively—are key tools in recruiting for racial equity.

    Additional strategies for recruiting, supporting, developing, and training families are also discussed. Watch the 90-minute webinar to hear the conversation and access additional resources.

  • A Change Framework for Engaging Fathers and Paternal Relatives and Promoting Racial Justice

    A Change Framework for Engaging Fathers and Paternal Relatives and Promoting Racial Justice

    A recent brief from the Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare (FCL) project explains how participants in a Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) used a guiding framework to strengthen the engagement of fathers and paternal relatives with children involved in the child welfare system.

    A BSC is a continuous learning methodology used to test and spread the implementation of promising practices to help organizations improve in specific areas. In the brief, Using a Change Framework to Design Systems That Effectively Engage Fathers and Paternal Relatives and Promote Racial Justice, the authors begin by describing the key components of BSCs, such as the Collaborative Change Framework. For the FCL project, this framework included multiple domains that together represented a child welfare agency with successful and sustained father and paternal relative engagement.

    The brief also details the connection the BSC improvement teams came to realize existed between their efforts to engage fathers and paternal relatives in the child welfare system and their work to promote racial justice for men of color in the child welfare system. This connection led to the creation of a racial justice workgroup, which helped the BSC incorporate antiracist practices into child welfare and increase father engagement. The brief links to video examples from BSC improvement teams that include discussions about the engagement strategies that were tested within each domain of the framework.  

    The FCL project was conducted by Mathematica and the University of Denver with funding from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in partnership with the Children’s Bureau. To learn more about the BSC, access the brief and other FCL resources on the Mathematica website.

    Recent Issues

  • April 2024

    Spotlight on National Child Abuse Prevention Month

    Spotlight on National Child Abuse Prevention Month

  • March 2024

    Spotlight on Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

    Spotlight on Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training & Technical Assistance Updates

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • Dismantling Systemic and Structural Racism to Improve the Mental Health and Well-Being of Children and Youth

    Dismantling Systemic and Structural Racism to Improve the Mental Health and Well-Being of Children and Youth

    Systemic racism across various systems, including child welfare, has historically perpetuated inequities experienced by marginalized groups. A May 2023 article in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology explores these inequities specifically related to the mental health needs of marginalized and minoritized youth.

    In the article, "Dismantling Structural Racism in Child and Adolescent Psychology: A Call to Action to Transform Healthcare, Education, Child Welfare, and the Psychology Workforce to Effectively Promote BIPOC Youth Health and Development," the writers contend that youth-serving mental health systems, programs, and processes need to be reimagined to focus on inclusivity, intersectionality, antiracism, and social justice. To achieve this change, the authors recommend improvement across four areas:

    • The experience of mental health problems and corresponding access to quality care
    • The pathway from school to mental health care 
    • The child welfare and carceral systems
    • The psychology workforce

    The article is divided into two parts: “The Challenge,” a section that explores the effects of systemic and structural racism on child and youth mental health, and “Future Direction,” a call to action with steps to address structural racism in child and youth psychology. The future direction section features guidance on the ways that various audiences and providers can change to ultimately promote the health and well-being of children and youth. Guidance is provided for the following audiences:

    • Professionals in health-care systems
    • Professionals in the education system
    • Professionals in the child welfare and carceral systems
    • Educators and training programs

    The authors address the magnitude of change required to improve child and youth health and well-being. To start making progress toward that change, they recommend following the concrete and actionable steps outlined in the article.

  • Child Trends Survey Details Agency Expenditures for State Fiscal Year 2020

    Child Trends Survey Details Agency Expenditures for State Fiscal Year 2020

    Funding for child welfare agencies comes from a variety of funding streams and sources, many of which have different purposes and eligibility requirements. To help child welfare administrators, policymakers, advocates, and researchers find information about states’ financing and funding-related challenges, Child Trends conducted the 12th edition of its national survey of child welfare agency expenditures.

    A full report of survey results and findings, an executive summary, and a state-level data table of survey results are all available on Child Trend's Child Welfare Financing Survey SFY2020 webpage. The survey was completed in 2021 and 2022 and captures data from state fiscal year 2020 (from July 2019 to June 2020 for most states). The survey had similar questions to previous surveys, with the addition of new topics, including how states use third-party income sources to offset costs, the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act.

    The following are some of the key findings from survey results:

    • In state fiscal year 2020, state and local child welfare agencies spent $31.4 billion using a combination of federal, state, local, and other funds.
    • After accounting for inflation, expenditures have been steady over the past decade, increasing by just 1 percent.
    • Most child welfare agency funding comes from state and local (as opposed to federal) sources.
    • Almost half of child welfare agency expenditures are spent on out-of-home placements.
    • Child welfare agencies continue to spend a relatively small proportion of funding on prevention.

    The Child Trends page for the survey also provides state profiles, funding by source (including title IV-E, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid), past financing surveys, and related research.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Federal Agencies Outline Actions to Support Family Caregivers

    Federal Agencies Outline Actions to Support Family Caregivers

    Family caregivers provide the overwhelming majority of long-term care in the United States and require resources to maintain their mental, physical, and financial health while providing support for others. To help provide family caregivers with the resources they need, two advisory councils (the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage [RAISE] Act Family Caregiving Advisory Council and the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren) developed the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers.

    As part of that strategy, the advisory councils released a list of federal actions that are aligned with and support the strategy’s five goals:

    • Achieving greater awareness of and outreach to family caregivers
    • Advancing partnerships and engagement with family caregivers
    • Strengthening services and supports for family caregivers
    • Improving financial and workplace security for family caregivers
    • More data, research, and evidence-based practices to support family caregivers

    The report contains 345 actions that 15 agencies within the federal government can take within 3 years. The actions were developed as part of a 6-month process, during which agencies shared existing programs that already do or potentially could address caregiving issues and then explored ways that those programs could be leveraged to more explicitly support family caregiving without additional legal authorities or funding.

    The following are seven key examples of federal actions that are highlighted in the report:

    • The Administration on Community Living will continue to lead the RAISE Family Caregiving Advisory Council and the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Advisory Council and support the implementation of the strategy.
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will annually update and publish data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System’s Caregiver module.
    • The Department of Veterans Affairs Caregivers’ Support Program will develop a survey tool to conduct a needs assessment for providers and practitioners.
    • The Department of Health and Human Services' Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation will assess the future risk of disability on a population level and how that affects the needs for support, family caregiving, and paid long-term services and supports.
    • The Indian Health Service will add structured fields in its electronic health record to identify patients’ kin and grandparent caregivers.
    • The Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau will fund educational opportunities for low-paid and otherwise marginalized women workers, including employed family caregivers.
    • The National Institute on Aging will initiate a public/private partnership to integrate data on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia and caregiving.

    Explore the rest of the actions in the full report, 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers: Federal Actions.

  • Podcast Explores Parenting Among People With Disabilities

    Podcast Explores Parenting Among People With Disabilities

    The podcast series Parenting Done Differently: Parenting With Disabilities explores parenting among those with physical and intellectual disabilities. Psychologist, author, and researcher Marjorie Aunos hosts the podcast as a parent who also lives with disabilities.

    The podcast has released 26 episodes, each featuring a special guest whom Aunos interviews. Guests range from researchers to fellow parents and have included Tammy Bachrach, a researcher and adult child of parents with intellectual disabilities; Marja Hodes, a clinical psychologist from the Netherlands; and Dr. Tommie Forslund, a psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at Stockholm University.

    All episodes are available on the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare website. Additional resources, including books, videos, articles, and websites, accompany many of the episodes.

  • Creating an Affirming Culture and Climate for LGBTQIA2S+ Children, Young People, and Families in Child Welfare

    Creating an Affirming Culture and Climate for LGBTQIA2S+ Children, Young People, and Families in Child Welfare

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    Children and young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or gender expansive, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit (LGBTQIA2S+) are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system, where they may encounter challenges ranging from discrimination and unequal access to appropriate services to homelessness and more (National Association of Social Workers, n.d.; Trevor Project, 2021; U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2022). Research consistently shows that these young people experience higher rates of mental health concerns, substance use, homelessness, and suicidality compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers (National Alliance on Mental Health, n.d.). This is even more true for those LGBTQIA2S+ children and young people with additional marginalized identities such as non-White race, non-European ethnicity, or immigrant status. For example, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) LGBTQIA2S+ young people were 2.5 times more likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year (33 percent) compared to non-American Indian/Alaska Native LGBTQIA2S+ young people (14 percent) (Zongrone, et al., 2020).

    The struggles and challenges faced by LGBTQIA2S+ children and young people in child welfare demand our urgent attention. By acknowledging the disparities they face and working to address them, we can take meaningful steps toward creating a child welfare system that is truly inclusive, supportive, and respectful of the diverse identities within its care.

    Establish Unambiguous Policies Prohibiting Discriminatory Actions Against LGBTQIA2S+ People

    Despite the existence of federal laws that address the safety and well-being of children and young people in foster care, including those with LGBTQIA2S+ identities, anti-LGBTQIA2S+ legislation continues to be introduced. For example, in 2023 so far, 80 anti-transgender bills have been passed by legislatures in 22 states, and more are pending.

    ACF Information Memorandum 22-01 states that public child welfare agencies must address the needs of children and young people in their care, including needs related to sexual orientation and gender identity expression (SOGIE). To that end, child welfare agencies must establish clear, unambiguous policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on SOGIE. These policies should also outline the steps to be taken if such discrimination occurs. Additional policy-related actions agencies can take include the following:

    • Creating or amending a foster care bill of rights that specifies rights related to LGBTQIA2S+ identity
    • Hiring a dedicated staff member responsible for policy, best practices, and guidance for serving LGBTQIA2S+ children, young people, and families engaged with the agency
    • Collecting data related to SOGIE to understand whether the agency is properly serving LGBTQIA2S+ children and young people
    • Establishing consistent practice around asking for and using correct pronouns and chosen names in all conversations and documentation

    Institute Regular Cultural Competency Training

    Many child welfare professionals lack the training and cultural competency to understand the unique needs of LGBTQIA2S+ young people, which can hinder the provision of appropriate services and care. All child welfare professionals and their partners should attend trainings that enhance their understanding of issues unique to SOGIE and LGBTQIA2S+ young people (including Latinx and Black LGBTQIA2S+ young people) and offer practical strategies they can apply in their work. Such issues may include access to affirming care, the importance of using correct pronouns and chosen names, and creating inclusive environments. Tribal and jurisdictional agencies should also take steps to educate staff about Two-Spirit and other AI/AN nondominant SOGIE identities to better serve LGBTQIA2S+ AI/AN children and young people in care.

    Child welfare agencies should partner with LGBTQIA2S+ organizations to develop training materials, resources, and support networks. These collaborations can offer expertise and insights that contribute to a more informed and empathetic approach toward LGBTQIA2S+ children, young people, and families.

    Make Your Agency a Safe Space for LGBTQIA2S+ Children, Young People, and Families

    Creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA2S+ children, young people, and families within the child welfare system is essential, and it is important that the agency be one of them. Some actions the agency can take include hanging “All Are Welcome” signs and rainbow flags in social services buildings, updating all forms with inclusive language, and adding SOGIE-related language to posted nondiscrimination policies and promotional and information materials. In addition, offering support groups, counseling services, and resources that affirm LGBTQIA2S+ identities can play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of belonging and reducing the mental health challenges faced by LGBTQIA2S+ children and young people.

    As you consider the information, data, and resources below, take time to think about the ways you and your agency are currently creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals and the actions you can take to affirm and support LGBTQIA2S+ children, young people, and families.

    Resources

    The following Center for States resources can help agencies create an affirming culture and climate for LGBTQIA2S+ young people and families.

    Additional resources include:

     

    References

    National Alliance on Mental Health. (n.d.). LGBTQ+. https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/LGBTQ

    National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). LGBTQIA2S+. https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/LGBTQIA2S  

    Trevor Project. (2021). National survey on LGBTQ youth mental health 2021. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/

    U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2022). Report to the chairman of the Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support, Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives: Foster care: Further assistance from HHS would be helpful in supporting youth's LGBTQ+ identities and religious beliefs (GAO-22-104688). https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-22-104688.pdf

    Zongrone, A. D., Truong, N. L., & Kosciw, J. G. (2020). Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color: Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools. Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/Erasure-and-Resilience-Native-2020.pdf

Resources

This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • Guide for Addressing Structural Racism With Children

    Guide for Addressing Structural Racism With Children

    A guide from EmbraceRace provides caregivers and other caring adults with tips for discussing structural racism with children. In Addressing Structural Racism With Children, author Dr. Kimberly Narain, a physician and researcher focused on improving the health outcomes of underserved populations, offers and details the following suggestions:

    • Educate yourself about structural racism.
    • Get past your own fear of discussing structural racism with children.
    • Look for media that supports your efforts to educate children about structural racism.
    • Heighten awareness of the historical and contemporary contradictions in American life.
    • Help children be agents of change.

    The 2-page action guide also links to the related webinar, "Breaking Down 'Structural' and 'Systemic' Racism for Our Children." The webinar features a conversation with EmbraceRace, Dr. Narain, and Michael Lawrence-Riddell, an award-winning educator and founder of Self-Evident Education, a nonprofit organization that creates multimedia curriculum materials focused on the history of race in America.

    Access the guide in English and Spanish on the EmbraceRace website.

  • Children Thrive in Grandfamilies Factsheet

    Children Thrive in Grandfamilies Factsheet

    An updated publication from Generations United highlights the experiences of children in relative care. Through research and direct input from grandparent caregivers and youth with lived experience, Fact Sheet: Children Thrive in Grandfamilies explains that children and youth who cannot remain in their parents’ care experience better outcomes when placed with grandfamilies than children placed with nonrelatives. The factsheet also emphasizes the difficulty many families experience trying to find and receive the help and support they need.

    For more information, access this resource on the Generations United website.

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.