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

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

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

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

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

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


 Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

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.

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

The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) report on the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), released on May 24, 2017, highlights the ways in which the bill jeopardizes recent gains made in health care coverage, which is a foundation for healthy development and well-being. As CSSP mentioned in a previous blog post, American Health Care Act (AHCA) Passes the House: A Significant Step-back in Health Care Coverage and Advancement in Health Equity, on May 4, 2017, the House voted along party lines to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), by a narrow margin of 217 – 213, before the amended bill had the opportunity to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In order to garner enough votes amongst House Republicans, the bill included an amendment crafted by Representatives Mark Meadows (R - NC) of the conservative Freedom Caucus and Tom MacArthur (R - NJ) of the moderate Tuesday Group allowing states to request waivers of essential health benefits and of “community rating” requirements. These harmful waivers would enable insurance providers to: 

  • roll back nationwide standards that require plans to cover services like emergency services, mental health and substance use treatment
  • discriminate against individuals based on their medical history by increasing their insurance premiums;
  • charge women more than men for health coverage as they would have to pay more for plans that include maternity coverage; and
  • re-impose annual and lifetime limits on coverage. 

The CBO report estimates that the bill would lead to the loss of coverage for approximately 23 million people by 2026 – disproportionately impacting children and families of color, low-income children and families and those facing significant barriers to coverage such as those with pre-existing conditions and those who use mental health services or are in need of substance use treatment.

The CBO report estimates that the bill would lead to the loss of coverage for approximately 23 million people by 2026 – disproportionately impacting children and families of color, low-income children and families and those facing significant barriers to coverage such as those with pre-existing conditions and those who use mental health services or are in need of substance use treatment. The AHCA would also effectively end the Medicaid expansion (currently in effect in 31 states and Washington D.C.) as well as reduce individuals’ and families’ access to health care services, weakening coverage or making it less affordable. As amended, the AHCA would allow insurance providers to exclude basic services such as maternity coverage, substance use or mental health treatment or prescription drugs, leaving many people with pre-existing conditions unable to find the coverage they need at any price. Specifically, the CBO report estimates extremely high premiums for those with pre-existing conditions - essentially creating yet another barrier for these individuals to access necessary health care services. The $8 billion (along with a required state contribution) set aside in the bill to help cover those who fall into a high-risk pool also falls significantly short of eliminating the bill’s funding deficits or solving the other problems it creates for people with pre-existing conditions. 

Changes to Medicaid would also devastate state budgets, forcing them to cover the $834 billion spending gap or make difficult decisions regarding who qualifies for the program – potentially pitting vulnerable groups against each other. These changes will also reduce child welfare, juvenile justice and education spending and services – all of which now effectively leverage Medicaid dollars to promote healthy development and well-being for children and youth. Specifically, the AHCA: 

  • Ends federal match funding for all who qualify for Medicaid – effectively converting Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement program to a block grant or per-capita cap;
  • Does not allow states to expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured adults after 2018;
  • Allows states to determine what qualifies as an “essential health benefit;" and 
  • Increases premiums for individuals based on breaks in coverage.  

Currently, ninety-five percent of children in the United States have health coverage – a historic high – thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). More than 11 million low income adults are also benefitting from expanded Medicaid under the ACA. This progress is threatened however, by continued attempts to dismantle the current structure of providing health care to Americans through efforts such as the AHCA and President Trump’s FY 2018 budget proposal (released yesterday), which includes an additional $616 billion cut to the Medicaid program and CHIP. 

When parents are able to access health care coverage and treatment, it not only strengthens their capacity to promote their child’s development, but increases rates of coverage and treatment services for their children. Legislators have the ability to promote positive health and well-being outcomes for children, families and communities in an equitable manner. But by failing to meaningfully invest in policies and programs that have the ability to reduce systemic barriers to success, they instead create disparate outcomes for children, families and communities of color. As the Senate considers this piece of legislation within the coming month, CSSP urges legislators to reject this harmful proposal and any other damaging attempt to dismantle the current structure of providing health care to Americans. 

For more information on how the current structure of Medicaid promotes well-being and healthy outcomes for children and families and the dangers of altering the funding structure of the program, download and read recent CSSP briefs: 

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 fb.com/ctrsocialpolicy) and visit our website at www.cssp.org

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Rhiannon Reeves is a policy analyst at CSSP.

As details about the President’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY 2018) budget have emerged, concerns about how the needs of families – particularly those facing the greatest barriers to opportunity – will be met in an equitable and effective manner have intensified. When the President’s proposed “skinny” budget was released in March with limited details, it was clear that the health and well-being of children and families were at-risk. Now, the full version of the proposed budget, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” makes it even more apparent that the cuts proposed by the President would increase the challenges facing families who experience poverty, food insecurity, homelessness and other forms of compounding disadvantage – disproportionately children and families of color. 

The President’s proposed budget ignores key opportunities to advance equity and instead dramatically cuts – or eliminates entirely – funding for a number of essential safety net programs. All Americans lose in this budget proposal – only a small handful of wealthy households would stand to gain – but the budget is merciless in its treatment of low-income families. Overall, $1.7 trillion would be cut from mandatory domestic spending over 10 years. These devastating cuts are directed at programs that are vital pieces of the social safety net for families with low incomes, including $616 billion from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), $21 billion from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), $40 billion from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, $72 billion from programs that support people with disabilities, and $193 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These programs provide crucial supports to families seeking pathways out of poverty and can mitigate the effects of poverty on children and youth as they grow and develop. The proposed cuts are targeted directly at families experiencing poverty, families of color and immigrant families, moving the budget in a direction that worsens inequities.

The threats posed to families by the President’s dangerous proposals are significant and far-reaching. Specifically, cuts to Medicaid, CHIP and SNAP will negatively impact the health and well-being of children and families and signal l a clear attack by the Administration on children and families, reducing access to and affordability of critical health services, increasing food insecurity and ultimately contributing to poorer outcomes for families. These cuts are particularly significant for children and families of color who, due to compounding effects of disadvantage, face greater threats to their health than white children and families.

Cuts to Medicaid: The President’s devastating proposal to eliminate $610 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years – in addition to the estimated $800 billion that would be eliminated from the program under the American Health Care Act (AHCA) – would shred an integral piece of America’s health care safety net. Medicaid serves as the primary source of health insurance for Americans with low-incomes, covering nearly 70 million people, over half of whom are children. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded access to Medicaid to nonelderly adults with low-incomes, further improving health care access and affordability for families experiencing poverty in the 31 states and District of Columbia that implemented this option.

Medicaid access has been particularly important for children of color given that it has, in coordination with CHIP, covered 54 percent of black children and 52 percent of Hispanic children in 2014, as well as 25 percent of Asian children and 26 percent of white children. Medicaid has reduced racial and ethnic disparities in access to primary and preventive care, which is crucial to closing gaps in health and developmental outcomes for children of color.

Medicaid has reduced racial and ethnic disparities in access to primary and preventive care, which is crucial to closing gaps in health and developmental outcomes for children of color.

The proposed Medicaid cuts would also be disastrous for children and families involved with child welfare systems, who depend on health care coverage and access to supports and services funded through Medicaid. A strong Medicaid program is critical for these young people as children and youth placed in foster care typically have more complex health care needs than their non-foster care peers.

Cuts to CHIP: The President proposes reducing funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – which insures 5.6 million children – by at least 20 percent over the next two fiscal years, directly impacting the health of children across the country. Cuts would be achieved by eliminating an element of the ACA that increased by 23 percent the portion of the program’s costs that is paid for with federal money. This would greatly increase the burden upon states to fund CHIP at the same time that they are also being asked to pick up a greater portion of the costs for SNAP and Medicaid. Currently CHIP and Medicaid work together to ensure that children receive the health care they need, promoting healthy development. CHIP also effectively reduces disparities in coverage and health outcomes for young children of color.

The budget proposal would add additional eligibility restrictions to CHIP, creating a coverage gap for families with slightly higher incomes who nevertheless may not be able to afford health coverage for their children, particularly in high-cost regions. Federal funding would no longer be available to help cover children from families with incomes of more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow families with incomes higher than 300 percent of the poverty line to access CHIP, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. These families would all be at risk of losing health care coverage for their children, including access to preventive care.

Cuts to SNAP: The President’s proposed $193 billion reduction in spending for SNAP – equal to more than 25 percent of the program’s budget – will lead to higher rates of hunger and food insecurity, and poorer health for children and families. Food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to enough, nutritious food, is a serious threat to the health and well-being of over 42 million people across the country and disproportionately affects families of color, households headed by a single woman,  households with young children and those who identify as LGBT. SNAP is currently serves one of the nation’s most effective public health and anti-poverty tools, offering nutrition assistance to 42 million families of every description.

The President’s budget would restrict eligibility for the program, impose work requirements beyond those already in place, and requiring states to begin matching 25 percent of the benefits their residents receive by 2023. SNAP has been an effective program for decades because of its flexible structure as a federally-funded entitlement that allows SNAP to respond to sudden changes in need, including spikes in unemployment and natural disasters. Shifting cost burdens to the states will dissuade states from ensuring all families who need SNAP benefits receive them. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that only about 14 percent of SNAP participants who are assumed to be able to work are unemployed, making the imposition of additional, redundant work requirements unnecessary, ineffective and burdensome for states to implement. The ultimate impact of these additional restrictions will be to discourage eligible households from participating in SNAP when they experience food insecurity, to the detriment of the health and well-being of children, youth and families across the nation.

SNAP has been an effective program for decades because of its flexible structure as a federally-funded entitlement that allows SNAP to respond to sudden changes in need, including spikes in unemployment and natural disasters.

Nutrition supports are also critical for youth who are seeking to gain stability as they move into adulthood, including youth aging out of foster care, who are significantly more likely to experience poverty, homelessness and food insecurity as they transition into adulthood without the same degree of support from family members that many of their peers have. Food insecurity at these pivotal points can contribute to poorer outcomes in health and education for young children and youth. Because food insecurity disproportionately impacts families of color, reducing federal supports for families experiencing food insecurity will also ultimately deepen inequity across the nation.

Conclusion

The President’s proposed FY 2018 budget is alarming in its disregard for the struggles of our country’s low-income families, and will likely lead to greater disparities for children and families of color. The proposed budget offers important insight into the Administration’s policy priorities signaling a lack of concern with the health and well-being of children and families and a disregard for equity. CSSP is redoubling its commitment to meeting the needs of families facing the most significant barriers, including families of color and others who on a daily basis experience inequitable access to opportunities for health and economic stability.  We will continue to monitor appropriations activities, uplift any negative impacts on children and families, and bring to light the ripple effects federal budget proposals will have in state and local budgets.

Today, the House voted to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA) – including an amendment crafted by Representatives Mark Meadows (R - NC) and Tom MacArthur (R - NJ) – representing continued efforts to dismantle the current structure of providing health care to Americans. The AHCA is a significant step back and jeopardizes recent gains made in health care coverage, which is a foundation for healthy development and well-being. The AHCA’s changes will reduce individuals’ and families’ access to health care services, weakening coverage or making it less affordable. Its changes to Medicaid will also devastate state budgets, reducing child welfare, juvenile justice and education spending and services – all of which now effectively leverage Medicaid dollars to promote healthy development and well-being for children and youth. Specifically, the AHCA:

  • Ends federal match funding for all who qualify for Medicaid – effectively converting Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement program to a block grant or per-capita cap;
  • Does not allow states to expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured adults after 2018;
  • Allows states to determine what qualifies as an “essential health benefit;" and 
  • Increases premiums for individuals based on breaks in coverage. 

Based on the Congressional Budget Office report on the initial version of the AHCA, provisions included will lead to the loss of coverage for approximately 24 million people and disproportionately impact children and families of color, low-income children and families and those facing significant barriers to coverage such as those with pre-existing conditions and those who use mental health services or are in need of substance use treatment. 

In order to garner the necessary votes, the AHCA now includes the Meadows-MacArthur amendment, which builds on an already harmful bill by allowing states to request waivers of essential health benefits and of “community rating” requirements. These waivers would enable insurance providers to:

  • roll back nationwide standards that require plans to cover services like emergency services, mental health and substance use treatment
  • discriminate against individuals based on their medical history by increasing their insurance premiums;
  • charge women more than men for health coverage as they would have to pay more for plans that include maternity coverage; and
  • re-impose annual and lifetime limits on coverage.

While the AHCA now includes $8 billion in federal funding to help cover those who fall into a high-risk pool and requires states to set up their own funding for these individuals, it falls significantly short of eliminating the bill’s funding deficits, or solving the other problems it creates for people with pre-existing conditions. 

Currently, ninety-five percent of children in the United States have health coverage – a historic high – thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). More than 11 million low income adults in 31 states and the District of Columbia are also benefitting from expanded Medicaid under the ACA. When parents are able to access health care coverage and treatment, it not only strengthens their capacity to promote their child’s development, but increases rates of coverage and treatment services for their children. The AHCA now goes to the Senate where it could face barriers to passage. 

For more information on how the current structure of Medicaid promotes well-being and healthy outcomes for children and families and the dangers of altering the funding structure of the program, download and read recent CSSP briefs:

Today’s vote in the House along with the Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, which addresses amending regulations to allow for organizations to not provide preventive care based on a religious objection, marks a significant step backward in health care coverage for all Americans. 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 fb.com/ctrsocialpolicy) and visit our website at www.cssp.org

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Rhiannon Reeves is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Family Stress, Family Strengths and Children's Well-Being

  ·   By Cailin O'Connor,

Recent efforts to cut back on social spending, dismantle existing programs and widen the gaps in the safety net for Americans are concerning on many levels. As a society, we should be doing more – not less – to help families living in or near poverty, families facing racial bias and micro-aggressions on a daily basis and families who feel unsafe in their neighborhoods. When we fail to do so, parents, children and communities all suffer.

We actually know a lot about policy and programmatic strategies that can build on families’ strengths and promote children’s well-being. Unfortunately, many of the proposed policy and regulatory changes at the federal and state level this year threaten to increase stress levels for families who are already overloaded. From a child well-being perspective, there are immediate and obvious consequences of these policies, such as more children going to bed hungry, missing visits to the doctor or facing homelessness. But there are also longer-term and less apparent effects that are of equal concern. We know that children are affected by stress – their own stress and the stress of their parents.

We can’t afford the effects of cutting back on social spending, which will be seen in increased child abuse and neglect, behavioral problems and mental health challenges for today’s children and tomorrow’s adults. Instead, we should be investing in reducing family stress and helping families to build their strengths. We know how.

Among those who work with and on behalf of young children and their families, CSSP’s Strengthening Families protective factors framework provides a common language to describe five characteristics that all families need to support optimal child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. With the universal, research-based Strengthening Families framework, we can recognize how our own family’s strengths and challenges have shaped our lives – and we can see those strengths and challenges in other families, even when their race, culture, family structure or specific needs may be different from ours. The Strengthening Families approach then helps us to look at how various policies, programs, bureaucratic procedures and everyday actions affect families, through the lens of these protective factors.

Concrete support in times of need is the protective factor that tells us the most about the connection between child well-being and policies that affect families’ financial resources or the availability of supports in the community. We define concrete supports as “Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges.” All families need this kind of support to varying degrees at different points in their lives, and these needs can sometimes be met through social networks. A friend who picks your child up from preschool when you have to work late is one form of “concrete support,” as is a family member who lends you money when you unexpectedly need to replace your refrigerator or furnace. (Social connections is another protective factor in our framework, because of the concrete and other forms of support we get from our social networks that help both parents and children thrive.) But many families rely on formal services or programs to meet at least some of their concrete needs, and many rely on benefits like paid sick leave which may or may not be provided by their employers depending on local and state laws. Families are likely to need more of the formal type of concrete supports when they are living in poverty, or living paycheck to paycheck. Families also need these supports to be delivered in a way that is respectful, accessible and culturally appropriate in order to meet their needs and reduce the stress that directly and indirectly affects the children.

Another closely related protective factor in the Strengthening Families framework is parental resilience, defined as “Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma.” Of course, concrete supports and social connections make it much easier for anyone to continue functioning well under stress, and for parents to continue providing the kind of nurturing care their children need even when times are tough. There is more to resilience than that – the ability to recognize the challenges we are facing and our own emotional responses, a belief in our ability to solve problems and that things will get better – but all of those things are easier to develop and hold on to when we have support for meeting our families’ basic needs. Resilience is also strengthened when parents feel recognized and respected for who they are, which includes celebrating the diversity of families and communities in this country and supporting them to find policy and community solutions that will work for them.

A substantial body of research shows us that a wide range of policies can have a positive or negative effect on the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, an outcome we should all care about and one that reflects how well we are helping families manage stress. The CDC’s recent technical package on Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect highlights policies and strategies that move the needle in the right direction. They include strengthening economic supports to families; changing social norms to support parents and positive parenting; providing quality care and education early in life; enhancing parenting skills to promote healthy child development; and intervening to lessen harms and prevent future risk. In one very concrete example reported by the CDC, the rate of hospitalizations for abusive head trauma (also known as shaken baby syndrome) among infants in California was found to drop following the introduction of paid family leave, while rates in other states without paid family leave rose over the same years. 

The evidence is overwhelming that children fare better when their parents are under less stress and have more support. This is why it is so concerning to hear about rising levels of family stress when I talk with service providers and system leaders around the country these days, and to know that many of the policy changes on the horizon will move us in the wrong direction. Families already stressed are getting fewer concrete supports when we know they need more. Parents’ resilience is being undercut as we make it harder for them to be the parents they want to be. Let’s all work together to find ways to build family strengths, starting with investing in supports for families rather than cutting them back.


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Cailin O'Connor is a senior associate 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.














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Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Promoting the Use of Data to Advance Equity

  ·   By Amelia Esenstad

Data collection and analysis are critical components of – and frequently the first, foundational step within – strategies to advance equity for children and families. However, recent efforts to undermine and eliminate national data tools and mechanisms will restrict the ability of policymakers and communities to fully understand differences among life experiences and impact of policy on promoting well-being and positive outcomes. These data are necessary to ensure sound decision-making and to assess the effectiveness of many policies and programs. Policymakers should not only preserve existing data strategies but should promote additional uses of data as well. 

The issues that policymakers face are often complex, and the data needed to design and implement solutions must match accordingly. Nuanced data looks at multiple data points and considers the intersections between them at different points in time, providing a more accurate picture of children, families and communities to emerge. These details enable jurisdictions to identify points where policy or practice change need to occur and to track and monitor changes and progress over time. Additionally, data should be collected for the purposes of analyzing the impact of policies and programs and should not be linked to individuals. 

Recent conversations highlight the importance of three important bodies of federal data: the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, American Community Survey and Supplemental Poverty Measure. 

H.R.482/S.B.103 is designed to dismantle policies that actively combat racial segregation. Section 3 of the proposed legislation specifically prohibits the use of federal funds for the database and is a critical component of this of this proposed legislation. However, even if Section 3 were to be removed from the bill, the remaining language still poses a dire threat to children, families and communities – and the AFFH rule. 

  • H.R.482, The Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017, would nullify the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and ban federal funds “to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” These data are essential to supporting desegregation and community efforts to provide equitable opportunity and access to fair housing, a goal of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. 
     
  • Repeated attempts to eliminate or make voluntary the American Community Survey (ACS) would weaken a key data source for both government and business communities. ACS data informs over $400 billion of federal government funding allocations each year for purposes as varied as education, health care, infrastructure and housing as well as drives business decisions and market research among retailers, entrepreneurs and others. Making the ACS voluntary would reduce quality and accuracy, particularly for communities of color, and would increase annual costs. With the U.S. Government Accountability Office already labeling the 2020 Decennial Census as “high-risk,” the ACS must continue to be recognized as a valuable source of information for policymakers and communities. 
     
  • Calls to eliminate funding for the annual Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) report fail to take into account the important data that the SPM provides when examining economic conditions. The SPM was originally developed to address limitations of the official poverty measure, which did not include the value of in-kind benefits or regional differences in cost of living, and to provide a deeper statistical understanding of poverty and anti-poverty programs. The SPM is a vital tool to study and record the positive impact that policies have on reducing poverty, and offers a much-needed complement to data collected through the official poverty measure.

Data plays a central role in shaping policy issues and solutions. The examples given here are only three ways that data can be used to illustrate a more detailed picture of the lives of children and families. Through efforts like these, policymakers can maximize the information available in order to promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.

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 fb.com/ctrsocialpolicy) and visit our website at www.cssp.org.

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Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.

On Monday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly mentioned in an interview that DHS was considering separating children from their parents when they are apprehended at the U.S. border in an effort to deter families and their children from travelling to the United States to seek safety. This practice would needlessly separate children from their parents and would have drastic consequences for child safety and well-being.

In FY 2016, Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) encountered 77,674 children and their parents at the border, many of whom were from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and seeking asylum, a form of immigration relief for which individuals cannot apply from outside of the United States. Currently, women and children who are apprehended together are placed in one of three family detention centers for up to 21 days before being released on bond, recognizance or participation in an Alternative to Detention (ATD) program while their case is pending before an immigration judge. Under Secretary Kelly’s proposed plan, these families would be needlessly separated—parents would be placed in detention while their children are referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  

Under current law, children who enter the United States without a parent and encounter CBP agents must be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours of their apprehension. ORR then works to reunify these children with a parent or family member or place them in short- or long-term foster care – to be clear, these placements are not the same as foster care homes licensed and monitored through state child welfare agencies. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, DHS referred 59,170 unaccompanied children to ORR. In that same year, ORR reunified a majority (88 percent) of these young people with their parents or other family members in the United States and placed 12 percent in temporary or long-term foster care while they awaited the outcome of their immigration court proceedings. Oversight and funding for foster care for unaccompanied children is not done through the child welfare system but rather through ORR and its subcontractors.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), separating children from their parents as they seek refuge in the United States risks exacerbating an already emotionally and physically stressful time with additional trauma.

As we highlighted in our brief, Healthy, Thriving Communities: Safe Spaces for Immigrant Children and Families, family separation due to immigration detention places children at greater risk of psychological trauma, aggression and toxic stress responses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), separating children from their parents as they seek refuge in the United States risks exacerbating an already emotionally and physically stressful time with additional trauma. Instead, the AAP recommends that children remain with parents, family members and caregivers during any time of anxiety or stress. Additionally, as a recent report from Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the Women’s Refugee Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) highlights, current practice to separate families as a means of deterring other immigrants, known as the DHS Consequence Delivery System (CDS), has not been shown to be effective through evidence-based evaluation and often contradicts what we know about humanitarian protection needs, due process and the importance of family unity.

Immigration experts attest that children who enter the United States with their parents are less likely to have other family members already living in the United States, meaning that a majority of children separated from their parents and referred to ORR under this proposed plan would likely need to be placed in short- or long-term foster care. This would massively increase ORR’s foster care caseload, which is concerning given that it is an already over-burdened and under-funded system. Last year, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that ORR is unable to safeguard children from sponsors attempting to “accumulate multiple children,” often fails to require background checks on non-sponsor adult household members or backup sponsors, does not adequately use home studies or provide post-release services and often does not ensure a sponsor has adequate income to support an unaccompanied child. Furthermore, the report found that sponsors often inflict legal hardship on unaccompanied children by not ensuring their appearance at immigration proceedings, among other findings.

While ORR has made efforts to increase oversight and ensure child protection, increasing ORR’s foster care caseload without a requisite increase in agency resources increases the risk that children will be placed in settings that can be harmful to their well-being, such as placement in congregate care facilities or with unsuitable sponsors or human traffickers who claim to be family members. The inability to monitor and ensure safety for children may result in an increase in child referrals to state and local child welfare agencies – and possible placement in the child welfare foster care system. Without a requisite increase in funding, ORR cannot work to develop and implement rigorous screening, review, training and certification requirements for foster homes and more importantly any group facilities where children are placed and ensure strong accountability and quality monitoring to ensure child safety and well-being.

Instead of separating children and families in the hope that it will deter families from trying to enter the United States, DHS should work to ensure that children and families remain together throughout the entirety of their immigration court case. In addition, DHS should make the following administrative policy changes:

  • Require the hiring of child welfare professionals at the border to supervise child protection and ensure families are separated only in cases where it is in the best interest of the child;
  • Prioritize family unity when determining whether or not to place an individual in detention; and
  • Consider the best interests of the child in all decisions impacting the custody, release or removal of family members.

For more information on these and other policy recommendations to protect family unity at the border, please see Betraying Family Values: How Immigration Policy at the United States Border is Separating Families. For more information on the costs and implications of separating children from their parents at the border, please see Separating Mothers from their Children at the Border is Wrong and Costly by KIND and the Center for American Progress.  

This is a continually evolving issue and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we continue to learn new information. Please check back with our blog for the latest information. 

You can download this as a fact sheet here

Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst 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.  www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/ascend.
2 Advancing Early Childhood Development from Science to Scale: An Executive Summary for the Lancet’s Series, 2016. www.thelancet.com/series/ECD 2016

An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States. They are valued members of communities, employers, employees, parents and children. More than 5 million children, over 4 million of whom are U.S. citizens, have at least one undocumented parent. These children make up 7.3 percent of U.S. students enrolled in grades K-12. The ways in which immigration enforcement activities are conducted have a great impact not only on undocumented persons and their families and communities, but on overall child health and well-being and the safety and stability of communities.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released two memoranda (linked here and here) implementing President Trump’s January Executive Orders on immigration. While these memos notably do not rescind President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted deferred action from deportation as well as work authorization to young people who came to the United States as children, these memos make families and communities less safe by greatly increasing internal immigration enforcement, expanding mandatory detention, rolling back protections for unaccompanied children and increasing the categories of people who are priorities for deportation, among other things. Specifically, they:

  • Increase mandated detention. The memos seek to end the long-standing practice of granting undocumented immigrants parole while they await removal proceedings. This will greatly increase the number of immigrants in immigration detention and result in the detention of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. Also, it may prevent immigrants who qualify for different forms of immigration relief, such as asylum, from seeking and obtaining this relief through the support of legal counsel.
  • Expand the 287(g) Program. The memos expand the 287(g) Program, a program authorized in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that deputizes state and local law enforcement to perform the functions of federal immigration officials. This program gives law enforcement personnel who act as immigration officers broad authority to make immediate decisions about whom to arrest for immigration enforcement purposes and encourages officers to begin actions against individuals they meet in the course of their official duties, including routine traffic stops. This program diverts resources away from local law enforcement and promotes fear and distrust among migrant communities and local police. This may create fear for immigrant victims of crime, including domestic violence, and prevent them from calling the police, reporting crimes or participating in police investigations for fear of deportation.
  • Expand expedited removal proceedings. Expedited removal proceedings allow for swifter deportations with limited court proceedings. The memos greatly expand the categories of immigrants eligible for expedited removal from individuals who encounter immigration officials within 100 air miles of the border and 14 days of entry to the United States to any undocumented person who has been continuously present in the United States for two years.
  • Reduce protections for unaccompanied children. The memos would change the classification of protections for unaccompanied children and may subject those who later reunite with a parent to expedited removal proceedings. While recognizing that children often travel to the United States to reunite with family or escape violence in their home country, the memo threatens to punish parents who indirectly or directly help to facilitate their child’s travel to the United States with either prosecution for child trafficking or subjection to detention and removal proceedings.
  • Increase the categories of people who are priorities for deportation. Under the Obama Administration, DHS was instructed to target enforcement activities on individuals with serious criminal histories, convicted felons and those who pose a national security risk while deeming vulnerable individuals and primary caretakers of children low priority for removal. The memos issued under the Trump Administration no longer exempt classes or categories of individuals from potential enforcement activities. While still prioritizing the removal of certain serious criminals and others posting public safety threats, these memos broaden the scope of enforcement priorities to include virtually any undocumented immigrant in the United States if they are even suspected of a crime.

Already, DHS has conducted a series of targeted immigration enforcement activities in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City, resulting in the arrest and detention of more than 680 individuals, one-fourth of whom had not been charged with or convicted of a crime.

As we discuss in our recent brief, Healthy, Thriving Communities: Safe Spaces for Immigrant Children and Families, the detention or deportation of a parent and/or primary breadwinner have long-lasting detrimental effects on children and families, including greater risk of psychological trauma, residential instability and homelessness, family dissolution, poverty, diminished access to food and greater health concerns. In the wake of these executive actions and the memoranda for implementation, advocates, policymakers and community leaders can join the 500 counties, 40 cities and 7 states that have enacted state and local policies to promote safety and stability for immigrant communities. These policies include:

  • Refusing to honor ICE detainer requests;
  • Opting not to participate in federal immigration enforcement activities like 287(g);
  • Leveraging state funds to ensure immigrant families’ access to safety net services;
  • Enacting legislation that supports older immigrant youth; and
  • Creating safe access to social services.  

For more information on these and other policies that promote safe and stable families and communities, please see CSSP’s brief, Healthy, Thriving Communities: Safe Spaces for Immigrant Children and Families.

This is a continually evolving issue and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to check our blog at www.cssp.org/media-center/blog for the newest information. 


Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Now is the Time to #getR.E.A.L

  ·   By Bill Bettencourt

Many of us have been awaiting the direction that the Trump Administration will take on issues impacting LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming system-involved youth. There is cause for concern. Yesterday, the Departments of Justice and Education withdrew trans-affirming educational guidance issued by the Obama Administration.  This guidance supported the safety and well-being of transgender youth in school settings and specifically addressed the use of bathrooms and locker rooms. The guidance was rescinded purportedly because of confusion in the courts, schools and communities about the interpretation of the word “sex” under Title IX, the portion of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal funding. However, the previous administration; professional organizations, such as the National Education Association; policy organizations; advocates; schools and parents spent much time helping policymakers and communities understand and recognize gender identity as a component of “sex”. Their efforts made visible the needs of transgender youth. The rescission of this guidance is a strong effort to keep transgender people invisible to our society and to dishonor and negate their gender identity.  

We have yet to see what additional actions will be taken by the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies that are supposed to support all children, youth and families. For several weeks now, there have been rumors and a leaked draft of a proposed executive order allowing for “religious exemptions” for programs receiving federal dollars to refuse service to LGBTQ children and adults based on religious beliefs.  The order has yet to be issued, but this order and other similar actions would actively undermine the safety and well-being of LGBTQ children, youth, families and communities. 

These actions at the federal level are having real life, stressful and harmful effects on youth. Young people who are not visible and have not come out are more likely to stay in the closet. Young people in schools and communities across the country are experiencing more discrimination and bullying and generally these youth will feel less safe as the Trump Administration’s decisions to deny them their rights, whether under Title IX or other provisions, leaves the door open for continued discrimination and traumatization. 

Young people in schools and communities across the country are experiencing more discrimination and bullying and generally these youth will feel less safe as the Trump Administration’s decisions to deny them their rights, whether under Title IX or other provisions, leaves the door open for continued discrimination and traumatization.

Currently only 19 states have non-discrimination policies that include and protect LGBTQ youth. The remaining states offer no such protection, although some local jurisdictions in these states have established their own inclusive policies.  Communities, schools and allies across the country are putting in place policies and practices that affirm LGBTQ children, youth and families, support their well-being and are examples for how we want our future to look. We must be diligent in supporting and sharing these examples to help spread them. 

Within this broader attack on the rights of LGBTQ young people and families, we are concerned about those young people in contact with the child welfare system, as they often have less family support that guide their healthy sexual and identity development. LGBTQ youth and youth of color are disproportionality represented in child welfare systems and we are concerned about the stigma and discrimination they experience while simultaneously dealing with past trauma. The ways in which child welfare systems work now to ensure LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming children and families are supported will be different depending on the state, urban or rural community within which they operate.  We urge leaders of these systems, many of whom are our partners, to remain focused on the mission and mandate to achieve permanence, safety and well-being for all system-involved children. In this climate, child welfare leaders, staff and partners must work even harder to ensure that these children and youth get equal access to education and equitable opportunities to promote healthy development so they have fulfilling lives. 

As we see what comes of pending court cases, federal policies, legislation and executive orders, let us stay focused on our mission and how within our very diverse national landscape we can collectively support one another and find ways to be creative in terms of policy, practice and the use of our resources.  Please know that we at CSSP are committed to doing our part moving forward and seeking out and working with our partners to support our public systems and its partners in their efforts.

This is a continually evolving issue and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to check our blog, at CSSP.org for the newest information.

For more information about policies that support LGBTQ youth in child welfare see, view our report Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare through Cross-System Collaboration. 
 

Bill Bettencourt is a Senior Fellow at CSSP and leads work on getR.E.A.L., an initiative that supports the healthy sexual and identity development of children and youth involved in public systems, particularly children and youth who identify as LGBTQ

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.

As a nation of indigenous people and immigrants, we have a responsibility to ensure that our policies welcome, support and protect newcomers who face significant barriers upon moving to the United States. Sadly, recent federal developments related to immigration enforcement and access to supports and services present a real danger to community safety, particularly for immigrants and their families. 

Immigrants are integral members of our communities—experts estimate that there are currently 11.5 million undocumented persons living in the United States and that of the 5.1 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent, 4.1 million are U.S. citizens. The ways in which immigration enforcement activities are conducted greatly impact not only the safety and stability of immigrant families but also the stability and health of the broader communities in which they live.  The compounding effects of lack of access to critical supports and services and fear of family separation have a direct impact on the healthy development and economic mobility of immigrant children and families.  

In a new brief from the Center for the Study of Social Policy, we highlight several actionable policies at the state and local levels that can be used to promote safe spaces and economic stability for immigrant communities, including adopting sanctuary policies like refusing to honor immigration detainer requests or opting out of federal immigration enforcement activities, and options for states to strengthen safety net services for immigrant families and support immigrant youth. In the wake of new and proposed federal policy targeting immigrant families and communities, advocates must be ready to defend effective policies and enact new ones that promote child and family well-being and advance our development as an inclusive nation.

Download and read the brief: Healthy, Thriving Communities: Safe Spaces for Immigrant Children and Families

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Tweetables:

New brief by @CtrSocialPolicy highlights policies to promote safe spaces & econ stability for immigrant communities. http://bit.ly/2loqPRN

We must ensure our policies support & protect immigrants who face barriers upon moving to the US. @CtrSocialPolicy http://bit.ly/2loqPRN

 .@CtrSocialPolicy brief recommends sanctuary policies to promote safe spaces for immigrant children & families. http://bit.ly/2loqPRN

 

 Rosalynd Erney is a 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. 

Tweetables:

Today on #UnitedDayofWomen, I will join @CtrSocialPolicy to stand for our women & girls of color in public systems. http://bit.ly/2gTfPGH

.@CtrSocialPolicy highlights organizations accelerating change for young women & girls of color. #UnitedDayofWomen http://bit.ly/2gTfPGH

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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.

2016 Election Results and the Urgency of Our Work

  ·   By Frank Farrow and Judy Meltzer,
During the coming weeks, we will all be thinking very deeply about what the election means for us personally and for our work. For CSSP, it reinforces the urgency with which we need to pursue our mission and the need to redouble our efforts, work smarter and be more courageous and more visible in advocating and fighting for those most often, too often and systematically left behind. 
 
As a nonpartisan organization, we remain committed to partnering with those who espouse the ideals that all children deserve to learn, develop and thrive within strong families in safe and healthy communities. We’ll continue to work with leaders at the federal, state and local levels who work to create better lives for children and families, and we’ll join with others to help chart new directions as needed.  At the same time, there’s no missing the rhetoric and vitriol that characterized this prolonged campaign season. Our job is to confront, call out and fight against the forces of discrimination, injustice, white privilege and supremacy, disrespect and oppression whenever and wherever we see them and work with others to dismantle those forces and nurture the ideas, practices and policies that create opportunities and conditions, communities and systems, that help all children to thrive. 
 
We’ll keep our focus on the results we are trying to achieve.  As we figure out how to channel the emotions and energies inspired by this election, let us reinvigorate our efforts to achieve racial equity and protect and secure the futures of all children because we recognize that is an American ethic that persists and one that binds us rather than divides us. This is what we do as an organization, when we’re at our best.  

Frank Farrow and Judy Meltzer are the Directors of CSSP.

Fight For Our GirlsOn December 19, 2011, the United Nations adopted a resolution to declare October 11 International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize the rights of girls and the challenges and barriers that girls face around the world. Today and every day forward, we must consider the importance of social, economic and political investments in young women and girls. Their needs are crucial in our work to radically shift the intergenerational transmission of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination and to achieve equitable and sustainable life outcomes.

Today on International Day of the Girl Child 2016, we must also acknowledge that young women and girls still face gender and racial discrimination, personal and community violence and added trauma that result from involvement in foster care, juvenile justice and other intervening public systems.

“Without progress for girls, there can be no real progress on our global commitments to justice and prosperity,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka.

In our Fight for Our Girls policy series, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) centers the impact of structural discrimination and trauma in the conversation around systems-involved young women and girls of color. Many public systems are frequently ill-prepared to address the distinct needs of young women and girls, therefore creating an alarming trajectory that often involves early and unplanned pregnancies, homelessness and sexual abuse and exploitation.

When looking at girls’ involvement with the juvenile justice system, girls are more likely than their male counterparts to face arrest for status offenses. When confined for these nonviolent behaviors like running away, missing school and violating curfew they become disconnected from school, extracurricular activities and relationships with their peers, family and community. This is particularly concerning for girls of color, who currently have the highest rates of confinement to residential placement for status offenses with Native American and African American placed at the highest rates.

Given the rise of girls in the juvenile justice system, particularly girls of color, it’s critical to note the gender and racial bias that often occurs in juvenile justice systems’ decision-making processes. Historically, young women and girls have faced sexist perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior from juvenile justice decision-makers.  Recent data show that structural racism and sexism continues to permeate the system, with gender influencing a court’s decision to charge youth with committing status offenses and race determining a girl’s likelihood of being detained. Black girls are a striking example of this intersectional bias as they are the fastest growing population being referred to juvenile courts and entering detention

A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Delinquency Alternative Initiative sheds light on the disparate treatment girls face and why they are often confined for behaviors that boys are not.  According to the study, these discrepancies can be attributed to paternalistic attitudes among decision makers. There is a prevailing belief that girls need to be protectedfrom themselves, fear of adolescent girls expressing their sexuality in ways that violate social norms, comfort with using locked confinement to access services for girls with significant needs and an intolerance for behaviors deemed uncooperative and noncompliant.  Young women and girls charged with status offenses are in fact not being uncooperative, or “acting out”, but many are instead responding to complex personal, family and community-level factors and trauma.

The recent passage of the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in the House offers some hope for girls charged with status offenses. The bill outlines various protections for youth in the juvenile justice system, including strengthening the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) provision, promoting trauma-informed alternatives to confinement, and most importantly, eliminating the VCO exception, which allows states to detain youth for status offenses. However, even if the Senate approves the reauthorization, there is still much more work to be done. Data show that girls represent a significant portion of dually involved youth, with girls representing 33 to 50 percent of youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems as opposed to 20 to 25 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system alone. Furthermore, current research shows that youth of color involved in multiple systems have poorer outcomes than their peers.  

Public systems must incorporate gender-responsive and culturally competent policies and practices to best support young women and girls in their care. By making the experiences of young women and girls of color involved in multiple systems more visible, we can continue to highlight the challenges and opportunities to better support this vulnerable demographic.

To join the conversation around the International Day of the Girl Child, follow the hashtag #DayoftheGirl on Twitter.

To learn more about how CSSP is working to radically shift the narrative surrounding girls of color and status offenses, please view our policy series Fight for our Girls.

To learn more about CSSP’s research on addressing the needs of young women and girls involved in multiple public systems, please view our policy paper Dismantling the Pipeline: Addressing the Needs of Young Women and Girls of Color Involved in Intervening Public Systems.


Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP and 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.

Supporting Workers with the Greatest Barriers to Full Participation

  ·   By Megan Martin and Rosalynd Erney,

Labor Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the significant contributions of workers to the economic and social progress of our nation. Although we continue to see declining unemployment rates (4.9 percent in July), there are still too many Americans who are not reaping the full benefits of our success as a country because of long-term unemployment and structural barriers to the workforce.

While the number of Americans who were unemployed for less than five weeks in in 2016 decreased by 258,000, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for more than 27 weeks) remained about the same, at 2 million people, or 26.6 percent of the unemployed. These workers and families are more likely to live in communities with families experiencing multiple generations of disadvantage who have been essentially left out of the economic mobility afforded by good jobs and isolated by poverty. Unemployment and underemployment also disproportionately affect people of color. As of July, the unemployment rates for blacks or African Americans (8.3 percent) and Hispanics or Latinos (5.6 percent) were greater than those of whites (4.2 percent) and Asians (3.8 percent).

Those who experience long-term unemployment often face multiple barriers to the workforce, including:

  • lack of access to transportation and affordable child care
  • safe and stable housing
  • access to education and training opportunities
  • physical and mental health care
  • criminal histories
  • lack of immigration status

These barriers are often compounded by labor market discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or ability. Policies that seek to increase workforce participation and reduce inequities must address these barriers in a holistic and comprehensive way.

A recent column in the New York Times analyzed a working paper by Princeton economist Amanda Agan and University of Michigan legal scholar Sonja Starr that studied employers who had enacted “ban the box” measures. Ban the box is shorthand for rules aimed at reducing discrimination based on past criminal history by prohibiting employers from asking prospective employees to indicate whether they have a criminal history until an initial offer of employment. The study found that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but also that ban the box policies may result in employers being less likely to call back any applicant that they think is black.

The researchers sent fictitious job applications with randomized criminal histories before and after ban the box (BTB) policies were put into place in New Jersey and New York City. Overall, they found that white applicants received 23 percent more callbacks than similar black applicants (38 percent more in New Jersey; 6 percent more in New York City) and that the white advantage is much larger in whiter neighborhoods. Employers who ask about criminal records are 62 percent more likely to call back an applicant with no criminal record (45 percent in New Jersey; 78 percent in New York City). However, the race gap in callbacks grew dramatically after BTB policies came into effect. Before BTB, white applicants to BTB-affected employers received about 7 percent more callbacks than similar black applicants, but this grew to 45 percent after BTB policies were enacted.

This research highlights the devastating effects and pervasive nature of racial discrimination and bias and the need for targeted workforce policy that takes into account the intersecting challenges associated with discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, immigration status and ability.  The New York Times article, however, suggested that policies like BTB should be reconsidered, or sidelined, so that efforts can be focused on addressing the underlying cause—racism.

Addressing racism head-on must be a critical focus of any effort to meaningfully change workplace discrimination and other barriers to employment. However, policymakers have a responsibility to enact policy now that would protect workers from discrimination, and there are strategies, like racial equity impact assessments, that allow for thoughtful consideration of potential unintended consequences. In other words, it isn’t an either or proposition. Policymakers must simultaneously enact laws to protect workers while also actively addressing the significance of racism—both alive and well in the labor market and that can be produced or exacerbated by the unattended consequences of new laws.

Unfortunately, people of color often are discriminated against, and disadvantaged in a number of overlapping ways in the workforce. As made clear in Agan and Starr’s study, as well as several others, they are more likely to be subject to discrimination during the hiring process. People of color are also more likely to be engaged in low-wage work, and too often they experience poverty or near poverty despite being actively engaged members of the workforce. There are also connected costs that are extremely difficult for low-wage workers, disproportionately women of color, to meet. These costs include, for example, the provision of safe and nurturing child care. These are all areas where policymakers have an obligation to address structural racism and enact protections and supports to ensure that everyone is able to engage and benefit from the labor market. There are a series of policies to consider on Labor Day, aimed at reducing disparity based on race and ethnicity and promoting equity and opportunity for all workers. These include addressing structural barriers to employment and economic stability for disconnected communities, increasing opportunities that make work pay and promoting work supports.

Address structural barriers to employment

Communities of color are too often hyper-segregated in poor neighborhoods that are cut off from economic resources and opportunities. The policies that guide transportation, housing and schools have a huge impact on the resources and conditions in communities, which has a direct impact on the ability of residents to find and maintain work. Rather than treating issues like jobs and housing as separate, taking a place-conscious approach allows for more community-specific solutions and has the potential to positively impact the work participation and advancement of community residents. Enhancing resident connections to better work and schools is a core part of this, but so is building the infrastructure, growing resources and strengthening social networks in neighborhoods.

Make work pay

It is unacceptable that people work often full time or in multiple low-wage jobs and continue to struggle to provide for their families. Policies, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), provide additional support to working families while encouraging participation and advancement in the workforce. EITC provides low-income workers with a refundable tax credit that increases as a worker’s compensation rises and encourages and rewards work by offsetting federal payroll and income taxes. In 2014, the EITC combined with the Child Tax Credit lifted roughly 10 million people out of poverty, including more than 5 million children. Expanding EITC eligibility to childless adults would reduce poverty for 10 million people and lift 500,000 people above the poverty line.

Promoting work supports

Many low-income workers put in a full day’s work only to see a large portion of their paycheck going toward child care costs (on average 52.7 percent). Others must juggle volatile job schedules with meeting family responsibilities and do not work as many hours as they could, depriving their households of needed income and our economy of labor. Making investments in programs that support parents with the greatest level of need, particularly those living in poverty and households headed by single parents, is an important way to support work participation.

Multigenerational programs, like child care subsidies, support parental employment while also providing high-quality child care, allowing poor and low-income parents to stay in the workforce and support young children who face the most significant opportunity gaps. Strategies to support workers outside of work as they raise children and meet family responsibilities must include:

  • prioritizing child care subsidies for families facing the greatest barriers
  • establishing 12 months of continuous eligibility for recipients of child care subsidies
  • expanding the supply of accessible, affordable, high-quality child care for families living in areas with high concentrations of poverty through the use of grants and contracts
  • intentionally targeting outreach and consumer education activities to ensure that low-income families of color are informed of and have access to subsidies and other services for which they are eligible

Labor Day is a time to appreciate the important contributions of our nation’s workers and reflect on ways to eliminate structural barriers to the workforce that prevent workers from fully participating. This requires protecting workers now where discrimination is clearly present—and doing so as a part of addressing the structural and institutional racism that is pervasive in the labor market—and in our communities.


Megan Martin is policy director, and Rosalyn Erney is a policy 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.

Exploring How to Measure the Impact of Early Childhood Systems

  ·   By Cailin O'Connor

When early childhood systems function well, they can enhance the effectiveness of programs and services in the community, while ensuring better experiences for children and families and improving outcomes such as school readiness and optimal child development. However, documenting the impact of systems-level activities has been an ongoing challenge for communities.

Members of CSSP’s Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC) are engaged in ongoing discussions about how to document and measure the impact of aligning and coordinating services and building the infrastructure of an early childhood system. This includes exploring questions like:

  • How can we distinguish between the effects of programs and the effects of the systems those programs are part of?
  • What data is available to gauge the well-being of all children and families in the community, and not just those who participate in specific programs?
  • What is the added value of program alignment and coordination within an early childhood system?
  • How does the coordination of the early childhood system affect families’ experiences within that system, and outcomes like health and school readiness for their children?
  • How can we ensure that our early childhood system-building efforts benefit the most vulnerable children and families in the community? How can the early childhood system help to reduce disparities between groups and promote racial and social equity? 

The first product to come out of these ongoing conversations is now available: A report from an EC-LINC Learning Lab that brought six communities together around the broad topic of Measuring the Impact of Early Childhood Systems. This issue brief defines four hallmarks of early childhood systems – family experience; quality services; safe, supportive and equitable communities; and well-functioning and sustainable systems – and describes examples of community-level evaluation related to each of them from the participating communities.

Stay tuned for additional products as these conversations continue.

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

 

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.

Earlier this year, the State Department announced that due to high volumes of applicants, it reached the allotted visa caps for Special Immigrant Juveniles from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. This is the first time the allotted cap has been reached in this visa category and is partially the result of increased numbers of migrant children and youth from Central America fleeing extreme violence, unsafe homes and unstable communities and seeking protection, family reunification, better education and employment opportunities in the United States. For the remainder of the fiscal year (until October 1, 2016), children and youth from these countries who have been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) by USCIS will be unable to access visas. SIJS is a critical pathway to safety and permanency through lawful permanent residency for many children and youth – and without it children and youth lack access to many important benefits including health care, the ability to work and food stamps.

While the State Department announced that visas for children and youth from Mexico will be immediately available at the start of Fiscal Year 2017, visas for children and youth from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala will be unavailable until the current backlog of children and youth from these countries applying for their SIJS visa has been cleared.

Last week, CSSP released two briefs focusing on the impact of the cap towards children and youth from these countries and providing recommendations for policymakers and practitioners working with and on behalf of these youth. The first brief focuses on opportunities provided through SIJS and provides recommendations for federal and state policymakers.

Policies at the federal level should:

  • Ensure alternative options for children and youth to achieve temporary immigration relief while their lawful permanent residency status is pending, including issuing deferred action, Parole in Place or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to these children and youth.
  • Issue clear funding guidance to states regarding healthcare enrollment and revise current regulations to promote access to employment for youth.
  • Ensure funding opportunities for legal representation and/or a child advocate for children and youth in their immigration proceedings.

Policies at the state level should:

  • Ensure children who have approved Form I-360 petitions are enrolled in state Medicaid programs.
  • Dedicate state funding to support children with approved I-360 petitions for adoption subsidies to ensure children do not remain in foster care longer than necessary.
  • Include youth who have aged out of foster care and have approved I-360 petitions in the Affordable Care Act presumptive eligibility category for full Medicaid benefits until their 26th birthday.
  • Provide legal representation and/or a child advocate for children and youth in their immigration proceedings.

The second brief focuses on the impact of the cap on child welfare systems and recommends practitioners to:

  • Continue to file for SIJS (Form I-360) on behalf of minors from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico.
  • Ensure that SIJS eligible children and youth are granted Deferred Action while awaiting the availability of SIJS visas.
  • Ensure children are enrolled in state Medicaid programs as soon as their Form I-360 petitions are approved and have access to mental and behavioral health services.
  • Support migrant children and youth enrolling in appropriate education settings.
  • Continue to work toward achieving positive exits to permanency for migrant children and youth in foster care.
  • Support permanent caregivers in pursuing adoption or guardianship.
  • Support older youth prior to aging out of foster care and inform children and youth petitioning for SIJS that a change to their circumstances can impact their eligibility for an SIJS visa.
  • Advocate for the court to appoint legal representation to support migrant children and youth resolve their immigration status.

To read more on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and how policymakers and practitioners can protect children and youth from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico in the absence of visa availability, you can download both briefs here.

If you have any questions about these briefs, please contact Senior Policy Analyst Alex Citrin or Policy and Research Assistant Rosalynd Erney.

Rosalynd Erney is a policy and research assistant at CSSP.




The Center for the Study of Social Policy is excited to introduce JeNae’ Taylor, an in-residence artist with our get R.E.A.L initiative’s Marvelous Whirlwind Project (MWP) where she uses storytelling, mixed media and movement as a roadmap for healing.

For nine months, the MWP fellows will participate in weekly workshops to navigate their experiences of homelessness, foster care, criminal justice and mental health systems as Black LGBTQ youth and work not only to succeed but celebrate their unique experiences and build creative solutions for their community.

When asked what inspires her work, she quotes civil rights activist and actor, Ossie Davis: “Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change. It can not only move us, it makes us move.”

As a native of Washington, D.C. and a graduate of Columbia College’s Theatre Directing Program, JeNae’ is a theatre practitioner, teaching artist, youth enthusiast, culture emcee and curator of black girl magic. Using creativity as a platform to discover, explore and discuss her deepest cravings and curiosities in life, she has produced work across the globe since 2003.

JeNae’ is also a member of the Black Youth Project 100’s Healing and Safety Council and The MB Collective, a group that honors the founding members of The South Side Community Art Center and Dr. Margaret Burroughs.

Listed below are some of JeNae’s work:

JeNae’ Taylor talks about her public artwork against gun violence in Chicago.

Paper Trail by JeNae’ Taylor in Sixty Inches From Center.


Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.

Rosalynd Erney, Megan Martin and Rhiannon Reeves on Speaker Ryan's Anti-Poverty Plan "A Better Way"

  ·   By Rosalynd Erney, Megan Martin, and Rhiannon Reeves

We can do better than “A Better Way”: Targeted strategies for reducing poverty for families facing significant barriers

A bold vision, accompanied by intentional, targeted federal policy is needed to address the 46.7 million people who are living in poverty in the United States, including 20.8 million people living in deep poverty—at or below 50 percent of the poverty threshold. Families living in poverty face wide-ranging, often interconnected barriers that include homelessness, immigration status, access to education and employment, language barriers, chronic illness, and disabilities.

Poverty disproportionately impacts people of color, children and families with female householders. Moreover, families of color are almost twice as likely as white families to be living in deep poverty and children, particularly children of color, face deep poverty at the highest rates:

  • The 2014 poverty rates among non-Hispanic Whites and Asians were 10.1 percent and 12.0 percent respectively, compared to poverty rates of 26.2 percent and 23.6 percent, respectively, for Blacks and Hispanics.
  • Black and Hispanic populations faced deep poverty rates of 12.0 percent and 9.6 percent respectively in 2014, compared with 5.6 percent for both Asian and non-Hispanic White populations.
  • 6.8 million children—9.3 percent of all of America’s children—lived in deep poverty in 2014. 18.2 percent of African American children and 12.9 percent of Hispanic children are growing up in families living in extreme poverty.
  • In 2014, Female householders faced a poverty rate of 30.6 percent, compared to 15.7 percent for male householders and 6.2 percent for married couples.

The set of programs that make up our nation’s safety net represent critically important supports for many poor children and families. Research shows that combined, these programs, including Social Security, nutrition assistance, and tax credits for working families, have helped to reduce poverty by 40 percent from 1967 to 2012.

Last week, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) released “A Better Way,” a new plan to address poverty from the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility[1] that would give states authority to link poverty programs, expand work requirements in several key anti-poverty programs, impose strict time limits on certain programs, transfer anti-poverty investments to the private sector, and encourage front-end federal spending on programs that eventually would taper off, among other things.

While the Speaker’s and the Task Force’s attention to the enormous barriers faced by families in poverty is welcome, A Better Way proves problematic for many reasons. First, this plan cannot be divorced from the budget plan passed by the House Budget Committee that would cut programs for low- and moderate-income Americans, eliminating 42 percent of all federal resources for low-income programs by 2026. Secondly, giving states the authority to “link poverty programs” opens the door to block granting these programs, which has historically resulted in drastic cuts to safety net programs. Merging programs may also risk breaking the link between these programs and their critically important shared goals, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program’s (SNAP) goal of reducing hunger.

Many aspects of the plan are overly vague and lack specific policy proposals, but several components of the plan actually risk erecting new barriers for families already facing significant obstacles to accessing concrete supports in times of need. These include imposing new work requirements and enacting time limits to certain programs like housing assistance and SNAP, fundamentally altering key programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and reducing federal fund matching rates to states as they continue to serve recipients over time.

Onerous work requirements in the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program have already proven problematic for families with serious barriers to employment, including mental and physical health problems, substance abuse disorders, limited education or homelessness. When families fail to comply with work requirement policies because of these barriers, they are cut off from assistance through sanction policies. Expanding these work requirements to include families accessing housing assistance without subsequently providing additional funding may actually result in increasing homelessness among some of the nation’s poorest children and families.

People who receive SSI benefits are a diverse group with diverse needs, and each individual’s specific needs may fluctuate over time. The SSI cash benefit - while currently too low to fully meet the needs of recipients - nevertheless ensures that this diversity of needs can be met in an efficient and responsive way, no matter where an individual lives. Replacing the SSI cash benefit with an array of services would result in a heavy burden on the low-income children, adults and seniors with disabilities who currently participate in the program, as they could quickly find themselves entangled in myriad programmatic requirements that can take a significant amount of time and resources to effectively navigate. Furthermore, SSI participants who live in areas with poor access to high-quality services would be especially disadvantaged. A cash benefit provides SSI recipients with the ability to fulfill their own needs, while reliance on organized services could reduce access and independence.

A Better Way also recommends providing a higher federal match rate to a state when it first begins serving a recipient to ensure access to more services early on, then reducing the federal match rate as a state continues to serve a recipient over time. While this strategy seems to support early and intensive service provision, it may also discourage states from providing services to individuals and families facing multiple and compounding obstacles for fear of losing federal funding. Additionally, it would eliminate a critical function of the safety net in providing stability during times of economic downturn or recession.

Understanding the extraordinary barriers that contribute to persistent poverty for some families is important in crafting new and strengthening existing anti-poverty solutions. A bold vision to address poverty in the United States must direct resources towards families facing the most significant barriers. Policymakers have significant opportunities to address these barriers through targeted policy, including:

  • Addressing the needs of families facing the most significant barriers.[2] Policies that use sanctions as triggers to connect recipients to wraparound services, improve employment prospects for recipients with significant challenges to work, like those geared toward individuals with diagnosed mental health disabilities, and work with families who are approaching the end of their time limits can help meet the needs of families living in deep poverty. Strategies must also ensure that families that are involved in intervening public systems like the child welfare system are not unduly burdened by conflicting requirements. This can be accomplished in part by allowing for child welfare case plan requirements, like a parent’s participation in mental health services, to count toward TANF work requirements.
  • Investing in Coordinated High Quality Child Care.  High-quality child care serves as a multi-generational resource that enables 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. To support parents in the workforce, policy should ensure coordinated high quality childcare programing that meets the demands of all poor and low-income families. This includes developing a cohesive vision for the child care system that offers stability through 12-months of continuous eligibility, regardless of a temporary change in a parent’s employment status.
  • Encouraging states to make policy choices that reduce bureaucracy.[3] States have a number of options to reduce bureaucracy in accessing safety net services, including expanding categorical eligibility, which gives states flexibility to align family eligibility for more than one program, and implementing one-time eligibility determinations, which allow states to use information they have already collected about individuals and families receiving other programs to determine their eligibility for Medicaid.
  • Supplementing state benefit services with community-based assistance and improved technology. Rather than consolidating programs, policies that create a single point of entry, or a “no wrong door” approach, that also ensure multiple points of access through in-person, phone and online resources have proven effective at ensuring families with different sets of needs are able to find and access the services for which they are eligible.
  • Smoothing benefit cliffs and reducing reporting burdens. Benefit cliffs, or points at which families lose eligibility for a benefit due to a small increase in income, combined with frequent reporting and recertification requirements that can be burdensome to low income workers whose hours and earnings fluctuate from month to month are cumbersome to families as they transition from benefits to economic self-sufficiency. Policies that taper off benefits more slowly with each additional dollar so that workplace advancement is accompanied by a gradual reduction of benefits can avoid unnecessary disruptions that can set families back. These policies must be accompanied by additional investments so that they cover low- and moderate-income families without unintentionally cutting benefit levels for families at the bottom of the income scale, including the unemployed and those unable to work. 

While Speaker Ryan’s plan brings attention to the issues faced by families living in poverty, without a meaningful focus on the experiences of these families and a strong commitment to meeting the needs of families facing significant barriers, it risks creating additional obstacles to families in achieving financial stability. A bold vison for reducing poverty must include strategies that take into account the experiences of people struggling to find work, balance family responsibilities and sometimes address unmet health needs.  The strategies mentioned here should be a part of this work, but anti-poverty strategies should also strengthen tax programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), spur job growth, create affordable housing, ensure access to a meaningful and livable wage and implement equitable paid family leave policies. Together, these strategies given appropriate time, resources and support, have the potential to significantly improve outcomes for children and families in poverty – including those facing significant obstacles—and increasing equity for all our families. 

________________________________________ 

[1] The House Republican Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, & Upward Mobility is comprised of Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), Budget Committee Chairman Tome Price (R-GA), Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and was formed in January, 2016.

[2] For more information on addressing families facing the greatest barriers and investing in high quality child care, please see CSSP’s forthcoming brief series examining the efficacy of TANF and exploring promising strategies for improving its ability to meet the needs of families facing significant barriers.

[3] For more detailed recommendations and state policy examples on reducing bureaucracy, supplementing state benefits with community based assistance, and smoothing benefit cliffs, please see CSSP’s 2014 joint brief with the Center for American Progress, “Improving Economic Opportunity: Alternatives to the Opportunity Grants”, available here



This is a profile in a series of blogs highlighting the recipients of our
Accelerating Change Award (ACA). On May 23, CSSP announced five winners of our inaugural Accelerating Change Award. Each of the awardees have demonstrated a commitment to reaching and serving diverse populations of young women and girls of color who are involved or at risk of involvement in public systems and creating opportunities for their well-being and success.

“For more than 30 years, PACE has been a respected advocate for the power and potential of girls,” said Mary Marx, president and CEO of PACE. “We combine prevention, early intervention, counseling and academics with a unique culture that values all girls and helping each find her voice and achieve her potential.  We’re excited to broaden the national dialogue with respect to marginalized girls through this award.”

Founded in 1985 in Jacksonville, Florida, PACE Center for Girls serves more than 2,000 at-risk girls annually in 19 centers throughout the state of Florida. Over the years, the PACE Center for Girls has developed a nationally recognized, research-based, non-residential program model that features a balanced emphasis on academics and social services, with a focus on the future for middle and high-school aged girls and young women.

Young women and girls of color – especially those involved in public systems – face a unique and alarming trajectory that puts them at risk of poor outcomes. PACE Center for Girls works to disrupt this trajectory through its strength-based and asset building model – a program recognized nationally as one of the most effective in the country for keeping girls from entering the juvenile justice system.

The PACE day-program integrates academic preparation with individualized counseling, life skills training, career preparation, and goal-setting to create a learning environment where each girl is empowered and equipped to unleash her unique potential.

Girls attending PACE have histories that include trauma caused by sexual abuse, school failure, physical abuse, family instability, bullying, and poverty, but after attending PACE:

    • 92 percent of girls had no involvement with the criminal justice system
    • 94 percent of girls improved academically, including girls who came to PACE a grade level or more behind
    • 85 percent of girls were in school, higher education, or employed after leaving PACE. 

In an interview with Comcast Newsmakers, PACE Center for Girls Chief External Affairs Officer Nona C. Jones shares how the center transforms the lives of young women and girls.

“Mia came to PACE with some substance abuse issues [and] a history of sexual abuse, and because she was transformed because of her resiliency at PACE – she is now an attorney,” said Jones. “We have girls who are doctors, and educators, and business owners, who have never been told that they were capable of success until they found PACE. And PACE has made a difference."

The organization values all girls and young women, believing each one deserves an opportunity to find her voice, achieve her potential and celebrate a life defined by responsibility, dignity, serenity and grace.

In additional to national recognition and an honorarium, PACE Center for Girls will join the other Accelerating Change Award recipients at the United State of Women Summit hosted by the White House this month in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about PACE Center for Girls, please go to pacecenter.org

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.

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