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Healthy relationships are important for the positive development of children and youth, and are especially important for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth of color in child welfare. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system and within that demographic, youth of color are particularly disproportionately represented. According to the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being – II, 61.8 percent of LGB children in child welfare are youth of color. Not only do LGBTQ youth of color experience disproportionate representation in the child welfare system, when systems fail to meet their needs they are also at a “heightened risk of exploitation due to experiences including rejection and desperate need of shelter, food and other necessities”.

The importance of healthy relationships for youth was apparent in CSSP-led focus groups, where youth spoke of experiences with healthy and unhealthy relationships, including sexual exploitation, and the response (or lack thereof) by child welfare systems. One barrier youth identified was the inaccessible language used by systems to identify and document these experiences, including the use of terms like sex trafficking or commercial sexual activity in assessments and intake forms. In order for child welfare systems to be able to identify and serve youth who have experienced sexual exploitation, it is important to use language that resonates with and matches the lived experiences of youth and to work with young people to identify healthy relationship patterns.

Often, young people involved in sexual exploitation are unaware of the exploitative nature of their relationships. For example, a young person might perceive the exchange or expectation of sex in return for basic needs such as food or shelter as a normal part of an intimate relationship. Youth also cite fear of punishment and resulting stigma as to why they are hesitant to identify their experiences as sexual exploitation to adults and systems professionals. In addition, implicit bias on behalf of workers and perceptions of promiscuity or perceptions that youth of color are older and less innocent than their white peers may affect how assessment tools are applied for LGBTQ youth of color. Consequently, when the language systems use around sex trafficking and exploitation at intake and in assessments does not match the experiences of LGBTQ youth of color in the child welfare system, both systems and young people themselves may be prevented from accurately identifying those who have experienced sexual exploitation. This lapse between language and lived experience in turn also prevents the system from connecting these youth with appropriate supports and services.

In 2014, President Obama signed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) into law which requires child welfare agencies to identify, report and support youth who are either at risk or have been victims of sex trafficking. Our focus groups and interviews concluded that in order to fully meet this requirement, the language utilized by the child welfare system must enable and support youth and fully engage LGBTQ youth of color.

Our recent brief, Bridging the Language Gap in Child Welfare: Identifying and Supporting LGBTQ Youth who have Experienced Sexual Exploitation, recommends ways for systems to support the identification of LGBTQ youth of color who have experienced sexual exploitation. States should:

  • Ensure youth engagement in the design and implementation of improved screening tools to increase capacity for child welfare systems to identify youth involved with sexual exploitation and trafficking;
  • Utilize multidisciplinary teams to ensure consistent language and definitions across systems;
  • Eliminate barriers to accessing child welfare services by updating and clarifying key definitions and terminology; and
  • Raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 years old for instances of sex trafficking that must demonstrate force, fraud or coercion.

These four recommendations aim to remove barriers to identifying LGBTQ youth who have experienced sexual exploitation. Identifying youth is the first step to connecting them with the appropriate and necessary supports and services. If child welfare systems are not able to identify youth, then they will not be able to provide supports and services that address unhealthy relationships and strengthen healthy relationships for LGBTQ youth of color.


Justine Kim is a communications intern at CSSP. She is currently an undergraduate at Northwestern University, majoring in social policy and Asian American studies. 

In the Footsteps of Giants

  ·   By Robert Sege, MD, PhD, FAAP

Each of us is the product of our own experiences, and those who molded our personal and professional lives. This Memorial Day weekend, I found myself in the midst of encounters with my own role models in pediatrics. On Sunday, I saw T. Berry Brazelton, the kind and brilliant pediatrician whose books captured the imagination of parents in the late 20th century. Although he is now 99 years old, Berry walked in with a huge smile on his face, and promptly engaged in conversation with an eleven-year-old girl who wants to become a pediatrician.

Later this week, I will head up to Vermont for a celebration of the life of Paula Duncan, the guiding force (and I do mean force) behind the movement in pediatrics to move beyond screening for risk to assessing the positive in children and families, and partnering with parents to grow these assets.

These two leading lights amplify the themes that children need more than protection from adversity, they also need safe places to live, learn and play and to experience connection and support from the adults and peers who shape their worlds.

With the support of Casey Family Programs, I led a group of early childhood experts to produce a new report, Balancing Adverse Childhood Experiences with HOPE (Health Outcomes of Positive Experiences). This report pulls together results from four separate population surveys. We learned that adults who recalled warm, nurturing relationships with their families and communities became healthier adults, even if they had multiple adversities in childhood.

While policymakers struggle to improve screening for risk and adversity, US parents and other adults already get it: children’s brains grow and develop in response to all their experiences, both adverse and positive. According to a 2016 population survey conducted by and reported for the first time in the HOPE report, there is wide consensus among American adults of all ethnicities about the importance of positive parenting practices, and the political will to move forward in supporting families.

HOPE complements other new approaches to supporting child development and preventing abuse and neglect. Looked at through the lens of the social-ecological model, they all fit: The CDC advocates policies that support families through its Essentials for Childhood initiative. CSSP’s Strengthening Families approach emphasizes the centrality of the family in the lives of children, and articulates a set of protective factors that families need to thrive. HOPE completes this triad by demonstrating that protective factors operate through affecting children’s experiences.

The HOPE report provides more data and background for an approach that balances concerns about trauma and adversity with one that promotes the development of healthy resilient children who have had the positive experiences we all need. Although the report and the information within it is new, my own relationships with my mentors – Paula Duncan and T. Berry Brazelton – remind me that we are in fact only adding to a solid foundation of understanding.


Dr. Robert Sege, MD, PhD, FAAP, is a practicing pediatrician, the Chief Medical Officer at Health Resources in Action, and a Senior Fellow at CSSP. 

The Ongoing Fight for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care

  ·   By Amelia Esenstad

The past month we have seen a number of policies, plans and recommendations that, if or when implemented, will have many negative consequences for LGBTQ youth in foster care – reinforcing the need to, now more than ever, actively stand up for and support these youth. While we will continue our efforts at the federal level, we are also committed to highlighting work being done within states. 

Recent CSSP research, which will be featured in a forthcoming paper with Children’s Rights, Inc. and Lambda Legal, looked at state law, policy and licensing regulations across the country in the areas of child welfare, juvenile justice and runaway/homeless systems. Results show that while child welfare systems in 27 states and DC name sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination protections, only four states require that placement decisions of transgender youth be made according to gender identity and only three states include gender identity in their definition of sex or gender. 

Our assessment of every state is documented in the map below, highlighting exemplary states and those with room for improvement. We will further explore the opportunities presented in all states to improve equity and outcomes for LGBTQ children and youth in care.


Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.

In recent weeks, CSSP's pursuit of its mission to promote the safety, security and well-being of all children, youth, families and communities, especially those who are systematically left behind, has required additional vigilance and timely and visible action. As Congress moves to dismantle the current structure for providing health care to low-income children and families, once again, we must speak up.

A range of proposals are currently being considered to restructure the foundations of health insurance coverage for low-income children and families, including changes to Medicaid (Title XIX), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These three health care financing programs provide coverage for millions of poor families and children and the consequences of change are likely to be very significant for their well-being. 

In a new brief series, we highlight the potential impacts of proposed changes on our most vulnerable populations of families and children and highlight several concrete, actionable policy strategies that policymakers at the federal and state level can take to ensure children and families continue to have quality health care and health insurance through Medicaid, CHIP and the ACA.

The two briefs released today highlight the vital role that Medicaid, CHIP and the ACA play in reducing health disparities, improving coverage and achieving equity in health outcomes for young children and families and children and families involved in the child welfare system. On our website, you will also find information on the race equity implications of restructuring Medicaid and CHIP.

We will continue to issue policy briefs, statements and blogs in response to attacks on equity, basic rights and well-being. These are continually evolving issues, and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to follow us on social media (@CtrSocialPolicy and and visit our website at

Download and read the new briefs Promoting Healthy Outcomes for Young Children and Their Families: Implications of Proposals to Restrict Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Protect Medicaid: Critical Opportunities to Support Children, Youth and Families Involved with Child Welfare.


Download and read The Racial Implications of Proposals to Restrict Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).


Shadi Houshyar is a senior associate and project director at CSSP.

This is the first in a series of blogposts that the Center for the Study of Social Policy is launching to recognize, document, share and celebrate the innovations taking place at the community level to promote healthy child development and support families. We are delighted to kick off this series with a post by Joan Lombardi, the widely recognized expert on early childhood development and a longstanding leader behind the movement to create communities that care about young children and families. Over the next year, we will be hearing from other national experts as well as mayors and local leaders doing pioneering work, foundations that are seeding innovation, and researchers who confirm the urgency of using expanding knowledge now to make a difference for this generation of children. - Frank Farrow, Director 

Something is happening across the United States, and in a growing number of communities around the world. Backed by the science that recognizes the importance of the early years to long-term health, learning and behavior, the movement to focus on early childhood development has continued to grow. The innovative edge of this movement goes beyond a single program; instead it leans in to involve the whole community in efforts to help children and families learn and thrive.

These initiatives are emerging from small neighborhoods, to big cities, from rural communities to statewide efforts to promote local action. While they may reflect a variety of names, they often share a common goal: to create communities that are responsive to the needs of young children and their families — families who today are too often struggling alone, without traditional supports so important to the success of all of us.

A number of key interrelated concepts are driving this movement, among them: 

  • The ecological systems model that recognizes that children grow up in families, which are influenced by the communities around them and in turn by policies at all levels.
  • The two generation [i] movement that acknowledges the importance of empowering the adults in children’s lives, which in turn affects healthy child development.
  • The life-course approach to service delivery which calls for us to start early and assure continuity across the early years and beyond.
  • The concept of nurturing care that integrates health, nutrition, early learning, responsive caregiving and security and safety.[ii]
  • The belief in the empowerment of families and mutual respect for the richness of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity.
  • The idea that we can impact child development by reducing risk factors (including poverty) and increasing protective factors.
  • The movement towards collective impact, rather than focusing on impact from a single program.
  • The use of population-based data to drive towards results. 

So if a mayor or other municipal leader, or a group of concerned citizens or a business or foundation official, asks what can we do together to make a difference for our youngest children and their families, we need a way to get started. While there is no neat formula for making change happen, I offer the following steps forward for discussion, debate and dialogue; each community will have to find its own unique direction.

Getting Ready

The best way forward is to just jump in — call a meeting, demonstrate leadership, begin to vision how the community can be more supportive to the families with young children. You can start by:

1. Bringing together a planning group across sectors (health, education, family support)
2. Assuring strong and meaningful community participation
3. Defining the mission and setting goals
4. Mapping community assets

Assuring a pathway to success

We are gaining new insights into the need to assure continuous and high quality services for young children and families from the prenatal period through the primary grades. Providing good maternal and child health, nutrition and mental health services; assuring family support; developing early childhood services from home visiting to quality child care, from Early Head Start to Head Start – taken together, these can all contribute to healthy child development and in turn to success later in life. But families and services do not live in isolation.  They need an infrastructure of support to help assure quality, to make connections, to track results. In your planning efforts, consider:

5. Establishing a focal point or hubs to help early childhood providers assure quality services to children and support for families, as well as support for the the early childhood workforce.
6. Creating a mechanism to connect families to each other and to services, and provide ongoing networks of support.
7. Promoting strong linkages between community early childhood services and schools that are ready to support young children and families.
8. Developing integrated data systems and community data dashboards to track results and inform improvements and expansion

Reaching out to the broader community

Research tells us that what makes a difference to families goes beyond their ability to access services.  We know now that the overall climate of a community – the social, economic and physical context – has an impact on children and families. We have to involve everyone in a community to make a difference. We all have to row in the same direction by:

9. Strengthening the social fabric of the community (creating social networks religious institutions, civic organizations, businesses, law enforcement, higher education institutions).
10. Utilizing physical spaces to support young children and families (places to play and learn).
11. Assuring ongoing efforts to support family and community economic development (housing, transportation, asset development, job opportunities).
12. Promoting new financing mechanisms and advocating for state and national policies that support young children and families. 

In closing, we hear a lot these days about what divides us. This movement to create “caring communities” is something that can unite us. It can heal, and it can bring us together towards a common goal: strong families and healthy, happy and successful children.


1 For more information on the two generation approach see Ascend at the Aspen Institute.
2 Advancing Early Childhood Development from Science to Scale: An Executive Summary for the Lancet’s Series, 2016. 2016

The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s (CSSP) newest policy report highlights opportunities within Medicaid to improve health care services for child welfare involved expectant and parenting youth and their children. Access to comprehensive, regular and reliable quality medical and behavioral health care is essential for all young people, especially for those who are expectant or parenting. We know from data that when the health care needs of young parents are met, it is closely associated with positive health and developmental outcomes for their children. In order to ensure positive health outcomes for young parents and their children, it is important to focus on increasing access to quality, comprehensive, holistic services that meet the needs of young parents – as both an adolescent and parent – and their children. This includes coordinating health care services, automatic enrollment and working with fathers to ensure access to quality health care and opportunities to participate in their child’s health care services.

This report presents several strategies states should pursue within Medicaid to maximize the health and well-being of adolescent parents who have experienced foster care and their children including:

  1. adopting policies and practices that recognize and seek to meet the unique, holistic needs of both young parents and their children;
  2. increasing access to health care services and insurance through improving enrollment, eligibility and portability processes and policies; and
  3. improving cross-systems collaboration. 

Download the full report here: Improving Health Care Services: Opportunities Within Medicaid To Support Child Welfare Involved Expectant and Parenting Youth and Their Children.

Alexandra Citrin is a senior policy analyst at CSSP.

Children’s Bureau Commissioner Rafael Lopez issued an important and groundbreaking Memorandum this week about the urgent need for high quality legal representation for all parties to ensure the well-functioning of child welfare proceedings. The memorandum contains relevant research on the topic, including the importance of early appointment of counsel, and includes an Appendix with examples of existing high quality representation. The Children’s Bureau “ strongly encourages all jurisdictions to provide legal representation to all parents in all stages of child welfare proceedings” and all jurisdictions are encouraged “to consider providing such representation as part of a multi-disciplinary team." This is an exciting development that will advance standards for all parties in child welfare proceedings.

Martha Raimon is a senior associate at CSSP.

Today on December 3rd the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) joins the United State of Women to declare the first United Day of Women.  As young women and girls of color continue to be overrepresented in child welfare, juvenile justice and other intervening public systems, it is important that on this day we acknowledge the structural racial and gender discrimination, personal and community violence and added trauma that often accompanies intervening system involvement.

Girls represent between 33 to 50 percent of youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and 20 to 25 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, girls of color comprise up to 61 percent of girls in residential placement in the juvenile justice system and have the highest rates of confinement to residential placement for status offenses, with Native American and African American girls placed at the highest rates.  For many young women and girls, particularly those of color, these systems fail to fully address their intersectional needs and often place them at risk for poor outcomes in life.

CSSP remains committed to advocating for young women and girls of color by promoting the gender responsive, trauma-informed and culturally competent practices and policies that are proven to address their needs. The Accelerating Change Award (ACA) and accompanying network, as well as the ongoing Fight for Our Girls series, are among CSSP’s latest efforts to center the impact of structural discrimination and trauma in the conversation around marginalized young women and girls in public systems and to support the long-term innovative solutions that encourage their well-being and success.

CSSP launched the Accelerating Change Award to lift up organizations that have demonstrated leadership and innovation in their efforts to engage and serve young women and girls of color who are involved or at risk for public system involvement. Earlier this year, CSSP recognized ROCA, Inc. High Risk Young Mother’s Program, PACE Center for Girls, Young Women’s Project, viBe Theater Experience and My Life My Choice as 2016 Acceleration Change awardees.

This past summer CSSP and ACA awardees participated in the White House’s first United State of Women Summit, a day-long conference hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls, Civic Nation, the U.S. Departments of State and Labor and the Aspen Institute. The conference brought together practitioners, policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders to discuss key gender equality issues that women and girls face, including the unique issues that often occur at the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexual orientation for women and girls of color.

The United State of Women Summit served as a collective call to action and has since transformed into a movement to advance and empower women and girls nationwide. As our body of work on young women and girls of color continues to grow, CSSP and the Accelerating Change Network remains dedicated to advancing the movement. We look forward to expanding our efforts to improve the lives of systems-involved young women and girls of color in the coming year and contributing to a broader holistic framework and national policy agenda that will ensure their well-being and success. 


Today on #UnitedDayofWomen, I will join @CtrSocialPolicy to stand for our women & girls of color in public systems.

.@CtrSocialPolicy highlights organizations accelerating change for young women & girls of color. #UnitedDayofWomen


For more information, follow the United Day of Women on Twitter using the hashtag #UnitedDayofWomen or view their Facebook page.

For more information on CSSP’s work to improve the outcomes for women and girls of color involved in multiple public systems, please visit our website here.

Precious Graham is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released updated poverty numbers for 2015 which projected higher household incomes, lower levels of poverty and higher rates of health insurance coverage than in the previous year. Despite these improvements, 43.1 million (13.5 percent of people) still lived in poverty in 2015. Of those 43.1 million people living in poverty, 14.5 million were children and 4.2 million were young children under the age of five. For many children and families of color, who are disproportionately impacted by poverty, the challenges of poverty are compounded by historic disinvestment in communities, and the legacy of racially discriminatory public policies that contribute to discriminatory job markets, housing markets and school systems as well as other barriers to economic opportunity.

Although lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) or gender non-conforming families and individuals face similar socio-economic challenges as other individuals who share their gender identity, race, ethnicity, age and disability, systems of oppression and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression often result in disparate poverty rates for LGBT communities. While there is no single LGBT experience, the impact of inequality towards an individual’s economic security vary from person to person based on their multiple identities (which includes race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, ability, socioeconomic status and more).

Research shows that youth who identify as LGBTQ often experience disparities in education, bullying in schools, housing instability, youth probation and homelessness when compared to their heterosexual, gender conforming peers. Moreover, they are more likely to experience family rejection as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity and face a heightened risk of child welfare involvement. Once involved in the child welfare system, these youth are more likely than their peers to experience placement instability and poor mental and behavioral health outcomes.

Furthermore, many LGBT families and individuals often endure “financial penalties” as the result of discriminatory policies at the federal, state and local levels. The failure of LGBT-inclusive policies today allows for legalized employment, housing, and healthcare discrimination, exclusion from obtaining health insurance and identity documents recognizing gender identity, and hostile, unsafe school environments. These financial penalties are even greater for LGBT families and individuals of color who are furthered compounded by other forms of discrimination as people of color – such as disproportional involvement in multiple public systems. With the presence of anti-LGBT laws and the lack of inclusive policies, LGBT communities are at a great risk of experiencing economic insecurity and poverty.

A report released by The Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress highlighted the struggle experienced by LGBT families and individuals and calls for policies that can be more inclusive to strengthen economic security for LGBT families and individuals.

When examining data affecting the youngest residents, children of same-sex couples are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty compared to children living in households of married opposite-sex couples. It is also shown that 19.2 percent of children living with female same-sex couples and 23.4 percent of children living with male same-sex couples are poor, compared to 12.1 percent of married opposite-sex couples.The report found that single LGBT parents raising children are three times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line than their non-LGBT counterparts. Similarly, married or partnered LGBT parents raising children are twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to married or partnered non-LGBT parents. While the difference in near poverty rate was smaller for people living alone – 20.7 percent of LGBT people living along compared to 17 percent of non-LGBT people living alone – these differences indicate the pervasiveness of poverty for LGBT adults.

These disparate poverty rates are even more troubling for LGBT people of color, who face higher poverty rates than their white peers and astronomically higher rates than the general population.  A study by the Williams Institute found that African American same-sex couples have much higher rates of poverty than white same-sex couples and children raised by black parents in same-sex couples have extremely high rates of poverty (at 38 percent for those living with lesbian couples  and 52 percent for those living with gay male couples).

The Impact of Policy

Successfully supporting LGBT families, children and individuals living in and near poverty in their efforts to achieve economic stability require strategies that are well-coordinated and responsive to the connection between economic security and anti-LGBT laws. Although some policy strategies are universally important, others need to be administered differently for families depending on their individual circumstances. LGBT families or families with LGBT children may require support and services that are different and more intensive than those needed by non-LGBT families.

Many families and individuals will turn to federal, state and local government programs that provide basic aid such as food assistance, rental assistance, cash assistance, and other limited benefits. However, because not all government programs have the same definition of family in determining eligibility for benefits, many LGBT families and individuals may be unable to obtain vital assistance during times of economic strain, simply because they are LGBTQ.

We must work to ensure that our poverty reduction efforts are also inclusive of LGBT people, which includes LGBT families and their children. Although the poverty data released last week showed that we are making important progress, there is still significant work to do to strengthen the economic security of LGBT families and individuals. 

To learn more about CSSP’s recent research working to support young children and their families, read our latest policy brief, Supporting Children: Addressing Poverty, Promoting Opportunity and Advancing Equity in Policy.

To learn more about the impact of poverty on young children’s health, learning and development, read CSSP’s new fact sheet, Poverty in Early Childhood.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

Poverty in early childhood is a pervasive problem in the U.S., with 1 in 5 children under the age of 5 experiencing poverty in 2015. Among those young children, half experienced deep poverty, meaning their families lived below 50 percent of the poverty threshold. Children of color are disproportionately likely to be exposed to the material deprivation and reduced access to opportunity that comes with poverty – 37.4 percent of black children and 30.2 percent of Hispanic or Latino children under age 5 lived in poverty in 2015, compared to 12.8 percent of their white peers – contributing to racial inequities in health, learning and other measures of well-being. 

The cumulative effects of poverty on health, learning and social emotional development are increasingly well-understood, but not yet effectively addressed, leaving policymakers with a number of opportunities in the early childhood sphere to take action to reduce poverty and mitigate its effects. By capitalizing on these opportunities, we can better support families with young children and tackle both the causes and consequences of early childhood poverty. 

How Can We Better Support Young Children & their Families?

The consequences of poverty in early childhood can be prevented and mitigated through the provision of high-quality, accessible and responsive programs and services, but to address the root causes of poverty, a broader shift in policy is also needed. Policymakers can focus on two key areas to better support young children and their families: 

Build economic opportunities and promote economic stability for parents and caregivers

Within this area, early childhood policy makers can seek to support parents and caregivers to better support children – for example, by improving alignment between programs supporting children and caregivers. On the ground, this can look like better alignment of child care subsidies with workforce development programs for caregivers. Currently, many state policies make it difficult for a child to receive a child care subsidy while the child’s caregiver is participating in a workforce development program or pursuing an education. Both children and parents lose in this equation – children may lose access to high quality early care and education programs, while a caregiver may be forced to choose between retaining a child care subsidy and pursuing education or training to improve their economic opportunities. 

Additionally, policymakers can support and advocate for family-supportive tax and work policies. In tax policy, this can look like adopting or strengthening state Earned Income Tax Credits and strengthening the child tax credit to better support families with young children. Family-supportive work policies can look like higher minimum wage laws, protections for pregnant workers, paid family and medical leave policies and fair/flexible scheduling practices. These local, state and federal level policies improve opportunities for all children and families to thrive. 

Build a high-quality system of supports and services for families with young children 

Within this key area, early childhood policymakers can ensure that programs are high-quality, accessible and a good fit for the poorest families. To use early care and education as an example, high-quality early care and education can mitigate the effects of poverty on a child’s development, but research shows that children experiencing poverty have reduced access to high-quality early care and education programs. Policymakers can work with local early childhood service provider to promote equitable access to quality early care and education for families living in poverty, and particularly for families living in deep poverty.

To learn more about these strategies to support young children and their families, read CSSP’s new policy brief, Supporting Young Children: Addressing Poverty, Promoting Opportunity and Advancing Equity in Policy.

To learn more about the impact of poverty on young children’s health, learning and development, read CSSP’s new fact sheet, Poverty in Early Childhood

Melanie Meisenheimer is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

Young women and girls of color are disproportionately involved in child welfare, juvenile justice, and other intervening public systems.  These systems often fail to adequately address their intersectional needs, steering them toward an increasingly alarming trajectory and ultimately, placing them at risk for poor outcomes in life. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) has been long committed to promoting gender responsive, trauma-informed, and culturally competent practices and policies that are proven to address these needs.

The Accelerating Change Award (ACA) and the Fight for Our Girls series are among CSSP’s latest efforts to center the impact of structural discrimination and trauma in the conversation around systems-involved young women and girls of color and to support the long-term innovative solutions that encourage their well-being and success.Accelerating Change Award Recipients, CSSP Staff Tashira Halyard and OMB Program Advisor Kimberlyn Leary

CSSP launched the Accelerating Change Award to lift up organizations who have demonstrated leadership and innovation in their efforts to engage and serve young women and girls of color who are involved or at a high risk for public system involvement. In May, CSSP recognized five organizations from across the country who have excelled in these efforts. The Accelerating Change inaugural cohort includes ROCA, Inc. High Risk Young Mother’s Program, PACE Center for Girls, Young Women’s Project, viBe Theater Experience and My Life My Choice.

Accelerating Change award recipients convened in Washington, D.C. this past June for a networking luncheon and ceremony. Commissioner Rafael López of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families and Kimberlyn Leary, former advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls and current program advisor at the Office of Management and Budget, delivered remarks at the ceremony and emphasized the importance of prioritizing the needs of young women and girls of color.

“We can change the narrative that doesn’t respect young women and girls of color,” said Commissioner López.

Awardees also attended the White House’s first United State of Women Summit, the day-long conference hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls, Civic Nation, the Department of State, the Department of Labor, and the Aspen Institute. The conference brought together practitioners, policymakers, business leaders, and other stakeholders to discuss the key gender equality issues that women and girls face. Key note speakers included President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Oprah Winfrey.

While the summit at large touched on a variety of topics, many smaller sessions provided deeper insight into the distinct issues that occur at the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexual orientation for women and girls of color.

On the second day of the summit, the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Girls at the Margin National Alliance (G@TM) hosted “Girls at the Center: Understanding Obstacles and Exploring Solutions”, a session focused specifically on needs of marginalized young women and girls and their families. The session, which featured experts in the field as well as young women and girls, explored the issues and trauma raised by juvenile justice and child welfare system involvement, early pregnancy and sexual exploitation. Panelists not only raised solutions, but also spoke to the lack of cultural competency among policymakers and the disconnect that often occurs between proposed policies and marginalized girls’ lived experiences. Ultimately, panelists advocated for holistic, interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches to policies and practices targeting this population.   

Given the recent rise of girls in the juvenile justice system, particularly girls of color, the need for an intersectional and holistic approach to system reform is more important than ever. Girls comprise of close to 30 percent of juvenile justice arrests and girls of color represent up to 61 percent of incarcerated girls.

The juvenile justice system must implement culturally competent and gender responsive practice standards in order to directly address their needs.  Practical tools for working with justice-involved girls by Oregon’s Coalition for Equal Access for Girls and Justice Coalition for Girls of Washington State may provide key guidance.

In addition to these standards, it is also crucial that the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) be reauthorized and that the valid court order (VCO) exception be eliminated. The bill offers various protections for youth in the juvenile justice system, including strengthening the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) provision and promoting trauma-informed alternatives to confinement. Additionally, eliminating the VCO exception, which allows states to detain youth for status offenses, would be extremely useful for girls of color as they currently have the highest rates of confinement for such behaviors.

The summit highlighted many of these key issues and served as a collective call to action to advance and empower women and girls nationwide.

“My hope is that people leave here inspired and ready to do something” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “So the question is what are you going to do?”

With a growing body of work on young women and girls of color, CSSP is uniquely qualified to answer this call. In addition to lifting up and recognizing the work already being done to improve the lives of women and girls of color involved in intervening systems with the Accelerating Change Award, our proposed ACA network will offer awardees the unique opportunity to join an intensive learning community of high-performing initiatives doing similar work across the country. Also, CSSP is shifting the way public systems address the needs of young women and girls of color detained for status offenses with the Fight for Our Girls series.  

CSSP looks forward to expanding our efforts and contributing to a broader holistic framework that will ensure the well-being and success of systems-involved young women and girls of color. Visit our Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare page for more information on our work supporting improved outcomes for children and families of color.

Precious Graham is a program and research assistant at CSSP.


Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Underserved Population

  ·   By Ama Konadu Amoafo-Yeboah and Ali Jawetz

In the last 25 years in the United States, the number of children under 18 with a parent who is incarcerated has more than doubled, from 1 in 125 children in 1985 to 1 in 28 in 2010. More than 2.7 million children now have a parent in jail or prison. This increasing rate of parental incarceration disproportionately affects low-income children of color. In 2008, 11.4 percent of Black children and 3.5 percent of Hispanic children had a parent in jail or prison, compared with 1.8 percent of White children. The effects of parental incarceration on children of color are often compounded because of predisposed socioeconomic factors and increased risk of household instability.

Young people whose parents are incarcerated is a demographic that is underserved. The potential impact of parental incarceration on children’s well-being is vast, leaving children of all ages at risk in virtually all developmental domains. Research is clear that early developmental experiences often impact a child’s behavioral, cognitive and social-emotional growth. Since the adolescent brain develops unevenly, traumatic events, toxic stress and other disruptions related to parental incarceration can hinder healthy brain development.

When examining the differences between parental absence due to incarceration versus parental absence for other reasons, researchers have found that there are specific disruptive effects on family members related to incarceration. Children with parents who are incarcerated are susceptible to long-lasting trauma because of the abrupt nature of the loss and the potentially frightening experiences surrounding incarceration (e.g., arrest, visitation and interactions with law enforcement). Author Joyce Arditti describes this trauma as contributing to feelings of “ambiguous loss” and “disenfranchised grief.” Ambiguous loss refers to the physical or psychological absence that lacks resolution and is not commonly defined or understood. Disenfranchised grief refers to the societal stigma of incarceration that contributes to a lack of social support or opportunities for public mourning or acknowledgement, generating feelings of shame and embarrassment. Populations that are already marginalized, such as low-income families, families of color, and non-nuclear or non-cisgender families, are more likely to experience these feelings of disenfranchised grief, since they may experience shame and trauma on a variety of intersecting levels. Youth need healthy social connections in order to feel more comfortable with themselves and to develop a sense of belonging, but disenfranchisement and loss associated with parental incarceration can impede a youth’s access to caring adults.

Youth with an incarcerated parent often need access to supports, which are often lacking when at least one parent is incarcerated and cannot contribute to family income. According to a Pew Trusts report, 65 percent of families with a member in prison or jail cannot afford basic necessities. Though financial problems are associated with either parent being incarcerated, incarceration of fathers tends to impact a family’s finances more negatively. Family income can drop by an average of 22 percent over the years a father is incarcerated. Along with the financial implications, parental incarceration is defined as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), which is associated with an increased risk of detrimental consequences to children; children with parents who are incarcerated are more likely than other children to experience social exclusion, homelessness, psychological disorders and behavioral problems. Additionally, children of incarcerated parents are at greater risk of suffering health consequences later in life, such as heart attacks, higher cholesterol and asthma.

As a result of the timeframes established in the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA), when a parent is incarcerated there is a significant risk that parental rights will be permanently terminated when the child is in foster care. A 2000 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that two percent of fathers who are incarcerated and 10 percent of mothers who are incarcerated have children in formal foster care, but these figures are likely underestimated because they do not include kinship placements. More recent data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System shows incarceration was a reason for entry into foster care for about 20,000 children in 2013. The state requirement to file for termination of parental rights is problematic, particularly when the parent is incarcerated in a facility at some distance from the child, too often making required visits and contact all but impossible. Though some states have recognized incarceration as an exception to the ASFA time frame, parental incarceration still serves as a barrier to reunification.

Understanding both the relationship between trauma and adolescent brain development for these children could improve practice, research and perceptions about incarceration. It is necessary for children of parents who are incarcerated to have better access to social networks and sustained relationships through improved visiting practices in jails and prisons, community programs that provide concrete support and educational programs that allow youth to develop cognitive and social skills. Practitioners, policymakers and other system leaders should view incarceration as a community and family problem through a trauma-informed and developmentally-informed lens.

Ama Konadu Amoafo-Yeboah and Ali Jawetz were child welfare/systems change interns at CSSP. 

Ama Konadu Amoafo-Yeboah was a summer 2016 intern conducting research and developing practice tools for Sexual & Reproductive Health policy and adolescents in the child welfare and court systems. She is a second year Social Work student at Columbia University School of Social Work with a concentration in Advanced Policy Practice and field of practice in Contemporary Social Issues. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Children and Families in Urban America from the University of Southern California. As a woman of color who is passionate about race equity and Black liberation, she plans to utilize community organizing and litigation to fight for civil and human rights. As such, Ama plans to pursue a career in law, and practice at the intersection of both fields to actualize change and improve outcomes with and for communities of color.

Ali Jawetz was a summer 2016 intern conducting research, analyzing data and writing content about engaging young fathers in the child welfare system. She is also supporting the team conducting a qualitative study about the nature of transformational relationships between youth and adults. Ali is a second year Master of Public Policy candidate in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, where she also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies and a minor in Spanish. Her primary policy interests include criminal justice reform, race equity, and education reform. She hopes to pursue a career supporting underserved populations by developing rehabilitation and re-entry programs for people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, as well as pursuing policy changes to dismantle unjust arrest, trial and sentencing practices.

For many youth in the child welfare system, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, ethnic and racial minorities or young people with disabilities, effectively addressing the root of disparities they face within and across multiple systems is important. Youth identifying as LGBTQ are overrepresented in child welfare, and they experience higher instances of homelessness, poor educational outcomes and youth probation. These overrepresentation are even starker for LGBTQ youth of color. The data on LGBTQ youth, particularly youth of color, present a grim and disturbing picture about their experiences and outcomes. Child welfare systems, who are responsible for the safety and well-being of these young people, should focus on policies and practices that reduce disparate outcomes, provide that LGBTQ youth have resources necessary for healthy development, promotes safety of youth who identify as LGBTQ and commits to achieving their permanency.

CSSP research notes that significant opportunities exist for states and counties to use innovative strategies to promote the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth and their families. The following policy strategies and state examples are a few such efforts that target increasing opportunities for LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system. These policy strategies fall under three primary categories: 

(1) Ensure all youth have the resources necessary for healthy development

Youth in foster care need a range of physical and mental health services and educational supports. However, youth who identify as LGBTQ frequently confront barriers to accessing these supports because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. To ensure all youth receive appropriate child welfare, health care, mental health and educational services and equal access to resources that promote healthy development and self-esteem, systems must embrace parallel approaches to promoting accessibility. Because a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not always known, policies and programs must be implemented in ways that respect and value all youth regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Additionally, policies should highlight the importance of acceptance and cultural competence throughout services and agencies that serve as common entry points for children and youth in foster care and connected systems.

Many youth highlighted the need for ways in which placements can signal their openness and affirmation of youth’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. One youth who moved from different foster homes stated he did not feel that he could disclose his sexuality because he did not know how his foster parents would react.

“I think it would have helped me if I would have known that my foster mom or my foster dad were okay with [my sexuality]. I never knew if I could disclose it and I never did. And I think that’s where I think a lot of my outlashing, my attitude, my anger, my depression and my rebellion came from. I felt like nobody understood me.”

(2) Promote the safety of LGBTQ youth

Many LGBTQ youth in child welfare have experienced neglect or abuse from their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identities, and more than half experience verbal or physical harassment at school. Regulations addressing this heightened risk are necessary to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of LGBTQ youth – the same entitlement afforded to all children – across settings. Strategies should include explicit prohibition of bullying, as well as balancing the need for LGBTQ youth to receive services in appropriate, non-hostile settings while avoiding unnecessary isolation.

(3) Commit to achieving permanency for LGBTQ youth

LGBTQ youth, like all youth in the child welfare system, are entitled to the least restrictive placement and to adequate assistance in achieving permanency in a stable, healthy, culturally appropriate and lasting living situation with at least one committed adult. Permanency also involves reliable, continuous, and healthy connections with siblings, birth parents, extended family and networks of other supports identified by youth and families. Yet, LGBTQ youth lose their placements more frequently than non-LGBTQ youth in foster care, report more abuse in congregate care, are more likely to age out of foster care with a lack of natural supports and suffer worse educational outcomes as a result of multiple placements. To address these negative trends, strategies should prioritize individualized placement decisions that are in line with each youth’s permanency goals across settings while using personalized supportive networks and provide needed education and training for origin and foster parents, agency staff and all children in the system.

In crafting solutions that not only reduce disparate outcomes but also promote the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth involved in child welfare, advocates and policymakers must first understand the multiple and often compounding factors that contribute to these disparate outcomes.

Targeted, cross-system collaboration that ensures all youth have the resources necessary for health development, promotes safety of youth who identify as LGBTQ and commits to achieving their permanency can improve outcomes for LGBTQ youth and families who come into contact with child welfare based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, class, ability and immigration status, is critical to better serving all children and families through child welfare services. The practices and policy recommendations detailed here are concrete, implementable examples that, with appropriate time, resources and support, have the potential to significantly improve the experiences of LGBTQ children and families in contact with child welfare – and increase equity for all families.

To learn more in detail about these three policy strategies, read the full report Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare through Cross-System Collaboration.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

An Equitable Child Care Agenda

  ·   By Rhiannon Reeeves

Today’s families are working hard. However, while nearly 70 percent of poor children live in families with at least one working parent, stagnant wages, eroding labor standards and growing inequality are preventing poor families from meeting even their most basic needs, despite their efforts. This is amplified for mothers of color who are disproportionately impacted by wage inequality and wage stagnation. For families with young children, balancing work while negotiating the demands of parenting and managing the cost of necessities such as diapers, formula, health care and child care expenses create unique stressors in the lives of the entire family. For poor families, these stressors are compounded by the high cost of housing and food, low-wage jobs that lack flexibility, lack of access to transportation and additional daily life-challenges that may arise. 

More than 16 million children in the U.S. are currently living in poverty. Young children, particularly children of color, are the most likely to live in poor or low-income households. For young children, the toxic stress that often arises from conditions of chronic adversity, such as poverty, can have a significant detrimental impact on early brain development. This can have lasting consequences for their life-long health, academic success and productivity as working adults. The science of brain development points to the importance of safe, stable and nurturing relationships and positive interactions between children and their parents and other caregiving adults. Research also shows that parental protective factors, when present in a family, mitigate or eliminate risk and actively enhance early childhood development. As such, multi-generational approaches that aim to help families build protective factors have the potential to improve outcomes and positively impact families for generations. Programs and policies taking a multi-generational approach are not new, however there are many missed opportunities for policies that take into account the needs of both children and parents and the circumstances in which families live. Additionally, when policies and programs designed for families fail to address the intersecting challenges associated with race, income, gender, citizenship or immigration status the resulting child and parent outcomes may fall far short of the intended mark.

High-quality child care serves as a multi-generational resource enabling parents or guardians to work, go to school or attend training activities while their young children are cared for in quality early learning environments supporting their healthy growth and development. Parents of young children are able to meet their caregiving responsibilities more efficiently when they know their children are being cared for in safe, enriching environments. Additionally, research shows that offering high-quality early childhood and school readiness programs can improve educational outcomes for low-income and cultural and linguistic minority children. 

On average, 61 percent of the nation’s children age zero to five and their families regularly participate in child care and early learning and development programs. The remaining children and families are either cared for in their homes or participate in more informal care arrangements or unlicensed care that is not always of high-quality – most likely due to the high cost of child care which often poses significant challenges for families, particularly those who are poor and low-income. Child care costs vary from state to state and are contingent on factors such as the age of the child and the type of care used (center-based or family child care home). In the Northeast and Midwest, the cost of full-time center-based care for two children is the highest single household expense and is surpassed only by the cost of housing in the South and the West. When poor families, who are disproportionately people of color, are able to access child care, it is too often low-quality, with low-income parents of children age five or younger being more likely to report concerns about their child’s learning, development or behavior than their peers in higher-income families. 

When coordinated in a way that supports both young children and the working adults providing for them, high-quality child care is particularly well-suited to meet the needs of low-income families. Additionally, center-based and family child care providers who work with families on a daily basis are natural partners in helping these families build protective factors that mitigate or eliminate risk and actively enhance child and family well-being. In order to bolster these positive outcomes and better support parents in the workforce, policy should ensure coordinated, high-quality child care programing that meets the demands of families with the most significant needs. A number of potential strategies could be used to help improve existing child care programs and ensure that they can better meet the needs of young children and their families. CSSP recommends the following: 

  • Expand the supply of accessible, affordable, high-quality child care for low-income families, particularly those living in underserved areas or in areas with high concentrations of poverty;
  • Target outreach efforts that prioritize the enrollment of homeless children and families and children and families involved in the child welfare systems;
  • Pursue expenditures that seek to advance equity by developing and sustaining early childhood education systems aimed at improving outcomes for poor and low-income children, children of color and children who are dual language learners;
  • Intentionally target outreach and consumer education activities to ensure that low-income families of color are informed of and have access to high-quality child care;
  • Partner with, support and invest in parents, communities and providers in ways that are linguistically and culturally responsive to diverse populations; and
  • Invest in the recruitment, training and retention of a qualified, effective and culturally responsive child care workforce. 

A key component to a family’s success is addressing the needs of both children and their caregivers together. High-quality child care serves as a unique means to equitably accomplish this goal by meeting the needs of families facing the most significant barriers in a holistic way. The recommendations listed above serve as a starting point to spur implementation strategies aimed at serving these families. CSSP’s brief, An Equitable, Multigenerational Approach to Finalizing FY 2016-2018 CCDF State Plans and an upcoming compendium of briefs on the 20th Anniversary of TANF, to be released later this month, highlight ways in which states can leverage current policy opportunities to implement these strategies.

Rhiannon Reeves is a policy and research assistant at CSSP.

CSSP Staff Reflection: State of America's Fathers

  ·   By Raquan Wedderburn

On June 16th, MenCare and Promundo hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill introducing a comprehensive new report titled “State of America’s Fathers,” which examines what being a father means in 2016. During opening remarks, Promundo CEO Gary Baker discussed how the term fatherhood encompasses a wide variety of relationships that are largely determined by connections and bonds that fathers and children form through time spent together. He stated, “There is no clear picture of what fatherhood looks like, and we need to know if men are embracing the full spectrum of roles, responsibilities and riches of fully involved fatherhood.” Because of the diversity of America’s fathers, equity in how fathers are able to interact with their children is largely determined by the systems that they may have been involved in. For many families, issues like systemic racism impact their lives in a very real way. The overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal justice systems creates an environment in which fewer men of color are present to be involved fathers.

The current prevalent narrative on fatherhood reflects dramatic changes in expectations about parental roles. Fifty years ago, a father’s contribution was rarely expected to extend beyond providing financially for the family. Men were not often expected to be involved in caregiving and often spent less than 30 minutes per day with their children. That being said, historically women of color have always balanced roles as caregivers and as financial providers for their families. Many families in communities of color did not have the luxury of supporting a household on a single income. Today, many families live in dual income households, with both men and women playing the role of breadwinner and caregiver.  With changing expectations come new ideas about what it means to be an involved father. Men are both expected, and have a genuine desire, to spend time with their children and actively participate in parenting roles. In the past 30 years, American fathers have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by 65 percent. This increase is significant and shows that men have the ability and will to be more involved fathers.

Currently, most Americans support sharing household work and childcare between men and women, with new data showing the majority of American men and women across all age categories disagree with the notion that “it is best for men to work and women to take care of the home and children.” Unfortunately, workplace norms and public policies have not changed as rapidly, resulting in poor quality outcomes of potential for improving relationships between fathers and their children. The United States ranks near the bottom in providing supports for working families. Lack of parental leave coupled with minimal legislation that supports families and the low value that is placed on caregiving creates an undue burden on American families. As stated by Baker, “It’s time to question the idea that families and employers can figure it out; mandated policy is needed around parental leave and support.”  

Policies that add to the financial bottom line for low-income working families also impact overall family well-being and the quality of father-child relationships. The briefing highlighted the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as an example. These tax credits help families struggling to get by on low wages make ends meet and provide for their families. In 2013, EITC lifted approximately 6.2 million people of out of poverty, including about 3.2 million children. The credit also reduced the severity of poverty for 21.6 million people, including 7.8 million children. The IRS estimates that four out of five eligible taxpayers take advantage of the credit.  Additionally, 26 states and the District of Columbia offer state EITC that build on the benefits of the federal EITC.

Policies like EITC have the added benefit of boosting family choice and empowering parental decision-making. When families earn more, child care becomes more affordable and parents are empowered to choose child care that fit their family’s needs, not just their pocketbooks. For many families, this confidence in their own decision making power can be the catalyst to building family economic mobility. The best decisions a family makes are the ones that are informed by what is most important to their well-being – and America’s father’s need supports that will enable them to make the best decisions for their families. With 80 percent of men becoming fathers, and the lowest earning men most likely to become fathers, family supports like EITC are wise investments in the future well-being of families and the nation as a whole.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works with communities across the country to promote family well-being and fatherhood involvement. CSSP partners with First 5 Alameda County as a part of the network of EC-LINC Communities.  Established in 2013, the Fathers Corps is a collaboration between First 5 Alameda County, Alameda County Public Health Department and Alameda County Social Services. The Alameda County Fathers Corps promotes and supports fathers and father figures to be meaningfully engaged with their children and families as well as advocates for family service providers to assist fathers in strengthening their parenting skills. The myth of women as the best and only choice as caregivers is one that initiatives like the Fathers Corps are turning on its head.

To read more on the state of America’s fathers, you can download the full report here.

MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign active in 35 countries, with a mission to promote men’s involvement as equitable fathers and caregivers as essential to achieving family health, well-being and gender equality. Promundo, also a global organization, works to promote gender justice and nonviolence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.

Raquan Wedderburn is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

A Closer Look at Foster Youth and Sex Trafficking

  ·   By Susan Mapp

Sex trafficking of children in the United States occurs to children of all races and ethnicities and to both boys and girls. As I note in my forthcoming book – Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking – while specific numbers are unknown, it is known that children in the foster care system are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. In 2014, 68 percent of those reported to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and found to be exploited through sex trafficking had been in foster care when they went missing.

This heightened vulnerability is for a number of reasons, and includes both the experiences that brought them into foster care, as well as their experiences while in care. Having experienced child maltreatment greatly increases the risk of being trafficked. Although clearly not every maltreated child will be trafficked, the professionals I interviewed noted that the vast majority of their clients had been abused as children: emotionally, physically, and/or sexually. Their experience is supported by extensive research.

This linkage may be due to lessons that maltreated children are taught. Children who have been abused are taught that people who love you mistreat you, that they do not have the right to say no and that they cannot control what happens to their bodies. Emotional abuse teaches children that they are of low worth and that those who say they love them will demean and disrespect them. Children who are physically abused have learned that physical violence is an expected part of a loving relationship. If they have been sexually abused, they learn that their body does not belong to them, that it exists for someone else's pleasure. These children are also taught to keep secrets and hide information from authorities, a required skill while trafficked.

A child found to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their parent or caretaker, may be placed in foster care. However, this can create another set of risk factors. As Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, a sex trafficking survivor and alumna of the foster care system, stated in her testimony to Congress:

Youth within the system are more vulnerable to becoming sexually exploited because youth accept and normalize the experience of being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us, we experience various people who control our lives, and we lack the opportunity to gain meaningful relationships and attachments.

Youth within the system are more vulnerable to becoming sexually exploited because youth accept and normalize the experience of being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us, we experience various people who control our lives, and we lack the opportunity to gain meaningful relationships and attachments. 

Once in the foster care system, too many youth are in foster homes with caregivers who do not truly care about them. Ms. Pettigrew stated that caregivers often use the support money from the state to purchase luxuries for themselves, and the youth are told they are simply the means to a paycheck. Thus, even before they are trafficked, these children are being taught that their purpose is to bring money into a household. An advocate reported a survivor stated that for her:

Foster care was the training ground to being trafficked. She understood that she was attached to a check. And what she points out is that at least the pimp told her that he loved her, and she never heard that in any of her foster care placements.

Adolescents in foster care experience the natural adolescent yearning for freedom and autonomy, however those in foster care have even less say over what happens in their lives than their same-age peers. Their lives are dictated by their caseworkers, foster parents and likely, other professionals. Adolescents in foster care often report plans are made for them without their input and feeling that they are not heard when they do speak up. This can be particularly true for those in a residential center, the type of placement from which youth are most likely to run, they do not have the same freedom of movement as their peers. Therefore, when they are seemingly offered a chance to be on their own and make their own decisions, or they run away, they will take it, and can thus be recruited into a trafficking situation.

Those who are members of the LGBTQ community are at further risk. Sexual minority youth are significantly more likely to be involved with the child welfare system than sexual majority youth. Once in the system, they continue to face difficulties due to discrimination, including rejection by foster parents, verbal and physical harassment and hostility. They report poorer treatment by the child welfare system, a higher number of foster care placements, are more likely to be placed in a group home and are more likely to be homeless.

To help prevent these youth from being trafficked, all those working in the child welfare system, whether as caseworkers, residential center staff, foster parents or others, must be made aware of this issue and the red flags that may signal a child is being groomed or trafficked. For example, Georgia developed a webinar to address this need due to the busy schedules of child welfare staff to ensure they had the needed information, while other states, such as Pennsylvania, have offered trainings to foster parents. They must also constantly work to meet a child's needs in a healthy way and ensure that the child feels accepted. Regardless of their role, all citizens need to be aware of this crime so we can stop the selling of the nation’s children for people’s sexual desires. You can learn more in - Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking - available in June 2016.

Susan Mapp, MSSW, Ph.D., is a professor and chair of the Social Work Department at Elizabethtown College.

Lessons from the Intersection of Housing, Child Welfare & Vulnerable Families

  ·   By Judith Meltzer and Deborah DeSantis,

The Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Corporation for Supportive Housing Announce Three Products to Support the Field Working with Families at Risk of Homelessness and Child Welfare Involvement.

Three years ago, our organizations began a journey leading us toward a better understanding of the roles that housing, case management and supportive services play in stabilizing vulnerable families, particularly those confronting complex challenges that trigger the involvement of child welfare agencies.

We became partners in the national effort spearheaded by the federal government and four well-known philanthropic foundations – Robert Wood Johnson, Annie E. Casey, Edna McConnell Clark and Casey Family Programs – to evaluate whether supportive housing could change the trajectory of families facing a number of destabilizing factors that can lead to homelessness, open cases with child welfare agencies and foster care placements. Officially known as “Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System” and launched by the U.S. Administration on Children, Youth and Families, a total of five initiatives across the country receive funding and expertise to create opportunities for vulnerable families to access affordable housing and services tailored to address medical and mental health care needs, substance use recovery, and other supports essential to the well-being of every member of the family.

The goal is to learn if housing coupled with intensive monitoring and services (known as supportive housing) can improve the lives of children and parents to the point where placing or keeping children in foster care is preventable and unnecessary.

The five sites in the demonstration are housing and co-located services in Broward County, FL; Cedar Rapids, IA; Memphis, TN; San Francisco, CA and the State of Connecticut.  Their goal is to ultimately provide supportive housing to more than 400 families with children at risk of, or already in, foster care placement.

Why do the federal government, major foundations, experts and advocates alike want to explore alternatives to foster care placement? Because a plethora of data convinces us that if we can identify and provide viable solutions forming a platform from which families can remain safely together in a home of their own, children win. Families win. And communities win.

Our two organizations were paired to assist the five demonstration sites because of CSSP’s strong record of promoting innovative ideas, policies and programs that advance the well-being of children and families from low-income communities, and CSH’s leadership in developing supportive housing models serving vulnerable families. Our respective missions have overlapped in several ways, but most important for this demonstration is the premium we place on creating stable and safe environments where children and their parents thrive together.

Through our work with the demonstration sites, strategies have already emerged to better coordinate and serve families who come into contact with child welfare agencies. For example:

In addition, we have just released this week three products to help guide supportive housing administrators and practitioners developing and involved in supportive housing efforts serving families with children. Each guide is intended to ensure providers have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information as all of us endeavor to deliver the best possible housing and services to vulnerable families.


Welcome Home: Design and Practice Guidance for Supportive Housing for Families with Children    A Practice Framework for Delivering Services to Families in Supportive Housing   Tenant Manual & Welcome Packet 
 Welcome Home: Design and Practice Guidance for Supportive Housing for Families with Children    A Practice Framework for Delivering Services to Families in Supportive Housing    Tenant Manual & Welcome Packet


Although we have more than two years remaining before the five-year demonstration winds down and full data for evaluation is available, we know anecdotally there have been high rates of reunification and successful prevention of foster care placements among participating families. To date, all five sites have successfully housed nearly 300 families and their joint retention rate is roughly 91 percent.

We are seeing promising results and have been honored to partner with outstanding and committed funders and providers as we learn more about the potential of supportive housing to work with and help transform the lives of vulnerable, fragile families. Most importantly, we have been struck by the resiliency of the families participating in the demonstration, their commitment to one another, and their determination to stay together.

Judith Meltzer is Deputy Director of the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Deborah DeSantis is President and CEO of CSH.

Sixto Cancel, Founder, Think of UsCSSP’s getR.E.A.L initiative welcomes Think of Us as a new partner in its national network. Think of Us, founded by Sixto Cancel, is an online web and mobile platform that started as a commitment to action at the Clinton Global Initiative University. Today, the initiative is a digital tool that supports youth during their transition into adulthood.

With the support of getR.E.A.L, Think of Us will launch its evidenced-informed coaching app called Unify later this year through the Santa Clara County Department of Children and the Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. The mobile application will provide young people with interactive videos, self-coaching activities and planning tools to help them identify and set personal goals, while also providing a framework to achieve them. 

“It’s important to us to use technology to reach today’s foster youth—after all, they are part of the Millennial generation, a demographic known for its digital nativity and embrace of innovation,” says Cancel, who was recently honored as a White House Champion of Change for Foster Care.

Watch this space for updates about the Unify app, and click here to join the getR.E.A.L network.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.

All children deserve to be part of a welcoming, safe and loving home – and that includes youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and gender non-conforming (GNC). According to a report by The Williams Institute, up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, yet fewer than 7 percent of kids nationwide are LGBT. 

The discrepancy of those percentages suggests a strong need for supportive services and housing for LGBT and GNC youth who experience homelessness, as well as greater awareness of how the trauma of having no place to live impacts their development and opportunities in life. 

The True Colors Fund, co-founded by Cyndi Lauper, started the first #40toNoneDay in 2015 with a message that everyone has a role to play in the movement to end LGBT and GNC youth homelessness.

“While family rejection is the most commonly cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness, it’s just one piece of the puzzle – a very big puzzle. We need to make sure we are seeing the whole picture,” Lauper wrote in an Advocate op-ed.

This raises the question: what is the bigger picture?

While there are complex and varied factors that contribute to LGBT and GNC homelessness, we can act to prevent it by supporting various programs and initiatives that work to ensure they do not end up homeless and on the streets.

One initiative that supports LGBT and GNC youth impacted by multiple intervening systems is CSSP’s get R.E.A.L initiative, which works to transform child welfare policy and practice to promote the healthy development of all children and youth. Many families that provide foster homes for LGBT and GNC youth may not provide the affirming environment needed because of their religious and cultural beliefs. Jurisdictions in our network are engaged in a variety of system transformation efforts to better support these youth and their families.

 “We are pushing the system to say that any child that comes into care needs to be recognized and engaged for who they are, and affirmed and loved and supported to become who they are authentically – and that’s not what’s happening in the system,” Bill Bettencourt, senior associate at CSSP who leads the get R.E.A.L initiative, commented in a recent interview with HuffPost Live. “That should happen for all kids. If you want to be a foster parent or an adopted parent, you should make a commitment to be able to do that.” 

Another initiative that is part of the get R.E.A.L network is Think of Us, an online web and mobile platform. Think of Us, founded by Sixto Cancel, started as a commitment to action at the Clinton Global Initiative University and now stands as a digital tool that supports youth during their transition into adulthood.

Think of Us will launch its evidence-informed coaching app called Unify later this year through the Santa Clara County Department of Children and the Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. The mobile application will provide young people with interactive videos, self-coaching activities and planning tools to help them identify and set personal goals, while also providing a framework to achieve them. 

“It’s important to us to use technology to reach today’s foster youth - after all, they are part of the Millennial generation, a demographic known for its digital nativity and embrace of innovation,” wrote Sixto Cancel, who was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Foster Care.
Think of Us and get R.E.A.L are among many initiatives that are pushing the fight to ensure that all youth – including LGBT and GNC youth – have an opportunity not to just live in a safe and loving home, but to thrive there as well.

This #40toNoneDay, let’s make our voices heard loud and clear that ending LGBT youth homelessness needs to be a priority. Let’s talk about mitigating the particular challenges that LGBT and GNC youth face – the stigma, the discrimination, the rejection, the exploitation and violence they suffer as they attempt to navigate the world in the same way that all youth do.

To learn more about our work supporting LGBT and GNC youth, visit our get R.E.A.L web page and follow the hashtag #40toNoneDay.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

Strengthening Families

New training materials are available to support implementation of the Strengthening Families approach. The Strengthening Families Scripted Curriculum Series consists of eight training modules containing slides, a suggested script for trainers, handouts and activities to help professionals apply the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework in their work with children and families.

The series presents CSSP’s most up-to-date research and reflects lessons learned from over a decade of implementation of the protective factors approach in child- and family-serving programs and systems across the country. Released one module at a time over the past eight months, the entire curriculum is now available for your use and adaptation.

CSSP worked in partnership with jurisdictions using the Strengthening Families approach in their child welfare systems to develop materials that help child welfare workers to understand the Strengthening Families approach and apply it in their daily practice. Former Strengthening Families initiative director Nilofer Ahsan led the development of these materials to meet the needs of specific jurisdictions over several years, then combined and revised content from across those and other projects into a comprehensive Strengthening Families curriculum in 2015.

While the training materials were initially designed for a child welfare audience, much of their content can be used or adapted for other audiences. In addition, while the entire curriculum can be used as a multi-day training, you are also free to pick and choose from the materials to meet your training needs. For example:

  • Need to make a presentation on an aspect of Strengthening Families? Use one or more modules from CSSP’s Strengthening Families curriculum, adapting as necessary for your audience.
  • Have you been wanting to incorporate some Strengthening Families content into other trainings or presentations? These slides, handouts and activities can be inserted into existing trainings or bundled with other content as needed.
  • Has your child welfare system been looking for ways to help caseworkers move to a strengths-based, protective factors approach? Talk to your child welfare training academy about how they could incorporate these materials into their pre-service training or professional development offerings.

See an overview of the curriculum here, find all the materials in the “Training and Professional Development” part of the Strengthening Families website, or click to view the script of each module below:

  1. Introduction to Strengthening Families : A protective factors framework
  2. Understanding the Strengthening Families protective factors
  3. Youth Thrive: A protective factors approach for older youth
  4. Trauma and brain development: A protective factors approach
  5. Making small but significant changes in child welfare practice
  6. Taking a community approach to Strengthening Families
  7. The research behind Strengthening Families
  8. Tools to support Strengthening Families implementation

Let us know how you use CSSP’s curriculum to move Strengthening Families implementation in your work.

Cailin O'Connor is a senior policy analyst at CSSP.

The diagram highlights how the key elements—collaborations, resources, financing, policy and legislation, and data—fit together to support the common vision and sustain culture, behavior, policy, and practice changes.The Center for the Study of Social Policy is one of four partners leading the Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (QIC-CT), an effort to support jurisdictions and states with tools to address the challenges faced by families in the child welfare system and to ensure that infants, toddlers and families have access to high-quality, evidence-based services.

Grounded in the ZERO TO THREE Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT) approach, QIC-CT sites around the country are working to institutionalize a court team model in daily practice by changing policies, adopting new practices and integrating services and resources that will sustain new and more effective ways of serving families with infants and toddlers.

The QIC-CT recently released a brief to help sites plan for sustaining the core elements of the SBCT approach, given the investment required by a broad network of stakeholders to successfully implement the new approach. The new brief includes a framework for sustainability that lays out key elements, including collaborations, resources, financing, policy and legislation and data.

To learn more, read: Sustaining New Approaches in Child Welfare: A Framework for Sustainability for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams.

 invitation to join EPY peer workgroup


Have expertise in working on behalf of or with expectant and parenting youth in foster care? 
Want to make a contribution to the field? 
CSSP's Expectant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care (EPY) Learning Collective is excited to invite you to join our Peer Workgroup! 


The EPY Peer Workgroup is an opportunity to cross-nationally collaborate with other professionals and share your expertise and perspective in the development of a product that advances your work and provides guidance for the field. 
The goal of the workgroup is to develop a product on one of two possible areas: practice guide for father engagement or recommendation for operationalizing sexual and reproductive health. 


Workgroup members will be asked to commit to monthly two-hour virtual meetings for an eight-month period, share expertise and contribute ideas. 
CSSP will facilitate the monthly meetings and conduct the synthesis and writing of the final product. Peer Workgroup participants will provide feedback on the final product before publication.


If you are interested in joining the EPY Learning Collective Peer Workgroup RSVP Yes to this invite. We will be hosting a special webinar for all those interested in participating to provide more detailed information. 
We look forward to collaborating with you in improving well-being outcomes for expectant and parenting youth in foster care and their children. 
RSVP to Join EPY Peer Workgroup

Announcing the Accelerating Change Award

  ·   By Tashira Halyard,

Accelerating Change Award

The Center for the Study of Social Policy seeks to honor initiatives that reach diverse populations of young women and girls of color and create opportunities for their well-being and success. These innovations disrupt the trajectory experienced by young women and girls of color from the compounding and often negative effects of gender and racial discrimination, personal and community violence and involvement in foster care, juvenile justice and other intervening public systems.

The Accelerating Change Award will celebrate the most compelling and creative interventions making a difference in young women and girls’ everyday lives. Selected recipients will join a network of like-minded partners to share ideas and help accelerate positive change and promising futures for women and girls of color nationally.

Programs, initiatives and agencies using innovative strategies to serve and advocate on behalf of girls and young women of color between ages 9-21 are encouraged to apply. Examples of eligible applicants are:

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Grassroots and community-based initiatives
  • Public agencies and intervening systems
  • Schools and universities

Applications are due on March 11, 2016 and will be reviewed by CSSP’s Accelerating Change Award team by March 4th. After the initial review, the team will contact the finalists to arrange an interview via conference call between March 9th and March 23rd. Applicants will be notified of their selection by March 30th.

Visit for more information.

A Brain, a Heart and Courage Are Needed to Help All Kansas Kids Have Permanent, Loving Homes

All children in foster care need permanent, loving homes. Yet, current events in Kansas demonstrate that some of these permanent, loving homes are being discriminated against. A series of media reports  has revealed allegations of systemic discrimination by the state Department for Children and Families (DCF) against same-sex couples who want to be foster and adoptive parents.  Just this week, a legislative panel formally recommended that family structure be considered when placing a child, prompting one state senator, Laura Kelly, to blast the move, saying “This just seems like a blatant attempt to discriminate against same-sex couples.”

Gays and lesbians can serve as foster parents and adopt children in Kansas, but multiple couples have complained that the agency discriminates against those who have sought to adopt the foster children already in their care. In previous media reports, DCF officials state there is no preference of heterosexual couples as foster and adoptive parents over gays and lesbians in committed relationships. 

This isn’t much ado about nothing, especially considering that DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told the Associated Press that “the preferred (situation) is every child to have a mom and a dad, if possible.”

In denying the allegations, DCF could have said, “We have a strong policy of non-discrimination, and we take very seriously cases where this policy is alleged to have been violated.  While we cannot comment on specific cases be assured that we support any individual and/or couple who is capable, and willing to parent a child and that we do so without discrimination.”

That’s pretty standard language.

It is clear that the cases cited and the statements made by DCF indicate a preference for heterosexual couples.

There is no research that has shown that LGBT individuals and/or couples are incapable of effective parenting.  Nor is there research that heterosexual single parents cannot effectively parent. In fact, research has shown otherwise.  There are too many children waiting to be cared for in a family setting. In Kansas, 6,762 children entered foster care last year, topping the record set the year before. Far too many languish in the system and exit it without a permanent connection to a family.

There are many healthy variations of family constellations that provide loving homes to children who then in turn become caring and productive adults. So it is disturbing that some children actually make it into loving homes and then get pulled out of these stable placements because of discrimination, not because of what is in the best interests of these children.

It is time to stop this kind of thoughtless systemic oppression that continues to negatively impact children, families and our communities. A recent guest blog by Mary Elizabeth Collins spoke to the accumulated disadvantage of youth aging out of foster care. Let us not add the accumulated disadvantage foster youth by extending their stays in foster care, unnecessarily disrupting loving placements or by putting youth in homes that are not supportive or affirming of youth who may themselves be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  These destructive actions impact their ability to succeed in school and the ability to achieve the love of self that is critical to a successful transition to adulthood.  

There are unhealthy messages that young people receive whether in group care or in family settings when policy and practice do not explicitly call out bigotry. A system that purports to take care of children who have been abused and neglected and is mandated to help them to achieve permanence, safety and well-being cannot perpetuate bigotry, destroy loving relationships for these children and continue to oppress certain populations.

Kansas is not the only system where this kind of discrimination occurs either overtly or subtly. True effective reforms can only happen when all of our systems have the brain to know how to implement effective policy and practice, the heart to know that this should be a top priority and the courage to call it out and ensure all people are held accountable if this is not carried out as mandated. 

Bill Bettencourt is a senior associate at CSSP and leads the getR.E.A.L initiative.

He was only 17-years old. Described as a young man with a jovial spirit who loved to hug his teachers, Laquan McDonald had an entire life of milestones ahead of him. However, instead of graduating from high school, going to college, starting a career or witnessing the birth of his first child, he was shot 16 times and killed by a Chicago police officer in October 2014. A view from a Chicago march for Laquan McDonald in November 2015

The circumstances surrounding Laquan’s death point to a police force and criminal justice system that seem to embody institutionalized racism at its worst. It took a Freedom of Information Act request for police to release the video of the shooting more than a year after his death. The city quietly gave his mother a $5 million check without the family filing a lawsuit, and the officer, Jason Van Dyke, remained on duty until he was charged with first-degree murder after the video's release.

While the details that suggest a cover-up are astonishing, we’ve unfortunately heard this story before—a black teenager killed by a white police officer/vigilante/angry citizen isn’t new. In fact, more than 1,000 people have been killed by police this year, 267 were African American. However, what Laquan’s story uncovers isn’t simply another hashtag, but a continuum of trauma and public-system involvement that many children of color face across this country. 

According to news reports, Laquan was just a toddler when he was shuffled between foster homes for two years before returning to his mother’s custody. He was placed into foster care again at age five, and his great-grandmother became his legal guardian until her death 10 years later.

At only 16, undoubtedly still feeling the loss of his great-grandmother, Laquan picked up a juvenile charge for possession of marijuana and remained in a detention center for five months. At the time of his death, he was a ward of the state, placed with an uncle after his stay in juvenile detention. All these facts illuminate a very difficult life long before he set foot on the Chicago street that would become his place of death last October.

Bouncing between foster homes, picking up a juvenile charge, spending time in secure confinement or jail and later coming into contact with the criminal justice system is a trajectory that those advocating for child welfare and juvenile-justice-system reform know far too well.

Laquan was one of the many African American children who are over-represented in this country’s child welfare system.  National data show African American and Native American children are more likely than their white counterparts to be placed in foster care, remain in care longer and are less likely to exit foster care through reunification, guardianship or other forms of permanency. While not reflected nationally, depending on the state and jurisdiction, Latino children and families face similar outcomes and often contend with the added barriers of immigration status and accessing services in their native language.

What’s worse is that while in state custody, children struggle to achieve success. At 17, Laquan was likely to age out of Chicago’s foster care system, a circumstance that further entangles youth in a lifetime of poor outcomes. Youth who don’t achieve permanency through reunification, adoption or guardianship are more likely to experience early pregnancies, lower educational attainment, increased justice system involvement and grim employment outcomes.

Laquan’s death rightfully sparked protests around the country calling for an end to police brutality. Terms like “mass incarceration” and “school-to-prison” pipeline have entered the American lexicon as a way to describe the systemic oppression faced by people of color at the hands of the criminal justice system. However, a movement centered only on the carceral state misses the countless barriers to well-being encountered in other public systems like child welfare.

For systems change efforts to yield meaningful results, partnerships must be built that upend marginalization across the lifespan.  For this reason, the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare has worked to improve the outcomes of children and families of color involved in child welfare systems since 2004. Our goals are to raise awareness around racial and ethnic disparities in child welfare systems, promote efforts aimed at eliminating these inequities and to support a network of professionals, youth and parents invested in child-welfare-system reform.

As outlined in CSSP’s Strategies to Reduce Racially Disparate Outcomes in Child Welfare and Achieving Racial Equity reports, our work promotes:

  • Building cross-system collaborations that seek to deinstitutionalize racism and other forms of oppression. Like Laquan McDonald, youth and families are typically involved in several systems at once – our reform efforts should reflect this multi-faceted involvement.
  • Strong community engagement in systems-reform efforts aimed at building leadership among those disproportionally involved in child welfare and other public systems.  Community members, youth and parents are experts in their own experiences and should play a meaningful role in transforming the systems that touch their daily lives.
  • Strengthening trauma-informed policies and programs that promote well-being and reduce reliance on congregate care facilities and locked confinement for youth. Children involved in the child welfare system are more likely to have experienced compounding forms of trauma for prolonged periods of time. Trauma-informed policies and practices recognize this fact, aim to build resiliency and call for culturally responsive interventions.
  • Taking a critical look at child neglect policies to ensure poverty and neglect are not conflated. A lack of community resources like quality child care, access to transportation and limited job opportunities can drive a family to the child welfare system’s attention without a recognition of broader community disinvestment.  Even when neglect is substantiated, removal should not be the only tool child welfare workers have to address the underlying issues.
  • Institutionalizing reform efforts into state legislative policies. Often reform efforts are lost with changes in child welfare or other public system leadership.

Through technical assistance, our institutional analysis work, race equity impact assessment tool and written resources, the Alliance and CSSP seek to arm policymakers, public system professionals and communities with the necessary tools to transform public systems beyond the criminal justice system. #BlackLivesMatter from birth to death, and Laquan McDonald was no exception.

Tashira Halyard, JD, is a senior associate at CSSP and leads our Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare.

Youth Thrive™ Selects Five Sites for Its New Learning Community

This month, we welcomed five youth-serving organizations to our brand-new Youth Thrive™ Learning Community. The organizations joining are:

These new members will join the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and the Brevard Family Partnership in incorporating the Youth Thrive framework  into their work to promote healthy development and well-being for youth. The selection of these new members is the result of a nationwide search that yielded numerous applicants from social services agencies and direct service nonprofits from around the country. This cohort serves a variety of system-involved youth, including those in child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice.

The Youth Thrive Framework is a research-based lens that assesses current practices that impact youth. Through research on positive youth development, resilience, neuroscience, stress and impact of trauma on brain development, the initiative’s goal is to improve the systems in a way that supports youth well-being. The vision of Youth Thrive is to cultivate youth wellness through increases in the protective and promotive factors that foster positive development.

CSSP’s Youth Thrive team also introduced a new webpage that offers resources and guidance to organizations and agencies that work with youth. It includes a searchable database of system reform action steps based on various inputs. This database provides a wealth of resources for organizations looking to get information tailored to a addressing a specific challenge.

The database is available at Additional information about the new learning community members, along with details about the process for building the Youth Thrive framework in any jurisdiction is at

[GUEST BLOG ] Tackling Accumulated Disadvantage for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

Thinking about the next steps for improving the prospects for youth aging out of foster care, we might use numerous methods of sophisticated policy analysis to examine the problem and potential solutions. But part of it is very simple.  The existing policies and programs do not provide enough support. They do not cover all the youth who need help. There is substantial variation in services and access to them, and the amount of support is often minimal. 

Since the mid-1980s, we have learned much about youth aging out of foster care – their characteristics, their generally poor outcomes and the limited effectiveness of interventions. Important federal legislation, such as the Independent Living Initiatives in the mid-80s, the Foster Care Independence Act in the late 90s and the Fostering Connections to Success Act in 2008 incrementally increased the level of assistance and offered new strategies—first by offering independent living services, then by providing support for a wider range of transition services and later expanding federal reimbursement for extended time in foster care. 

The advancement in our understanding of the problem and potential policy and program solutions is real. One insight from this body of work is that the observed poor outcomes may be related to the accumulated disadvantage based on youths’ experiences pre-care, in-care and after-care, rather than the specific aging out transition. Recognizing this accumulated disadvantage, next steps might include the following.

Observed poor outcomes among foster care youth may be related to the accumulated disadvantage based on youths’ experiences pre-care, in-care and after-care, rather than the specific aging out transition. Focus on concrete supports. Given the level of accumulated disadvantage, there is a need for significant supports in the areas of housing, educational and vocational training, employment and health care. There has been some progress related to higher education and health care due to the federal Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program, which provides up to $5,000 a year for postsecondary education and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which extends Medicaid eligibility for foster youth to age 26.

Still, limitations exist in these areas: $5,000 restricts the type of education youth can receive and financial support does not address college readiness issues. Health insurance coverage removes one barrier but does not assure access to high-quality health care.  Housing and employment opportunities remain woefully underdeveloped for this population.

Use a community orientation.  The child welfare system cannot shoulder the full responsibility to provide the needed preparations and support. A response that is primarily based in traditional child welfare practice is insufficient. Rather, a community orientation with adolescent/young adult-focused practice is needed.  This includes a primary emphasis on enhancing multiple connections for young people during and after their transition.  Mentoring is part of a community orientation and may have benefits, but should be in addition to efforts to provide real, concrete supports of housing, employment and education.

Strengthen the child welfare system. Innovative and progressive child welfare systems that can successfully strengthen families would decrease the number of youth aging out of care.  Also within child welfare systems, a reorientation must embrace the work of adolescents’ transition and develop a workforce with skills and competencies related to youth and young adulthood. 

Recognize the broader social forces that are damaging the overall prospects of young adults.  Except for the most privileged groups, many young people are struggling to attain the markers of successful adulthood.  Reports by the Pew Research Center have documented these trends. For example, one survey of adults reports that 82 percent say it is harder for today’s young adults to find a job than it was for their parents’ generation. Large percentages also say that it is hard to save for the future, to buy a home and to pay for college. These economic circumstances lead many young adults to stay in their family home longer or return to their family home after living independently. For youth aging out of foster care, who frequently lack strong and positive family connections, this is not an option. Disparity in family resources is a contributor to growing social inequality. This is exacerbated by the known racial disproportionality within the child welfare system and the continuing inequities of race in the broader society that make the prospects for youth of color more daunting.

Help adolescents and young adults claim their voice in political arenas.  This is necessary for both individual youth and youth as a constituency.  In FY 2014, 22,292 youth exited foster care through emancipation. The modest numbers of the target population make it difficult to claim and sustain policy attention. Coupled with their vulnerability and dependency status, they are easily marginalized.  Coalition strategies to increase attention to the need for housing, education, employment and health care options for all young adults can benefit the specific aging-out population.   

Bolster a commitment to research-based knowledge.  Evidence-based policy and programming is essential.  It is not acceptable to provide interventions without a commitment to constructing a base of evidence. It demonstrates a disregard for the value of the target population. The “dosage” effects of interventions require attention. Given the level of accumulated disadvantage, many currently used strategies are unlikely to demonstrate effectiveness. Potentially larger, more intense, combined and sustained interventions may produce positive and cost-effective results.

It is an empirical question worth pursuing. 

Mary Elizabeth Collins, A.M., Ph.D. is Associate Dean and Professor of Social Welfare Policy at Boston University School of Social Work.  She is the author of Macro Perspectives on Youths Aging Out of Foster Care (2015) published by NASW Press.

[GUEST BLOG] NH Children’s Trust Seeks Nominations for Unsung Hero Awards

  ·   By New Hampshire Children’s Trust ,

Unsung Hero Award

Parenting isn’t easy, and New Hampshire Children’s Trust wants to recognize Granite State parents who have done outstanding jobs. NH Children’s Trust currently seeks nominations for its Unsung Hero Awards, celebrating extraordinary parents and caregivers who go above and beyond for their children.

“We often hear about what parents are doing wrong,” said Julie Day, Strengthening Families Director at NH Children’s Trust. “This is an opportunity to highlight all the amazing things that parents are doing all over the state.”

For the past 8 years, NH Children's Trust has honored parents at the New Hampshire State House in partnership with the Governor's office. The Unsung Hero Award will recognize 29 parents for the 29 days of February, Parent Recognition Month. Parents are defined as a dual parents, single parents, grandparents, foster and adoptive parents.

The honorees incorporate the five Protective Factors (a framework developed by the Strengthening Families initiative of CSSP) into their daily lives to help be stronger caregivers. Children thrive in homes where these five Protective Factors are practiced.

Parental Resilience: I can overcome hard times and bounce back.

Social Connections:  I have people who know and support me.

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development:  I know where to go to find out about parenting skills and my child’s developmental growth.

Concrete Support in Times of Need:  I know where to turn to for help.

Social and Emotional Competence of Children:   I know how to help my children talk about their feelings.

Past Unsung Heroes are parents who have overcome adversity, are role models to other parents or parent with passion and ease. If you know a parent like this, nominate him or her for the Unsung Hero Awards! Download a nomination form at Submissions are due Jan. 6, 2016. 

NH Children's Trust is committed to eliminating child abuse and neglect by raising awareness and educating providers who work with children and families about strategies to help families thrive and strengthen communities in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Children’s Trust is the state-designated agency to lead the drive toward eliminating of child abuse and neglect.

Making the Lives of LGBT Youth Visible

Jonathan Lykes"We have to highlight the importance of 'visibilizing' the stories of these young people," CSSP's Policy Analyst Jonathan Lykes recently told the Michelle Meow Show in response to reports of high numbers of youth who identify as LGBT and are involved in multiple intervening public systems, such as juvenile justice, child welfare and homelessness services. The San Francisco-based radio personality and activist interviewed Lykes for her Nov. 12, 2015, show, which covered disproportionality and disparaties faced by LGBT youth, as well as multiple intersectional issues faced by those of color. 

Here's the link to listen to a recording of the segment.

When Forever is Temporary: Broken Adoptions and What To Do About Them

  ·   By Martha Raimon, Gayle Samuels and Lisa Primus,

The tragic severing of adopted sibling relationships is often another sad consequence of failed adoptions.  A primary goal of child welfare systems is to search for ways to provide permanent living arrangements for children in foster care who cannot return home, often referred to as “forever families.” November is National Adoption Month, where the field recognizes that many of those searches successfully result in permanent homes for children and youth. However, advocates and child welfare experts are beginning to focus on the significant number of young people who end up displaced from their adoptive home and either back in foster care due to abuse or neglect, voluntary placements, with relatives or homeless. 

The lasting impact that a failed adoption has on a young person who has already suffered multiple losses and trauma is enormous. The tragic severing of adopted sibling relationships is often another sad consequence of failed adoptions.  Adoptions that fail also raise questions about whether enough work was done in the initial stages of the foster care placement to keep the youth with family or place him or her in the most appropriate setting available. Despite the critical nature of this issue to the well-being of youth who have experienced foster care, there is very little data available to inform the field about where youth end up when an adoption disrupts.

Recently, we joined New York City advocates, lawmakers, academics, judges and former foster youth at “Beyond Permanency Symposium: Challenges for Former Foster Youth,” an event sponsored by the Children’s Law Center (CLC), the Dianne Abbey Law Institute for Children and Families, Lawyers for Children (LFC), the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the Legal Aid Society – Juvenile Rights Practice. The symposium aimed to identify how laws, policies and practices governing adoptions can improve to achieve more meaningful permanency planning for youth.

The available data on the issue of broken adoptions is troubling. According to ACS data, between 1993 and 2014, only 5 percent of youth returned to placement after a broken adoption. However, ACS acknowledges that data about youth who did not return to placement, but instead went to live with relatives or became homeless, is not known. LFC currently represents children in about 725 voluntary placement cases in New York City – cases in which families voluntarily placed their children into care. The organization reported that 15 to 20 percent of caseloads are situations in which youth experienced broken adoptions. According to LFC’s data the average age of disruption closely mirrors the onset of adolescence. On average, LFC’s youth who experienced broken adoptions came into care at seven years old and left the adoptive home at 14.

The causes of adoption disruption are predictable:

      • 79 percent of cases involved allegations of the youth’s behavioral health challenges
      • 47 percent involved allegations of the youth’s mental health problems

Very little planning was done for the potential return of the youth to the adoptive placement: almost 48 percent of the adoptive parents had not planned for the youth’s return. This is a particularly alarming statistic given that some youth who run from adoptive placements end up in the juvenile justice system and will need homes to return to after placement or detention.

I wasn’t allowed to see my siblings…I wasn’t allowed to talk to them even though that was who I wanted to talk to most.

- Youth who had experienced a broken adoption.

Much of the symposium focused on the impact that a broken adoption has on youth and the toll it takes on their well-being. Youth spoke about multiple placements, grief and loss, overmedication and the separation from family, especially siblings. Youth described the difficulty they had in maintaining contact with brothers and sisters and how the child welfare system failed in numerous ways to support important sibling bonds during foster care placement or post-adoption. Amelia Franck Meyer, a child welfare expert and CEO of Anu Family Services in Minnesota referred to the experiences youth described as “disenfranchised grief,” grief that remains unseen and unheard. She described children as typically unable to “talk” grief; instead they “do” grief, and then become labelled and stigmatized as oppositional and defiant.

Finally, symposium speakers highlighted recommendations for the field that could potentially minimize the number of broken adoptions and mitigate their deleterious effects on youth. Many of the recommendations specifically adhere to the recently enacted Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R.4980), in particular the provisions that support more “normalcy” for children and youth in foster care. This would mean more attention paid by workers and by courts to supporting sibling and other familial relationships during placement and after the youth’s adoption. More quality systems of services and supports for adoptive families are also required that include a recognition of the importance of familial bonds.  Other recommendations included:

      • suspending adoption subsidies when children and youth are no longer living with adoptive parents, especially when there is no plan for the child/youth’s return
      • more rigorous evaluation of adoptive parents, particularly older adoptive parents to ensure they will be willing and available to raise the child or youth to majority
      • strengthening concurrent planning obligations to require backup foster parents to enter into binding commitments to the child/youth
      • providing training for judges and lawyers on the importance of maintaining family relationships for healthy adolescent development, particularly relationships with siblings
      • providing ongoing trainings for pre-adoptive and adoptive parents on addressing children and youth’s physical, mental and emotional issues and adolescent behavior and development
      • providing services and support to adoptive families to help them both navigate relationships when biological family members are still involved and better cope with problems to avoid dissolution of the adoption
      • developing or expanding policies, practices and laws that provide opportunities to restore parental rights post adoption in appropriate circumstances

Acknowledging the frequency of broken adoption and its lasting detrimental effects on youth is not enough. It is our collective responsibility to do better by youth and commit to eliminating situations that lead to so many broken adoptions. 

Martha Raimon and Gayle Samuels are senior associates at CSSP. Lisa Primus is a program analyst at CSSP.


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