Supporting Families in Stressful Times

  ·   By Viet Tran

In the Fall 2017 issue of Kansas Child, published by Child Care Aware of Kansas, CSSP Senior Associate Cailin O’Connor describes concrete actions early care and education providers can take to support families in their programs when they are going through a stressful time. 

This brief article suggests steps providers can take related to each of the Strengthening Families Protective Factors, to support young children and their families when a family is going through a challenging time. 

“Early care and education providers can be some of the most important figures in young children’s lives,” said O’Connor. “When a family is under stress, there are a lot of things the child’s teacher or care provider can do, not just to ease the child’s stress, but to help parents cope and connect them to other supports. Looking at it through the lens of the Protective Factors Framework can help providers understand what families might need.”

For more information on Strengthening Families, please explore www.strengtheningfamilies.net

To read Cailin’s full article in the issue of Kansas Child magazine, please view here.

If you would like to customize a similar article for early care and education providers in your state or community, please contact Cailin O’Connor.

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 Viet Tran is a communications manager at CSSP.

An Accelerating Change Awardee Profile: PathWays PA

  ·   By Victoria Efetevbia

On September 27th, CSSP announced three winners of the 2017 Accelerating Change Award. Each of the awardees have demonstrated a commitment to reaching and serving diverse populations of young women and girls of color who are involved or at risk of involvement in public systems.

“We could not be prouder to receive CSSP’s 2017 Accelerating Change Award,” said Brenda Dawson, the President and CEO of PathWays PA. “We are truly honored to have CSSP recognize the hard work and commitment of our staff and their efforts to empower young women of color to become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Founded in 1978, PathWays PA is dedicated to empowering women in the Greater Philadelphia Region, particularly women of color, to embrace their true selves and to become the greatest version of themselves. Pathways PA’s mission is to help low-income women, children, teens and families achieve economic independence and family well-being. The organization’s vision is that one day the families it serves will feel safe, lead healthy, self-reliant lives and become positive contributors to their communities.

PathWays PA’s vision is especially evident through the organization’s emergency shelter and transitional housing program, Nurturing Expectations for Successful Transitions (NEST). The NEST program is the only program in Philadelphia that provides emergency shelter services for teen girls who have run away from home or are experiencing homelessness. Many of these teen girls are girls of color and have been involved in public systems such as the child welfare system and the justice system. Young women and girls of color— especially those involved in public systems— face a unique and alarming trajectory that puts them at risk of poor outcomes.

For over a decade, the NEST program has recognized the unique needs of these young women and teen mothers and provides them with support through trauma-informed care. The program helps address young women’s trauma through a variety of initiatives including individualized counseling with a licensed therapist and case managers who provide young women with follow-up support. The young women who participate in NEST are also empowered to achieve their goals through a supportive community. They lead community service projects, serve on the advisory board for NEST and facilitate discussions with other girls of color in the community on issues important to them such as race, gender, sexuality and leadership.  

Since the NEST program’s inception, PathWays PA has witnessed significant changes in the lives of Philadelphia’s teen girls who have run away from home or are experiencing homelessness. Alumni of the NEST program often return to the program years later to share their transformative experiences with the young women currently enrolled in the program. Countless young women who have participated in the program have earned college degrees, despite once being on the verge of dropping out of school, secured stable housing and reunited with their family.

In addition to national recognition and an honorarium, PathWays PA will join other Accelerating Change Award recipients to be part of a network of similar initiatives to share ideas and help accelerate positive change and promising futures for women and girls of color nationally.

To learn more about PathWays PA, please go to http://www.pathwayspa.org/

Check out the other Accelerating Change awardee profiles here:

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center

Gwen's Girls

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Victoria Efetevbia is a program and research assistant at CSSP. 

On September 27th, CSSP announced three winners of the 2017 Accelerating Change Award. Each of the awardees have demonstrated a commitment to reaching and serving diverse populations of young women and girls of color who are involved or at risk of involvement in public systems.


“It is an honor to receive this award. We want to thank the Center for the Study of Social Policy for seeing the girl and helping us move the needle toward justice to ensure equitable treatment of justice-involved girls,” said Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, the President and CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Based in Jacksonville, Florida, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center was founded in 2013 to advance the rights of girls and young women, and those who identify as such, especially justice-involved girls. The Policy Center emerged out of a movement during the late 1990s to stop legislation that threatened to eliminate statewide programming for girls involved in the juvenile justice system. Bearing witness to how significantly policy can either hurt girls and young women or help them, the Policy Center has always been committed to implementing political science strategies that integrate the lived experiences of girls in juvenile justice and child protective systems. With girls and young women as equal partners, the Policy Center aligns research, public policy advocacy, training and direct services to influence significant justice reforms for communities on the First Coast (Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns Counties) and statewide.

Young women and girls of color— especially those involved in public systems— face a unique and alarming trajectory that puts them at risk of poor outcomes. The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center works to disrupt this trajectory through advocacy that targets the needs of girls and young women. Examples of these initiatives include intervention in the suspension of girls in elementary school, training and technical assistance to enhance communities’ responses to girls and young women and recommendations to judges for therapeutic alternatives to incarcerating girls and young women. 

In addition to advocacy, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center addresses the needs of girls and young women through their unique direct service approach. The Policy Center operationalizes girl-centered principles in its direct service work by partnering with the girls it serves to co-create programs. The inclusion of girls’ voices in the creation of the Policy Center’s programming has resulted in a team of psychologists who provide girls and young women with individualized care and psychoeducational groups, as well as clinicians and care managers who are available to girls and young women 24 hours, seven days a week. The Policy Center delivers service at all points of the justice continuum— school, diversion programs, detention centers and probation.

The advocacy and direct service performed by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center has resulted in a 67 percent reduction in the incarceration of girls in Duval County and an overall 48 percent reduction in the incarceration of girls across the First Coast.

PBS NewsHour Weekend, The Clinton Health Foundation Activation Summit and the Georgetown University Journal of Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy have all recognized the Policy Center’s work as the national replication model for justice system reform.

In addition to national recognition and an honorarium, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center will join other Accelerating Change Award recipients to be part of a network of similar initiatives to share ideas and help accelerate positive change and promising futures for women and girls of color nationally.

To learn more about the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, please go to www.seethegirl.org

Check out the other Accelerating Change awardee profiles here:

Gwen's Girls

PathWays PA

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Victoria Efetevbia is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

Last week, after announcing the reversal of a three year old Justice Department policy that protected transgender employees from workplace discrimination, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued two memos addressing the federal interpretation of religious liberty. The memos broadly interpret religious liberty to allow businesses covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including federal service providers, to refuse to serve people on the basis of the employer’s religious beliefs. This decision follows the trend initially set by the Trump Administration through a leaked draft of an executive order on religious liberty and picked up by several states across the country that have passed religious refusal legislation that allow publicly-funded child welfare agencies to refuse to serve individuals based on their deeply-held religious belief. While religious refusal laws may be intended to provide religious child placing agencies protection from adverse action for discriminating against prospective foster and adoptive parents who are LGBTQ or gender expansive, they will have numerous, far-reaching and harmful consequences for all young people involved in child welfare.

This week, CSSP released a new brief, “Religious Refusal Laws in Child Welfare—Harming Children and Stunting Progress”, examining the impact of religious refusal legislation on children and families who are involved in child welfare. As we discuss in the brief, religious refusal laws will have tremendous negative consequences for all children and families involved in child welfare that directly contradict not only the basic principles of child welfare but also the significant gains made by child welfare systems across the country to recruit and retain quality foster and adoptive homes. These consequences include:

  • A reduction in the number of available homes for children and increased time in foster care. Agencies could reject otherwise qualified unmarried couples, individuals who are single or divorced, people of a different faith than the agency, interfaith couples, families and individuals who do not belong to a religious practice or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LBGTQ) or gender expansive individuals or couples because they do not adhere to an agency or individual worker’s beliefs. This would result in children remaining in foster care rather than being placed in a loving, capable and qualified adoptive home. It could also increase referrals to group and congregate care facilities due to lack of available foster homes.
  • Educational disruption. Religious refusal laws increase the likelihood that children entering foster care will have to move further away from their home school for their placement and experience education disruption. Research shows that educational disruption has a number of long-lasting, detrimental effects on students’ academic achievement, brain growth, mental development, psychological adjustment and likelihood of high school completion.
  • Disconnection from family and other supportive social networks. Religious refusal legislation would allow an agency to refuse to place a child with an otherwise qualified relative or family friend for multiple reasons related to the agency or individual worker’s religious beliefs and instead place the child in non-relative foster care or in a group or congregate care facility.
  • Lack of access to appropriate medical and behavioral health care. Limiting potential foster and adoptive placements increases the likelihood that children in foster care will experience disruptions in their medical or behavioral health care. Moreover, an agency could deny children and young people necessary medical care, such as vaccinations, reproductive care or access to contraception, which runs counter to the work of jurisdictions throughout the country to ensure that all children in foster care are vaccinated, receive regular medical and dental care and are screened and receive access to any identified mental health care.
  • Additional harm for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender and gender expansive young people in foster care. By allowing agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ or gender expansive foster or adoptive parents, religious refusal laws send a clear and powerful message that the public agencies charged with protecting youth who have been rejected by their families will further repeat that trauma and validate such rejection by not supporting or affirming their identities. In addition, placement of young children in non-affirming homes can result in abuse and failed adoptions later when a child comes out in that home.

These outcomes are far from inevitable. We call upon policymakers and advocates to join the many states and communities who are rejecting religious refusal laws that provide publicly-funded agencies with a license to discriminate and are instead working to ensure that child serving agencies focus on promoting the best interests of all children in their care through inclusive nondiscrimination laws and providing them with capable, loving and stable homes.

For more information on the harmful consequences of religious refusal laws in child welfare, read our brief available here.

For more information on strategies for child welfare systems to better support healthy sexual and identity development for all children and youth in the child welfare system, see resources from CSSP’s getREAL (Recognize, Engage, Affirm Love) Initiative.


 Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

CSSP’s Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare’s second brief in the Fight for Our Girls series centers the importance of crafting a more holistic narrative for girls of color who are involved in public systems. The brief suggests this narrative can be achieved by systems applying a trauma-informed approach and intersectional lens when developing programs, policies and practices.

Public systems often subject girls – disproportionately girls of color– to harsher punishments for lower-level crimes and status offenses. In fact, girls who commit these behaviors - such as running away, missing school and violating curfew – can be narrowly defined as social problems that require intervention at the individual level. It is important to avoid conceptualizing status offenses as individual problems or as social problems. Instead, a trauma-informed approach should consider what underlying factors may be leading girls to these behaviors. For example, behaviors like running away, truancy and violating curfew are often methods of survival and are likely caused by underlying trauma such as abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and family conflict.

In addition to the high likelihood that girls are committing status offenses as methods of survival is the challenge of adults’ perceptions of girls, especially on girls of color. The latest Fight for Our Girls brief outlines research conducted by Lisa Pasko, which found that girls, and disproportionately girls of color, face added challenges such as biases, stereotypes and historic oppression when coming in contact with public systems. Pasko’s research, which consisted of interviews with probation officers, social workers, therapists and residential placement staff, revealed that system stakeholders have a hyper focus on policing girls for their perceived sexuality rather than focusing on their overall well-being.

Adultification is yet another challenge that arises for girls of color that can be attributed to adult perception. The recently released Girlhood Interrupted report cites adultification of Black girls as problematic beliefs that they need less nurturing, less protection, less support, less comfort, are more independent and that they know more about sex and other adult topics.

Fight for Our Girls points to recent research to uncover the racial, ethnic and gender biases that may be leading girls of color to be subjected to disparate treatment for status offenses.

Juvenile justice and child welfare systems must work to address the structural inequities and trauma that so often contribute to girls committing status offenses in order to fully support the ability of girls of color to thrive. The latest Fight for Our Girls brief highlights successful organizations that are working to change this narrative and puts forth the following recommendations: Public systems should (1) collect and report data that captures the involvement of youth in child welfare systems for status offenses, (2) develop meaningful cross-systems partnerships, (3) implement community-based prevention models that promote youth stability and placement in the community, (4) utilize youth advisory boards and youth engagement strategies to inform effective program development and implementation, (5) fully implement the reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and (6) create safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth and transgender girls of color.

To learn more, read the full brief here.

Don’t forget to join us on Thursday, October 26, 3-4 p.m EST for our #FFOG: Fight For Our Girls Twitter Chat.

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Erika Feinman is a program and research assistant at CSSP.