Milner: “We have all – in our own ways – been a part of the problem.”
The U.S. Children’s Bureau is spearheading a partnership aimed at reducing the use of child removals and addressing racial and socioeconomic inequities in child welfare.
The stated goal of “Thriving Families, Safer Children: A National Commitment to Well-Being” is to “move from traditional, reactive child protection systems to those designed to support child and family well-being and prevent child maltreatment and unnecessary family separations,” according to a statement announcing the partnership today.
“There’s a great desire in the field to do more for families sooner and have the flexibilities to be proactive and much more supportive,” said Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner, in an emailed response to questions by The Imprint. “The view from downstream makes the necessity clear. Those that are closest to the work see the results of our lack of focus upstream every day.”
Los Angeles County, Colorado, Nebraska and South Carolina have already been tapped as the “tier one” systems for this venture, which brings together a federal agency with two of the largest philanthropies focused on child welfare – Casey Family Programs and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This paradigm shift is long overdue,” said Bobby Cagle, director of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. “As children’s social workers, most of us have spent our entire careers working to cultivate a child well-being community where families connect, heal and become whole. This effort is paving the way for just that and we are wholeheartedly committed.”
The fourth partner in Thriving Families is Prevent Child Abuse America, a Chicago-based advocacy organization that also operates Healthy Families America, a widely used home visiting program that pairs trained visitors with new and expecting parents.
Milner said the partnership brought together government and private actors that, in the past, have helped maintain a system that “does not provide the support families need when they need it” and “perpetuates trauma.”
“All partners are entering this effort with humility knowing that we have all – in our own ways – been a part of the problem and responsible for maintaining a system that too often does too little too late,” Milner said.
The four tier-one child welfare systems will serve as demonstration sites. A technical assistance team from the four initiative partners will provide ongoing support for them, and convene quarterly learning clusters as the initiative proceeds. They will also be able to seek exceptions to federal funding rules and restrictions with the “direct support of high-level federal agency decision-makers,” according to an overview of the program obtained by The Imprint.
The initiative does not involve new grants from the federal government or the foundations involved, Milner said, just a “very intentional alignment of other forms of support and a commitment to troubleshoot, actively look to ameliorate barriers and build solutions.”
He conceded that there are limits to what exemptions or waivers his agency can approve without Congressional authority. One offer the Children’s Bureau would like to make, but cannot, is a flexible alternative to the Title IV-E entitlement, which is the main conduit of federal funds to child welfare agencies. The Trump administration has for three years proposed permission to allow states to opt out of the entitlement for a capped allocation that states could use to fund more maltreatment prevention services.
“If we could offer that flexibility administratively, we would,” he said. “Without the flexibility to help families in other ways – the ways the vast majority of families that make contact with the child welfare system need, we will be stuck in difficult cycles of trauma, removal and more trauma.”
About 10 additional jurisdictions will be chosen this year for the second tier of the initiative, which will include systems that make a public commitment to “begin the process of creating a family well-being system consisting of a full prevention continuum.” Another tier is open to any interested system that wishes to be informed on the work and progress made by the selected sites.
Casey Family Programs also announced a similar venture with the National Governors Association, which will involve a “learning cohort” that links up child welfare leaders and representatives from governor’s offices in 13 states.