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In Memory of T. Berry Brazelton, MD

  ·   By Frank Farrow,

In Memory of T. Berry Brazelton, MD, 1918 – 2018

The world mourns the loss of a true hero. A groundbreaking pediatrician and scientist, T. Berry Brazelton, MD was a genius and a gift to parents and families everywhere. He guided and inspired generations of parents who learned to trust their instincts, listen to their infants and find joy in even the toughest moments of parenting. His Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale and acute observations forever changed the way we see infants and understand child development in the earliest moments of life.

Dr. Brazelton’s books, articles, television shows and Touchpoints training have revolutionized how parents can learn to appreciate and stimulate their babies from the first day of life. His cheerful, funny, happy voice was the sound of someone who never got tired of playing with babies or listening carefully to what parents were telling him. His lifetime of achievement is alive every day in the work and play of millions of children and families across the world. It will live on as children who benefitted from his care become the parents of the next generation, and as pediatricians, child care providers and other child and family specialists continue to use and spread his message and mission.

We join colleagues at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center and around the world in honoring the life of a great champion and offering heartfelt condolences to Dr. Brazelton’s family and friends.

Frank Farrow is the president at CSSP.

Press for Progress: Fight for Our Girls

  ·   By Tashira Halyard

Girls of color are fighting to survive and thrive every day – and young women of color in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are particularly at risk. In fact, girls of color have the highest rates of confinement to residential placement facilities due to status offenses – nonviolent behaviors like running away, missing school and violating curfew. 

Not nearly enough research has considered how the intersection of race and gender plays out in the lives of girls of color, especially those charged with status offenses. According to intersectionality theory, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, immigration status and other social identities create unique and often overlapping forms of oppression when combined. Thus, girls of color sit at the intersection of inequities caused by their race and gender at the very least. 

In recognition of International Women’s Day – a global event devoted to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – and this year’s theme, #PressForProgress, we are excited to release our latest video in the Fight For Our Girls series which takes a brief look at the challenges that young women of color who are systems involved face. 

CSSP and the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare has long worked to #PressForProgress by calling for a radical shift in the narrative surrounding girls of color and status offenses from a focus on delinquency and misbehavior to structural discrimination, trauma and youth well-being. Take a moment to watch the video and share it with your networks. It’s time we stop locking girls up for nonviolent offense that are too often the result of trauma. It’s time we #PressForProgress and recognize that girls of color need and deserve the opportunity thrive.


Tashira Halyard is a senior associate at CSSP.

Last week, as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892), Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, which marks a significant step forward for child welfare financing reform by breaking the block on using federal child welfare funding for the range of preventive and treatment supports needed by families who come to the attention of the child welfare system. 

The law finally allows states to claim federal Title IV-E reimbursement for time-limited mental health, substance abuse and in-home parenting skill-based programs which will keep more children safely in their own homes and out of foster care, regardless of a family’s income.  Previously, federal entitlement funding was only available for foster care or adoption and guardian support for children exiting foster care.  

I began working in public child welfare in Wisconsin in 1981, right after the establishment of the Title IV-E entitlement and the landmark Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (PL 96-272) which introduced into law the concept of “reasonable efforts” to prevent foster care placement as a required judicial finding in child welfare proceedings.  Although the concept was vague and is still not clearly defined, in order to access federal funding for out-of-home care the law required states to demonstrate, and courts to affirm, that they had made reasonable efforts to prevent placement of a child in foster care and to expedite reunification for children already removed from their families. However, the dollars to fund prevention and reunification services were missing from federal financing. It was also in 1980 that Congress turned the open-ended entitlement Title XX of the Social Security Act, which had funded states' prevention efforts, into a block grant further limiting federal dollars for such services. 

For the next decade many of us working in child welfare turned to promoting family preservation and family support services as a way to prevent unnecessary foster care placements and strengthen families. Again, the challenge for states was how to finance these services in the absence of substantial and adequate federal financial support for prevention.  In 1985, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) wrote a seminal piece which laid out a strategy for states to maximize claiming open-ended Title IV-E funding for out-of-home care, thereby freeing up state and local dollars to be directed towards prevention and family preservation services.  It was an extremely important strategy for drawing down federal dollars but it was a work-around for a child welfare financing system that continued to pay for services once families were torn apart but didn’t support efforts to keep them together.  A glimmer of hope occurred with the passage of the Family Support and Preservation Act in 1992, which expanded Title IV-B resources available for prevention services. But still Title IV- B dollars were very limited and the federal incentives were skewed toward removal at the expense of prevention.  

Since then advocates, providers, foundations, coalitions, policymakers, public and private providers and commissions have debated, scrutinized and lobbied to change a longstanding child welfare financing system that doesn’t promote the values at the heart of child welfare practice: to keep families together whenever possible; to place children with families, preferably their extended ones, when safety requires that they be removed; to do everything possible to reunify children with families expeditiously; and, when that isn’t possible, to expediently move children to permanency. Over the years, significant federal legislation was passed shaping the system we have today but none was successful in attacking a basic problem facing child welfare: the way services are funded by the federal government.  

Until now.  

The opportunities presented by the Family First Prevention Services Act are many; but we have far to go to ensure that the promise of the new financing system delivers on our vision for a more research-informed and just child welfare system. One opportunity is the recognition in the law that we need to build our evidence base about what works to keep children safely at home.  The array of programs that fall into the bucket of recognized “evidence-based programs” supported by randomized controlled studies for child welfare services is pitifully small and often not tested on the populations most at risk of child welfare involvement.  Rather than restricting funding to only these services, 50 percent of the funding can support programs shown to be promising and supported by research.  This is a huge opportunity for the field, one that we cannot squander. We will need to be creative in applying rigorous and diverse methods to evaluate promising services, using our resources wisely to discover which types of service in which settings work best for which families. 

African American and Native American children are less likely to receive in-home services and more likely to enter foster care and, that once in care, they experience disparate outcomes. With this in mind, the law also provides a real opportunity for states to invest in services that are culturally specific and focus on reducing racial disparities in the demographics of children and youth who enter and remain in the foster care system.  Importantly, the law also specifically recognizes the additional needs and stressors facing expectant and parenting youth in foster care by allowing services for these youth to strengthen their parenting. But state and local child welfare systems will need to determine which programs are most effective; how to offer these services to youth in ways that do not conjure up increased surveillance and unintended consequences; and how to engage youth in developmentally appropriate, fun and effective ways. CSSP’s Youth Thrive Initiative is helping states reconfigure their services and policies for youth and expectant and parenting youth so that they are developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed and culturally relevant as well as based on the research identifying what youth need to thrive. 

By extending to age 23 (for states that have extended foster care to 21) the financial, housing, counseling, employment, education and other services that former foster youth can access through the Chafee Program and by extending eligibility to age 26 for Educational Training Vouchers, the law is catching up with adolescent brain science which recognizes that youth need supports for longer periods before they are more developmentally ready for adult responsibilities. But again, youth are very clear about what they want and what they don’t.  States will need to work with youth to help them design and identify an aftercare plan that includes the supports and services they want and need to thrive.  To be most effective states will need workers trained and proficient in knowing how to work with adolescents by using the research about brain development and the protective factors associated with healthy youth development and well-being.   

The bill further recognizes that institutions (including group homes, residential treatment centers and shelters) are no place for children to grow up by restricting federal dollars for congregate care. This will require that states re-examine their foster care and kinship policies, licensing requirements, recruitment strategies, supports and training so that a sufficient number of quality foster and kinship parents are available to meet the needs of children and youth in search of homes. The newly developed CHAMPS campaign identifies a range of steps that states can take to improve their foster care systems and the bill includes grant opportunities to support states in building out their foster family continuum as they move to reduce reliance on congregate care. 

Finally, while the law directs needed resources for services to families who come to the attention of the child welfare system it does not provide resources that help to prevent abuse and neglect in the first place. That still remains a new frontier for federal investment. Until we devote as many resources into strengthening families as we do to responding to problems after they have occurred, our system remains flawed. 

Notwithstanding this last point, there is no question that the Family First Act presents many opportunities and associated challenges, and it will be years before full implementation takes effect. But we can start now by focusing on what we know from practice, experience and research about what families, children and youth need in order to re-create a child welfare system that recognizes family preservation and child safety as sides of the same coin.

Read CSSP’s official statement on the Family First Prevention Services Act

Susan Notkin is a senior vice president at CSSP.

Putting Equity into Action

  ·   By Megan Martin,

Structural racism – and the persistent inequalities that follow – cannot be undone without significant commitment. More than a decade ago, in an effort to confront all forms of racism – particularly structural and institutional – CSSP committed to being an anti-racist organization. This commitment goes beyond the policy and practice work we do – and includes CSSP’s infrastructure and the policies and guidance we use to direct our work. 

All of our equity work is done in close partnership with the organizations and agencies we work with – our public policy partners, our accountants, the sites we work with and our funders. One such organization is the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Their publication Operationalizing Equity: Putting the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Racial and Ethnic Equity and Inclusion Framework into Action, focuses on their own journey to promote race equity and inclusion, highlighting their experiences and sharing lessons learned for other foundations. Their experience is similar to CSSP’s and many others in the field - and we share their strong commitment to both internal and external efforts to advance equity and achieve their goals. As they highlight in this publication, the work is ongoing, always in progress and a journey that is not ever fully completed. Nonet Sykes, the Director of Racial and Ethnic Equity and Inclusion, emphasized this in her assertion that “Casey’s journey has been more like running a gauntlet than traveling a clear road.” 

As CSSP continues our journey toward advancing equity, inclusion and justice – we will continue to learn from and grow with others who share this commitment. We will continue to advance equity and work to reduce discrimination and disparity based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, ability and immigration status - and toward promoting optimal outcomes through policy and practice for every child and family.

Megan Martin is a vice president at CSSP.


Earlier in the month (December 4-6), CSSP hosted the third Youth Thrive™ Learning Community Meeting in Clearwater, Florida. The convening brought together thought leaders, practitioners, administrators and youth advocates and challenged them to consider how to move from the concepts and research that undergird the Youth Thrive™ framework into specific strategies for improving outcomes for youth in foster care, juvenile justice or who had experienced homelessness.

Youth advocates and foster care alumni played key roles throughout the meeting, participating in plenaries, sharing opinions and leading concurrent workshops. Georgia EmpowerMEnt Youth Advocate Brittany Myers gave a thought-provoking and energizing speech to open the second day of the convening, speaking about the importance of adults getting to know youth in care to tailor casework to the young person’s specific needs.

CSSP Senior Fellow Steve Cohen reinforced Myer’s assertion during a presentation on CSSP’s “transformational relationships” research, which examines the type of relationships between adult workers and youth that promote positive change in the lives of youth. Leaders from Seneca Family of Agencies (Moses Santos) and Anu Family Services (Erin Wall)—two Youth Thrive exemplary initiatives—and Kaysie Getty, an MSW student at Rutgers and foster care alum, shared concrete steps to apply the research and discussed innovative hiring practices, supervisory supports and training opportunities that promote the development of meaningful relationships.

During his candid and inspirational keynote speech, Children’s Village CEO, Jeremy Kohomban, challenged the audience to consider the historical failures of the child welfare system. Kohomban spoke of our ability to continually improve practice, particularly by recognizing and addressing issues of implicit bias and by prioritizing a young person’s need for love and belonging.

Youth Thrive™ exemplary initiatives and sites got the opportunity to showcase how they are implementing the framework into policy and practices during the Gallery Walk Poster Session. Sites filled the hotel ballroom with colorful tri-fold boards showcasing their programs and initiatives for youth engagement, training, assessment and policy changes. These boards remained throughout the conference as a reminder of the positive and creative environment fostered by these leaders (lovingly referred to as “disrupters of the status quo”).

Representatives from Brevard’s Youth Leadership Academy closed out the convening on a high with a rap about youth voice and choice that reminded the audience why we do this important work.

Attendees of the convening are on the frontlines of creating better systems for youth moving forward. Learning from the past is critical in this effort. The Youth Thrive™ Learning Community Meeting provided a rich environment for brainstorming about how to continue working to improve the futures of every child and family and drove home the message that no time is better than right now to bring home these strategies and apply them in practice.


Derick Gomez is a program and research assistant at CSSP.


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