Center for the Study of Social Policy - 40 Years of Innovation
Ideas Into Action
Home > Media Center > Blog

Prioritizing Family Preservation

  ·   By Derick Gomez

This year, CSSP celebrates its 40th anniversary. During the next six weeks, leading up to our celebration event (taking place on October 23rd in Washington, DC), we will explore and highlight some of the most pivotal areas of our work and times in our history. Join us on this retrospective journey and if you can in Washington, DC in October as we celebrate 40 years of fighting for social justice.


During his signing statement for the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (AACWA) of 1980, President Jimmy Carter said, “By authorizing funding for services designed to prevent family breakup, we are placing a firm emphasis on helping families keep their children at home.” The federal government was finally acknowledging that foster care systems were much too quick to separate families with consequences of more than 500,000 children across the country in care.

The AACWA was a positive first step to stem the needless separation of families, but was not nearly enough on its own to fix longstanding systemic issues that incentivized placement in foster care over providing services in the home. The newly passed law had little effect for the families most in-need since child welfare agencies still had limited access to federal prevention dollars, while foster care funding was a readily-available open-ended entitlement.

In 1985, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the only national foundations at the time with a focus on child welfare systems reform, gave a one million dollar grant to a fledgling, eight-year-old organization, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, in Washington, DC to advance and expand the family preservation cause.

CSSP initially confronted skepticism and the longstanding belief in the public discourse that family preservation was in direct conflict with child welfare’s mandate of ensuring the safety of children. The organization affirmed that family preservation services should never compromise children’s safety by stranding them in dangerous households, but rather give child welfare agencies another option for stabilizing families in crisis, without causing additional trauma. These services differed from traditional preventive services in that they were intensive, home-based and short-term as a complementary tool in the larger service continuum. Without this option, too many children were being placed in foster care despite the ability to remain safely within their families if their families were to get the kind of support they needed.

Relying on a playbook that has now become our trademark, CSSP elevated best practices, provided technical assistance to interested jurisdictions, and assembled a coalition of like-minded partners to build the foundation for substantive changes in policy.

In 1986, CSSP published a brief that would become a bedrock of the movement. Written by Doug Nelson, our Deputy Director at the time, Preserving Families in Crisis: Financial and Political Options identified the existing constraints to implementing robust prevention programming and how to circumvent them, most notably through an assortment of federal “matching” mechanisms. The brief argued: “The real problem is that these decision-makers find themselves operating in a political and fiscal environment which is not conducive to either investing new money or reallocating existing child welfare resources into new ‘initiatives’ or systems change efforts, regardless of how meritorious or ultimately cost effective they may be.” The movement was positively shifting the field-at-large, as more policymakers recognized the value of keeping families together.

CSSP launched a national network – the first in our history – of states committed to reducing unnecessary foster care placements by expanding family preservation services. The organization met with decision-makers in these states to provide technical assistance and strategic consultation around financing options. Iowa, one of the first states to join the network, developed and enacted a family preservation services pilot program in 1987. The state’s General Assembly allocated more than a million in a half dollars to these services over a two year period. CSSP teamed up with State Senator Charles Bruner, who spearheaded the legislation’s passage, to write a report giving a legislator’s perspective on the family preservation. Senator Bruner found that “Legislators had sufficient information, and confidence in that information, to believe that family preservation services provided better outcomes for families at lesser cost to the state.” CSSP’s coordinated policy message was starting to be seen in the law books and the influence would soon be seen in homes and communities across the nation.

Formidable partners joined the nascent movement. The Homebuilders program out of Tacoma, WA, became the gold-standard for service delivery and offered training and practice guidance around the country. The Child Welfare League of America and the Children’s Defense Fund began advocating for the cause, mobilizing their coalitions and pushing for federal policy change. Even the renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou began to use her influential and lyrical voice to uplift the family preservation movement. She asked a question that became the philosophical core of the movement, “How is it possible to convince a child of his own worth after removing him from a family which is said to be unworthy, but with whom he identifies?”

Eight years after CSSP began working on the issue, Congress passed the Family Preservation and Family Support Services Program of 1993, one of the crowning achievements of the movement. The federal law allocated significant public resources to both family preservation and family support services and required states to engage in a comprehensive planning process to develop more responsive strategies for these services. Across political divisions, lawmakers agreed that family preservation services work and are worth investing in.

CSSP’s role in the family preservation movement is a key piece of its 40-year legacy of putting ideas into action. Despite the pendulum swing that characterizes child welfare policy, “child rescue” to family preservation and back again, the movement codified family preservation goals as a priority in the field. After more than three decades of CSSP action and advocacy in the arena, the recent passing of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 enacted much needed federal financing reform that balanced investment in family preservation with that of foster care, finally realizing the promise that CSSP first articulated in a 1986 brief.


Derick Gomez is a Program and Research Assistant at CSSP.


CSSP's Cailin O'Connor shares her thoughts on the upcoming Together for Families: Strong Families, Promising Futures summing, taking place on October 15-17, 2018, in Cleveland, OH and co-hosted by CSSP, NFSN, and the Greater Cleveland Family Strengthening Network. Here's an excerpt from her latest blog, posted in full on the Be Strong Families website

“It’s like a college seminar for your brain, and a family reunion for your heart.” That’s how my colleague Francie Zimmerman described the Strengthening Families Summit held in Chicago in 2014 – the fourth national summit for the movement built around the Protective Factors Framework. My organization, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), hasn’t organized a Summit since then, due to staffing and funding changes. So I leapt at the opportunity to co-host a new national conference with the National Family Support Network (NFSN). My brain has been brimming over with ideas and questions I want to discuss with others who care about helping families to build protective factors, and my heart can’t wait to connect with all of the wonderful people who share that passion and are doing the work every day in their communities and states....

Read the full blog post here.


Cailin O'Connor is a Senior Associate at CSSP.

Last Friday, the Trump administration laid the groundwork for the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families. The proposed regulations, issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, would end the longstanding Flores settlement agreement. Flores was the result of a legal challenge brought by 15 year-old Jenny Lissette Flores and other children against the conditions they experienced in immigration detention in the 1980s. Under Flores, the federal government is required to maintain minimum protections for children in immigration detention and proceedings—such as placing them in the least restrictive settings possible and providing basic necessities like food, water, and access to medical care. The administration claims that the new regulations to end Flores are necessary in order to avoid the separation of families—the inverse of the claim they made this summer when they decided to separate almost 3,000 children from their parents. Five hundred of these children still await reunification. Far from being necessary, these regulations are a step toward realizing the administration’s racist and anti-Latinx immigration agenda. As Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen freely admits, a goal of the regulations is to deter the immigration of families from Central America—many of whom have legal claims to asylum.

Immigration detention and incarceration is harmful to children’s health and well-being. Studies of detained immigrant children have found high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and psychologists agree that “even brief detention can cause psychological trauma and induce long-term mental health risks for children.” Dr. Luis Zayas, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on child and adolescent mental health, interviewed families in immigration detention facilities and found “regressions in children’s behavior; suicidal ideation in teenagers; nightmares and night terrors; and pathological levels of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair.” The Department of Homeland Security’s own Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers concluded that “detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families—and that detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management are never in the best interest of children.”

The proposed regulations, if finalized, would result in more children and families being detained for longer periods, flying in the face of this consensus of expert opinion. Currently, because the federal government does not have family detention facilities that comply with the minimum standards and licensing requirements dictated by Flores, children must generally be released within 20 days. The proposed rule would allow the federal government to self-license its own detention facilities, allowing for the massive expansion of family detention. There are now approximately 3,000 beds in family detention centers. The Trump administration has begun to identify sites to build detention centers to accommodate 12,000 more.

The regulations also weaken protections for children and families in these new detention facilities. According to the proposed regulations, compliance with their provisions may be delayed or excused on a temporary basis in the case of an “emergency.” The definition of emergency is broad, and the protections that could be withheld include meals and medical assistance. It would be up to an auditor of the agency’s own choosing to determine whether the facilities were providing the protections required. Given that the Office of Inspector General recently found that DHS fails to ensure compliance with detention standards in its adult detention facilities, this move to self-regulate family detention facilities is very concerning.

Finally, even as the administration justifies family incarceration as an improvement over family separation, the regulations open the door to family separation in the future. In the proposed regulations, Customs and Border Patrol is instructed to provide “contact” between children and accompanying family members, but only when it is “operationally feasible” and “does not place an undue burden on agency operations.” As a result, children may well be routinely separated from relatives, compounding the trauma they have already experienced in their home countries, on their journey, and in United States custody.

Neither family separation nor family detention is the answer to the immigration of families seeking refuge from violence and political instability. A number of alternatives to detention, from active case management to the use of GPS monitoring devices, have proven to be effective at ensuring compliance with immigration check-ins and hearings, to be less costly than detention, and to be more humane.

The administration’s proposed regulations are a move in the wrong direction.

Comments can be submitted before November 6, 2018 at



Elisa Minoff is a Policy Analyst at CSSP.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy is pleased to feature a post by guest blogger Joan Lombardi, a national and international early childhood expert and relentless champion for innovative approaches to ensuring children’s healthy development and family well-being. Joan’s work is rooted in the understanding that children and their families thrive as part of strong, responsive, nurturing communities. In today’s post, Joan builds on an earlier contribution in which she explained the essential elements driving the movement to create supportive communities that provide the scaffolding young children and their families need to flourish and succeed. She reflects today on why civic engagement is increasing and why community solutions are gaining traction. In the months ahead, CSSP’s ongoing Young Children and Their Families blog series will highlight community efforts that exemplify Joan’s themes. 


In the pioneering days of the United States, when someone needed a barn built, the community would come together to make it happen. It was this sense of community that became a source of pride in the country. One modern day version of this “barn building spirit” can be seen in communities across the country that are moving forward to help assure young children are successful and families are supported and strong. From cities to counties to neighborhoods, hope is expressed as people work to make their community “the best place to raise a baby.” From barns to babies, people are coming together in new ways with creativity and commitment to each other. This is a good sign for children, for families, and for the country.

What is driving this local action on behalf of young children families? There does not appear to be one answer, but rather a combination of emerging factors. To start with, a growing number of families have faced a perfect storm of circumstances that have exhausted their ability to respond: the increasing demands of work and family, the separation of extended families, and the cost of both child care and elder care which have outpaced wage increases. Compounding the complexity of this picture is the fact that there are a number of “child care deserts” or places where there may not be even one licensed care provider, particularly for infants and toddlers. In other cases the quality options available to parents are too often beyond their ability to pay.   

This is all taking place at a time when science is telling us the early years matter to long term health, learning, and behavior. We now know that it is not about providing a single program at one point in time, but instead continuity of quality services is essential throughout the early years. Moreover, to really make a difference we need to address the multigenerational issues facing families, not segment off our work on behalf of children from what we do to help the adults in their lives.

When you combine these realities with the renewed sense of civic engagement and leadership at the local level, there is hope for change. Families are making new demands; the status quo is changing. For decades there has been a gap in services from the time children are born until the time they go to school. There has been an assumption that the family alone, without support, will be able to carry on. Yet we have known for decades that children grow up in families, and families live in communities and countries that either support them, or let them struggle. From coast to coast, from urban areas to rural communities, we are beginning to see new leadership from the public and private sector speaking out and saying we can do better than this for our children

There seems to be common goals emerging and a trend to use data to drive change. Communities are looking at their data and asking: How are our young children and families doing? Are children born healthy? Are children thriving at three? Ready for success at school entry? Learning, well rounded, and secure as they move through the primary grades? We know there are severe and widening inequities for some children based on income, race, ethnicity, and immigration status, among other conditions: How do we work towards eliminating these inequities? How do we assure that all children have a strong start?

While the program and policy response may vary depending on the existing services and the context and climate in the state, there are at least three buckets of services that need to be addressed: health, family support, and child care which can promote learning and development. These essential components must be available across a community in a more coordinated way, not starting here and stopping there. Increasingly, communities are calling for a health and family support system that is affordable, that connects families to services, that assures early home visits, and that provides a “navigator or mentor” to families, rather than assuming  they can flourish without a social network of support. Within the health care system, innovations associated with the pediatric care team are building new, universal, non-stigmatizing forms of support. On the child care side, new efforts are emerging to create support for child care providers and to find new mechanisms at the community level to support both home based providers and quality centers, including better facilities and improved compensation.

But a system of early childhood services needs to be combined with two essential elements to thrive: sufficient financing from the federal, state, and local level to allow access to good services throughout the early years, and broader community efforts to assure safety and security, access to healthy food, and adequate housing and ample opportunities for better jobs and increased opportunities for all. None of this will happen without active citizen voice.

Whether it be building a barn, or supporting a family, for the country to move forward successfully it is collective action that will matter. It will take all of us coming together to make the difference.

- - -

Joan Lombardi Ph.D. directs Early Opportunities LLC, a philanthropic advisement service focused on the development of young children, families, and the communities that support them. Read more here

A Promotora’s (Community Health Promoter) Personal Journey: Pathway to Capacity Builder

  ·   By Lupe González and José Montaño

Best Start is First 5 LA’s place-based initiative designed to improved results for children, families and communities. The initiative, which operates in 14 of Los Angeles’ most challenged communities, supports the development of local Community Partnerships made up of parents, residents, business and community leaders, health care providers, community service agencies, faith-based leaders, local government officials and interested community members who have made a commitment to working together to improve the conditions and opportunities that will ultimately improve results for children, families and the communities they live in. CSSP’s primary role with First 5 LA and the Best Start initiative is to help build the capacity of the 14 Community Partnerships so that they are high functioning, results focused entities that will continuously seek to improve community and family conditions for children for years to come. 

With a team of approximately 20 members, the Los Angeles based CSSP team works directly with community partnership members, local organization and building organizations to ensure that the essential capacity building measures that have been the core of CSSP’s work overtime are the basis for each partnerships’ skill building and design. 


¡Presente! Our Best Start parent and resident leaders yelled out “present” during the welcoming ceremony at the Visión y Compromiso’s 15th Annual Conference on October 6 & 7, 2017 at the Ontario Convention Center.  The ballroom that held about 1,000 promotores and community leaders shook with energy and laughter.  The conference welcomed members from local areas, across the nation and internationally.  Our Best Start members connected with new contacts and participated in dozens of workshops.   Opportunities, such as the conference, uplift the Best Start’s parent and resident leaders’ commitment to be a part of the process, create a sense of ownership and motivate them to become advocates for their communities.   

The following is an interview with Lupe Gonzalez, a capacity builder for Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) and Wilmington about her experiences as a community leader, her path to become a capacity builder with Best Start, and getting the Visión y Compromiso Conference, a gathering of community health educators, off the ground. In 2017, most of the 14 Best Start communities sent 90 parent leaders to this three-day conference. For more information about Visión y Compromiso and the 2018 conference, its 16th annual slated for October 4-6, please visit 

José Montaño: Lupe, tell us about how you started out and how you came to be a community leader and capacity builder? 

Lupe González: I born and raised in South LA, and the negative part (of growing up there) was that youth were not seen as being capable of graduating high school. Luckily there was a model that came into South LA, which was the promotor (community health educator) model. It offered community members the opportunity to be a part of the training. The model cultivated the experiences that people had and launch it into community education and organizing. The Esperanza Community Housing Corporation provided the first-cohort training for South LA members in the late 90s. The director back then went to ESL classes in the neighborhood and schools, and the application came to my house. My dad took ESL classes and brought it back for my mother. We (my mother and I) both applied and got in. 

The model opened up a trust-based relationship. I saw how it helped our family to develop better communication. The model helped me, my mother, and my family. What could it do for the community?

JM: How did you go from being a local leader in South LA to helping establish a national effort and conference like the one at Visión y Compromiso? 

LG: At first, it was just Esperanza graduates, then we started learning we had “cousins” in like-minded organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. We all thought we were the only promotor group that existed. We weren’t, there were a lot of us. We connected and talked together. We identified the need for the types of support, and because we didn’t have the structure to do it, we didn’t have an organization. 

Leaders from the promotor groups saw an opportunity to keep supporting us and to create a nonprofit organization.  We didn’t give it a name until a collective gathered, we got together at a conference about 90 of us, a lot of promotoras from different places, and we identified the needs and the support we desired. We started throwing out names and it became Visión y Compromiso. Visión because we had a vision and wanted to become liaisons, a bridge, employees, better people in our communities, anything we wanted; and compromiso because we needed to be committed.  

JM: Tell us a little about your how you went from being a promotora to becoming a nonprofit leader training promotoras? 

LG: Through my volunteer work with Esperanza, I became a part of the staff. I took on the role of the Director of Health Programs. I saw how grants functioned, how to supervise promotores, and how to run programs. 

Originally, I was trained in 1996, we graduated in December 1996, and in 1997, we wanted to go out and change the world. Each year after that Esperanza graduated more promotores. I became a mentor to many new promotores. In 1998, I officially became an employee with a program under California Hospital to teach community members about the Medi-Cal managed care system. 

JM: How about your role with Visión y Compromiso? You’ve been involved from the very beginning. How has your role evolved from organizer, co-founder of the conference to now what? 

LG: I wouldn’t say too much co-founder. That came from a lot of us. We were in different spaces, and we started by saying things like, “My name is Lupe and I’m a promotora de salud (community health educator/promoter).” And then people would ask, “What is that?” and that’s where we started gaining traction, validity, and acknowledgement. 

This year is the 16th Annual Conference. The way that my role has evolved is similar to the way I became a promotora, I started participating as a volunteer and became passionate about the work that they do.

JM: Lupe, you shared much about your history of leadership and how you helped shape Visión y Compromiso and Best Start’s involvement in that. Can you share with us how you came to be a capacity builder? 

LG: My journey as a capacity builder began four years ago when I was a part of the Best Start Metro Community Guidance Body. I learned about Best Start when I was a resident in the area and also through my work at Esperanza Community Housing Corporation.  While at Esperanza, I was working with the promotor training and participating in both efforts I came to understand that the two organizations had things in common. There (at Best Start Metro), I met Brenda Aguilera and Aja Howell who introduced me to the capacity building opportunities through training and practice. 

I was introduced to the communities of SELA and Wilmington, and with the support and trust of the communities, the organizations and First LA staff, I eventually became the facilitator for those communities.  When the facilitator contract came to an end, I was invited to be a part of the capacity building team.

JM: What are you most proud of with this conference and professionally? What is your greatest accomplishments to date? 

LG: Professionally, one of the biggest accomplishments is being a capacity builder with CSSP. To be a promotora and be within a team of people with such varied educational levels and life backgrounds. Wow! By being part of Best Start Metro LA… and now being a mentor to those community members that are following in my footsteps, that’s a great accomplishment for me personally.  

Because of the work that we have done together, the promotores has become a nationally recognized model. I was invited to become a member of the national steering committee of promotores in Washington DC. I’m really proud to represent the promotores en la lucha (in the struggle.) Many don’t have the income to go to meetings, or they don’t have the means of transportation, but they are still there. It’s their movement, they have a sense of ownership, so that makes me very proud. 

I have also learned a lot through my years in Best Start. Starting off as a member of Best Start gave me the background and context to be able to guide communities as they planned for the future. There have been wins and lessons learned. The promotor training I received early on helped set the foundation and the Best Start trainings reinforced my confidence. I have been fortunate to share my story with the Best Start members and hope that it motivates them to continue developing what they already have, to be the best they can be to support their own communities.

JM: Congratulations, Lupe! 

LG: Thank you.

Lupe González is a CSSP Capacity Builder, Wilmington and SELA and José Montaño is a CSSP Capacity Builder, East LA



Stay Informed

Media Inquiries


Additional CSSP Information

Site by Trilogy