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First-of-its-kind national partnership includes Nebraska in child welfare redesign

Nebraska City News-Press

The U.S. Children's Bureau , Casey Family Programs , the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Prevent Child Abuse America are partnering to launch 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.

This first-of-its-kind effort — Thriving Families, Safer Children: A National Commitment to Well-Being — will work across the public, private and philanthropic sectors to assist jurisdictions in developing more just and equitable systems that benefit all children and families and break harmful intergenerational cycles of trauma and poverty.  

“Having invested heavily in elevating the voices of parents and youth with lived experience in child welfare, we now have not only the opportunity but the obligation to act on what they've told us they need to stay strong and healthy," says Jerry Milner, associate commissioner for the Children's Bureau at the U.S. Administration of Children and Families. “Our four organizations are uniquely prepared and driven to do just that, by transforming child welfare into a child and family well-being system."

Thriving Families will help select jurisdictions move from traditional, reactive child protection systems to systems designed to proactively support child and family well-being and prevent child maltreatment and unnecessary family separation. 

“Every child deserves a safe, stable and permanent family and all families deserve the opportunities and supports to raise their children safely and successfully in their own homes, communities and cultures," said Dr. William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs. “This important effort will demonstrate how all sectors of a community can work together to reallocate resources into equitable, hope-inspiring services and supports that reduce the need for foster care and improve the well-being of children and families across the nation."  

“I am very excited about what this means for the state of Nebraska." Said Nebraska Children and Family Services Director Stephanie Beasley, “being chosen as a tier one state is a testament to the systems and relationships that have been put in place to help create one of the best child and family well-being systems in the country."

This multiyear commitment will provide resources and support from the four partners and other relevant child- and family-serving federal agencies, jurisdictions, diverse community stakeholders and the public, private, faith-based and philanthropic sectors to create more just, equitable and humane child and family well-being systems.

The initiative will be composed of three tiers of action: 

Tier One — Select jurisdictions will serve as demonstration sites, collaborating with the initiative's partners for intensive technical support and resources to help realize their goal of creating child and family well-being systems.

Tier Two — The effort will partner with jurisdictions to focus on policy and systemic reforms at the state, tribal or territorial level.

Tier Three — The effort will share lessons learned to help inform and inspire other jurisdictions in launching their own journeys in building child well-being systems.

Tier One work will soon begin in California/LA County, Colorado, Nebraska and South Carolina. The effort is working to identify and invite Tier Two jurisdictions.

Thriving Families seek to demonstrate that intentional, coordinated investment in a full continuum of prevention and robust community-based networks of support will promote overall child and family well-being, equity and other positive outcomes for children and families. The partners believe it is time to act on what we know: Community and family support helps keep children safe and well.

Thriving Families is rooted in the recognition that all families need help sometimes and that seeking help is a sign of strength and resiliency and that we should strive to keep children safe with their families as opposed to safe from their families. The challenges of the global coronavirus pandemic have underscored the urgency to create such systems.

“Families are our greatest asset in ensuring that all children are safe and have what they need to thrive and succeed — especially now, during the coronavirus crisis," said Dr. Melissa T. Merrick, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America. “This extraordinary moment provides an opportunity to shift the narrative from child welfare to child well-being. We must leverage this new way of thinking to develop and deliver effective and impactful community-based resources that assist families in ways which strengthen and help keep them together."

The Thriving Families effort will include diverse community stakeholders — most importantly families with lived expertise — to help them discern and develop the supports, resources, services and approaches to meet the unique needs of their families and promote the conditions to help them thrive. 

Work will focus on creating and enhancing networks of community-based supports and aligning government resources to provide a full prevention continuum that strengthens community protective factors and parental protective capacities and mitigate associated risk factors.

“Now is a time to reimagine how we as a collective of caring and supportive adults — child welfare practitioners, parents, children and older youth, advocates and community partners — can redefine the mission and objectives of child welfare to help ensure all children, Black, Brown and Indigenous families who have been overrepresented in our systems, have the opportunities they need and deserve to thrive," says Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of the Center for Systems Innovation at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “This is the moment to urgently build a child and family well-being system that propels families to grow and thrive together on their terms."