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An Accelerating Change Awardee Profile: PathWays PA

  ·   By Victoria Efetevbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about PathWays PA, please go to

Check out the other Accelerating Change awardee profiles here:

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center

Gwen's Girls

Victoria Efetevbia is a program and research assistant at CSSP. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

An Accelerating Change Awardee Profile: Gwen's Girls

  ·   By Victoria Efetevbia

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

“We are honored to receive CSSP’s 2017 Accelerating Change Award and to be recognized by an entity that is so dedicated to racial equity for girls. We are of the belief that positive impact only happens when we work together,” said Amy Yeu, a program coordinator at Gwen’s Girls. “We are proud to join hands with those accomplishing the same goal: to lift girls out of at-risk situations and into their potential.”

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Gwen’s Girls was founded in 2002 by the late Police Commander Gwendolyn J. Elliott. Commander Elliott became the first Black woman to serve as a commander on the Pittsburgh Police force in 1986. During her tenure on the force, she witnessed the struggles of young women and girls involved with law enforcement. Her experience fueled her determination to ensure that all young women and girls could lead successful and fulfilling lives. Commander Elliot’s legacy of determination to help young women and girls continues to live through Gwen’s Girls’ mission of providing young women and girls with gender-specific programs, education and opportunities to foster leadership and joy.

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. Gwen’s Girls works to disrupt this trajectory through its programs which address the needs of young women and girls in a holistic and comprehensive manner using a strengths-based approach. The programs at Gwen’s Girls build on each young woman and girl’s personal strengths and provide opportunities and experiences for her to be successful.

Gwen’s Girls advocates for the holistic care of young women and girls through its community programs, strengths-based prevention services and various outreach initiatives and trainings. Fifteen years after its inception, Gwen’s Girls continues to service 300 young women and girls a year through residential care, community education, after school and summer programs, STEM, health and wellness and workforce development programming. The organization also provides opportunities for young women and girls to participate in community advocacy and activism within Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Through Gwen’s Girls various programs and services, many of the organization’s participants achieve academic success, lack of re-involvement in the justice system, and reduced incidences of unplanned pregnancies.

Continuing in the footsteps of its founder and her experience on the Pittsburgh Police force, Gwen’s Girls recognizes the importance of addressing how public systems respond to the needs of young women and girls. In 2016, Gwen’s Girls’ inaugural Equity Summit was a catalyst for the creation of the Black Girls Equity Alliance, a grassroots movement comprised of over 50 organizations and community members, which intends to help affect lasting change for Black girls in public systems.

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

To learn more about Gwen’s Girls, please go to

Check out the other Accelerating Change awardee profiles here:

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center

PathWays PA

Victoria Efetevbia is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

Gender, Sexuality and Parenting

  ·   By Cailin O'Connor and Bill Bettencourt

We are living in a time of rapidly evolving social norms and understanding of the spectrum of human experiences with sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). (See the Genderbread Person image for an explanation of what is meant by each of these terms and how they make up each individual’s SOGIE.)

In this blog post, we address some key questions about SOGIE and parenting. How should parents respond when their young children embrace a gender identity and/or expression that doesn’t line up with expectations? How should parents respond when their teenage or young adult children come out? What commitments do foster and adoptive parents make to accept the children and young people they bring into their families? On the other side of the parenting equation, does a parent’s SOGIE matter to their ability to love and nurture children? Should parents’ SOGIE be taken into consideration as systems try to find homes for the children needing families in this country?

Progress, Opposition and the Real Cause for Concern

From the legalization of gay marriage to greater acknowledgement and acceptance of transgender people in schools, places of business and the media, progress on these issues is apparent across our society. The scientific and human services communities have kept pace with this evolution. Gender clinics now exist to support parents who are trying to understand and support their children who are finding their way along this spectrum. Organizations such as Gender Spectrum based in Berkeley, California provide resources and supports to children, youth and families.

While this evolution has moved in a progressive, thoughtful and supportive way to ensure healthy development of children, youth and families, not everyone has responded well to these changes. Some individuals and organizations view greater acceptance as wrong. Some see it as an attack on their values and their view of our society. Some families have been reported to child protective services, and many more have faced criticism or harassment, due to others’ concerns about how they respond to their young children’s gender expression. Other parents face scrutiny or legal obstacles to parenthood due to their own sexuality or gender identity. And despite greater acceptance in our society as a whole, too many LGBT and gender non-conforming children and adolescents still face hostility, bullying and rejection from their families and peers.

Strict enforcement of gender norms and rejection of children and adolescents’ true selves has an unacceptable cost in terms of teen suicide, high numbers of runaway/homeless youth, juvenile incarceration and sex trafficking. Many young people end up in the child welfare system because their families have rejected them due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Children and youth experience this in their birth families as well as in foster families and adoptive families; tragically, some experience it more than once.

Pushing strict gender norms is not only harmful to children who are questioning their gender or sexuality. It also perpetuates the effects of a gender binary frame, which has contributed over time to incidents of domestic violence, bullying and other behaviors grounded in an unhealthy belief that power and control are priorities. Everyone benefits when we move beyond that binary thinking.

What Does Good Parenting Look Like?

All children need to be loved, affirmed and supported. With partners at Family Builders By Adoption in Oakland, California, getREAL developed a guide, Raising Healthy and Happy LGBT & Gender Non-Conforming Children, to help parents navigate what may be unfamiliar terrain. Birth parent, foster parent or adoptive parent, it boils down to being loving, supportive, accepting and open with your child, and advocating for them with other people or institutions (like church or school) that may not be as supportive.

This is actually a good approach to parenting regardless of a child’s SOGIE. All children need unconditional love and support from their families, and all children benefit from an open and accepting approach that encourages them to express their emotions, follow their interests and explore all aspects of their own identity. Parents who allow their children that freedom – without enforcing strict norms of masculinity or femininity – will see their children grow and thrive.

Through getREAL, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to help (or in some cases encourage) public systems and agencies to update their policies and practices so that they can better serve, and not further harm, all of the young people they serve. While there may not be a lot we can do in the policy realm to ensure that birth parents will love their children unconditionally, systems can take steps to reduce the likelihood of failed adoptions or foster placements based on lack of knowledge or unwillingness to accept a child’s SOGIE. For example, they can educate potential foster and adoptive parents, ask them about their commitment to keeping a child in their family regardless of the child’s emerging gender identity and sexual orientation and provide access to gender clinics and other supports as needed.

What About Parents’ SOGIE?

Some people have a related concern about how parents’ SOGIE affects their ability to raise children – or how it should affect their rights to do so, as we see in recent moves by some state legislatures and faith-based organizations to limit the rights of LGBT adults to become foster or adoptive parents.

An adult’s SOGIE, relationship or marital status has no bearing on their ability to raise a child – in fact, research indicates that children of gay and lesbian parents are less likely to be abused or neglected, and more likely to thrive, than other children. (See a summary of relevant research: Patterson, C. J., & Farr, R. H. (2015). Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents: Reflections on the Research–Policy Interface. The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact, 121.There is no justification for keeping LGBTQ parents from bringing children into their families – through foster care, kinship care, adoption, surrogacy or otherwise.

What Kinds of Support Do Families Need?

CSSP’s Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework describes characteristics that all families need to support optimal child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect, while our Youth Thrive framework describes a parallel set of protective and promotive factors that young people need to thrive. All families and youth need support to build and maintain these protective factors throughout their lives.

Through the lens of these protective and promotive factors, it becomes easier to understand some of the challenges that families and youth can face, as well as the types of support they might need as they navigate issues of SOGIE. What support can we provide so that all families can love, affirm and support their children to become their authentic selves, able to love and embrace all aspects of their identity?



Parental and youth resilience: Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma Parents may question their own ability to parent their children who are questioning their sexuality or gender orientation, being bullied at school or otherwise struggling. Parents may benefit from support groups such as PFLAG.

Young people who are questioning their sexuality or gender orientation, or who are being bullied, need reassurance that they will be loved and supported regardless of their SOGIE. Resources like the It Gets Better Project can help young people see a positive future for themselves despite their current situation.
 Social connections: Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental and spiritual support

Young people may benefit from connecting with peers who are similarly developing. Parents, too, benefit from connecting with others who are facing similar parenting situations. 

For both parents and youth, acceptance and support from their extended families and friends is also critical. 
 Knowledge of parenting and child development: Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development  Parents need additional knowledge about SOGIE if their child is gender-nonconforming or gay; young people also need access to this information about their own development. Books such as Dr. Diane Ehrensaft’s Gender Creative Child can be very helpful.
Concrete support in times of need: Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges   Access to supports such as gender clinics and parent support groups is critical when a young child says their gender is different than their sex at birth or when a youth is questioning their sexual identity or says they think they are gay.
Young people whose families are not accepting of their SOGIE will need additional concrete supports, up to and including housing and financial support if their families reject them. 
Social and emotional competence of children / Cognitive and social-emotional competence of youth: Family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions and establish and maintain relationships   Parents need to understand the impact of family acceptance vs. rejection behaviors on health outcomes for children and strategies to support their child’s social-emotional development. (See 

Young people need to experience love, affirmation and acceptance – from their families, friends, teachers and other supportive adults – to support their own development and self-esteem.

Cailin O'Connor is a senior associate at CSSP and Bill Bettencourt is a senior fellow at CSSP.

In August, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released a new report, A Crisis of Hate: A Mid Year Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Hate Violence Homicides. Typically, these reports are published annually. However, NCAVP decided to release this report early with hopes that it will raise awareness of the increased violence faced by the LGBTQ+ community. NCAVP has been tracking violence against the LGBTQ+ community for 20 years and NCAVP has recorded the highest number of anti-LGBTQ homicides just over halfway through 2017. This is an alarming fact, especially when considering that this number will likely grow, as the year 2018 is still several months away.

As of August 23rd, 2017, NCAVP recorded reports of “36 hate violence related homicides of LGBTQ and HIV affected people,” a 29 percent increase from 2016. In an attempt to further break down the data NCAVP collected, the report states that for the year 2017 thus far, “there has been nearly one homicide a week of an LGBTQ person in the U.S.” While this report demonstrates a stark increase in violence against all LGBTQ+ individuals, perhaps what is most disturbing is the increased number of transgender women of color who were the victims of homicides. Of the 19 murders of transgender and gender expansive individuals in the first half of 2017, 16 were transgender women of color. Notably, this report was published prior to the horrific murders of 28-year-old transgender man Kashmire Nazier Redd, nonbinary student activist Scout Schultz, 26-year-old transgender woman Derricka Banner and transgender teen Ally Steinfeld. This means that in the month since this report was published, the count of transgender and gender expansive homicides has increased by 16 percent, from 19 to 22, tragically surpassing the data reported in 2016.

In addition to this trend, there has also been a significant increase in reported violence and homicides against gay, bisexual and queer cisgender men. In 2016, four gay, bisexual and queer cisgender men were victims of homicide. For January through August of 2017, 17 cisgender gay, bisexual and queer men were murdered and over half (53 percent) of these victims were men of color. Despite increasing trends of violence against LGBTQ+ communities, data shows that people of color, transgender women of color, and queer, bisexual and gay cisgender men are more often the targets of anti-queer and racist violence. The fact that these groups experience oppression at the intersection of multiple identities – race, ethnicity, gender – undeniably contributes to these individuals facing higher levels of violence and higher murder rates than other members of the LGBTQ+ community experience.

While this report makes significant contributions to better understanding violence against some of the most at risk populations, data are limited. The number of homicides of LGBTQ+ people is likely higher. NCAVP cites several challenges to accurate data collection, such as the misidentification of victims’ sexual orientation and/or gender identity in police reports and the media. In addition, they note the media and law enforcement’s reluctance to categorize a crime as being related to bias.

A Crisis of Hate attributes the increase in anti-LGBTQ+ homicides in part to the turbulent political climate of the U.S. However, the report does not attribute these trends to any specific instance, policy change or otherwise. While the report does not propose solutions to the crisis, there are several organizations, states, cities and localities that are initiating actions to protect LGBTQ+ people in their communities, including:

  • Partnering with LGBTQ+ community members in creating LGBTQ+ task forces. DC Metropolitan Police Department’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Liaison Unit (LGBTLU) focuses on the safety needs of DC’s LGBT community, conducts public education campaigns on hate crimes and public safety, seeks to end hate crime and violent crime within the LGBT community and conducts patrols and responds to citizen complaints. These units are most effective when they partner with individuals from the local LGBTQ+ community every step of the way.
  • Decriminalizing sex work. Sex work is more common and also more dangerous for LGBTQ+ individuals. In addition to LGBTQ+ individuals being more likely to engage in sex work to survive, LGBTQ+ sex workers are also nearly 2.5 times more likely to be attacked with a gun than other sex workers. Decriminalizing sex work would help keep LGBTQ+ sex workers safe by enabling them to access necessary resources and by protecting them from violent law enforcement. California is one state example where sex work has been decriminalized for minors with the passage of SB 1322 in 2016.
  • Prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Illinois became the most recent state to add gender identity to the list of protected categories in hate crime law, joining Washington, DC, Minnesota, California, Vermont, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, New Mexico, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, Delaware and Nevada. States that currently have sexual orientation covered in hate crime statute include California, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, DC, New Jersey, Vermont, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine, Texas, Washington, Massachusetts, Delaware, Louisiana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Missouri, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, Kansas, Puerto Rico, Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico, Colorado and Maryland.
  • Creating LGBTQ+ inclusive policies. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to be turned away from homeless shelters and face a heightened risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. Transgender people are especially at risk, with some homeless shelters barring them from entering. Nonprofit homeless shelters that are specifically for homeless LGBTQ+ individuals have begun to pop up across the US to accommodate the needs of this community. A few examples of these shelters include Casa Ruby, The Wanda Alston Foundation, Project Fierce Chicago, and New Alternatives for Homeless Youth. These initiatives should be supported in conjunction with reforming policies of non-LGBTQ+ specific homeless shelters to ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals always have a place to go.
  • Promoting safe and inclusive transportation. Homobiles, a non-profit in California, offers safe, reliable, pay-what-you-can, 24/7 transit for the LGBTQ+ community. Buses, taxis, subways, and walking have proven to be unsafe modes of transportation for queer people, especially in urban areas and especially at night.

While many cities and localities have made strides toward protecting and supporting their LGBTQ+ community members and their allies, protections currently in place for this population are not sufficient. CSSP remains committed to working with our partners across the country to promote policies and practices that support, uplift and protect all people from violence and discrimination based on sexuality, gender identity, race, ethnicity, ability and immigration status. 


Erika Feinman is a program and research assistant 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.


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

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.


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.

The Ongoing Fight for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care

  ·   By Amelia Esenstad

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

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

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


Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Questions about the so-called preschool “fade-out” effect are once again stirring up opinion on the merits of investing in early care and education. Recent articles with misleading headlines seemingly call into question the value of preschool programs for low-income children, though deep into the articles the authors defend early care and education as a worthy investment. Many readers will recognize sensational headlines for what they are: “click bait,” but in the current political and policy climate, when it comes to investing in the very young, this editorial practice, we believe, is both irresponsible and dangerous.

The “fade-out” argument, in actuality, grossly misleads readers to lump findings from research studies of programs of various quality, dosage and populations into one question: “is investing in early childhood education worth it”? On the contrary, considering the extent of the nation’s resource and opportunity gap for millions of young children and their families, the only question worth asking is, “is our investment enough?”

As the work of economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman and others show, there is an overwhelming body of quality recent evidence that investments in comprehensive supports and services for economically and socially marginalized children and their families yield significant positive impacts for individuals and society. The evidence also suggests that benefits are greater and longer-lasting the earlier in a child’s life an intervention starts. Indeed, according to Heckman, “[t]he research shows that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment—a rate substantially higher than the 7 to 10 percent return previously established for preschool programs serving 3- to 4-year-olds. Significant gains are realized through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors, and employment.”

To be fair, it should be no surprise to find evidence that a single year of pre-kindergarten instruction, even if it is of high quality, is not sufficient to “inoculate” against the future challenges many children face in elementary school and beyond — challenges that are largely the result of decades of community disinvestment, racial discrimination, and educational and economic disparities.

Skeptics also can rightfully call into question any investment that is built on a promise of large returns but that does not, in fact, sufficiently fund interventions that match the original program’s design. To think otherwise is unfair to the participating children, hardworking teachers and staff, and the families and taxpayers who pay for it.

But the answer is not to defund pre-kindergarten programs. Even the authors of the recent articles say so once you get into the fine print. Rather, the answers lie in paying attention to, and investing in, programs that incorporate strategies to address the contributing factors to successful interventions. To name a few, this list includes:

  • Respecting and supporting parents in their role as their children’s primary nurturers and teachers, as advocates for their children and their families, and as leaders and decision-makers within programs and within their communities;
  • Parental choice and continuous access to high-quality, birth-to-five early care and education options that meet families’ needs;
  • Comprehensive, two-generation supports for children and parents that address health, nutrition, basic needs and family economic stability;
  • Adherence to high-quality standards and developmentally appropriate curricula;
  • Highly skilled and adequately compensated staff;
  • Positive, strengths-based relationships among and between children, families and staff; and
  • Culturally and linguistically inclusive practice.

In the current political climate when every domestic program is under intense scrutiny and the threat of budget cuts, researchers and advocates alike must be crystal clear in their arguments and evidence. We must all avoid clouding the conversation with sensationalized rhetoric, and must call out inconsistencies and misconstrued arguments when we see them. To do any less threatens decades of progress toward leveling the playing field for families and communities that have been historically marginalized and threatens the advances we have begun to make in providing successful interventions for young children and their families.

CSSP stands firm in its commitment to supporting innovation and evidence-informed approaches that support children within the context of their families and communities. We call on researchers, advocates, policymakers and civic leaders to join us in continuing our collective efforts to promote policy, practice and systems change in order to create opportunities that promote well-being and economic success for all children and families. 


Anna Lovejoy is a senior associate at CSSP. 

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 for the newest information. 

Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

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



New brief by @CtrSocialPolicy highlights policies to promote safe spaces & econ stability for immigrant communities.

We must ensure our policies support & protect immigrants who face barriers upon moving to the US. @CtrSocialPolicy

 .@CtrSocialPolicy brief recommends sanctuary policies to promote safe spaces for immigrant children & families.


 Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

We are all watching, as nearly every federal governmental system is being led by individuals who want to see those systems fail (DOE, DOJ, DOL, EPA, HUD, HHS), and through the Orwellian chaos, I am reminded that these same systems have been failing my community for several centuries. And somehow, we –queer communities of color— always find ways to survive, organize and fight for the visibility of our worth. Now more than ever, I am encouraged by the organic creation of eco-systems of liberation by queer youth who have always had to fill in the gaps, when government systems have failed our community.

A recent manifestation of the eco-system concept was an event that the getR.E.A.L Initiative co-sponsored and put on by the Keeping Ballroom Community Alive Network (KBCAN). KBCAN launched their second annual Ballroom Symposium, as they organized the Ballroom community to envision a world where queer communities of color are liberated through unapologetic radical love, self-mobilization and transformative healing. The Ballroom Symposium was inspiring, creative and a launch of a series of similar events that will take place in locales across the country. A year ago I became a member of the House of Garcon and a founding member of Comme De Garcon Pro (CDG Pro), an intentional space within the House that seeks to harness community knowledge and skills, to create opportunities for House and Ballroom members to grow spiritually, professionally and civically. KBCAN and CDG Pro are just a few examples of spaces created through resiliency, working to get closer to liberation.

Let’s just be clear. Black and Brown communities, since the inception of this country, have been living in a world where systems are designed to disrupt our lives, criminalize our bodies, patrol our behaviors and police our humanity. This is a world that has intentionally— and in most cases— strategically created mechanism to ensure that our lives be devalued, pathologized and left to fend off a set of historical, harmful and institutionalized policies and practices. So out of necessity, queer Black and Brown communities have created our own connected parts, our own community of resiliency, our own sub-cultures, our own spaces and our own systems where we can experience liberation, self-determination and the power to radically shape (and reshape) our lives.

The word radical finds it origins from the Latin word “radicalis.” It simply means “of the root.” Thus, if my community feels the bruises of broken systems, if we regurgitate the trauma of multi-generational state sanctioned violence against our core identities, and if we can clearly see the strategic design of systems of oppression, then we must find radical solutions that tug at the very root of white supremacy, heteronormativity, gender-based violence and trans-misogynoir. Fortunately, communities that stand nearest to the margins, are doing just that. While creating direct confrontation at the very core of systematic harm and violence, queer communities of color—learning from the black radical tradition— have created societies that are building within them, eco-systems of liberation. I define eco-systems of liberation as fluid and sustained spaces created only through resiliency for the purpose of co-investment in radical acts of love, recognition, joy, affirmation, growth, support, and healing.

In this time, nothing is more important than being radical. “Radical” allows youth learn to survive (and thrive) when a generation of people preaching the politics of respectability are more concerned about policing our gender expression. “Radical” is how black girl magic built movements and sustained them throughout decades. “Radical” is how one taps into the imagination of the beyond, to be able to conjure up a just world that we have never known. 

Eco-systems of Liberation are radical. They are a response to rotten roots that have plagued this country since its inception. They can be found at the intersections, in compounds, through nuance and complexity. They are adverse to monoliths, norms and respectability. Eco-systems of liberation are the small informal and interconnected systems that were conjured up at the crossroads of freedom, self-determination and mobilization. They are a resistance to oppression, hatred and bigotry, but more importantly, they are a response to a core need for chosen-family, love and acceptance.

I am honored to be a part of the eco-system of liberation that has been longstanding within the House and Ballroom Scene, since it was created by Crystal Labeija, a black trans women nearly half a century ago. In times like this, we will continue to organize, mobilize, advocate and fight to hold government systems accountable. But as they continue to fail, we will continue to create eco-systems of liberation that allow us to never abandon our hope. And through hope, I know that freedom and liberation will be actualized in this world. Forever forward.

Jonathan Lykes is a policy analyst at CSSP.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Precious Graham is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precious Graham is a program and research assistant at CSSP.


Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Underserved Population

  ·   By Ama Konadu Amoafo-Yeboah and Ali Jawetz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Promote the safety of LGBTQ youth

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

(3) Commit to achieving permanency for LGBTQ youth

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

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

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

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

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

An Equitable Child Care Agenda

  ·   By Rhiannon Reeeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhiannon Reeves is a policy and research assistant at CSSP.

A Closer Look at Foster Youth and Sex Trafficking

  ·   By Susan Mapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.

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

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

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

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

This raises the question: what is the bigger picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

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

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

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

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

Announcing the Accelerating Change Award

  ·   By Tashira Halyard,

Accelerating Change Award

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

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

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

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

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

Visit for more information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Thrive™ Selects Five Sites for Its New Learning Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is an empirical question worth pursuing. 

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

Making the Lives of LGBT Youth Visible

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

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

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

  ·   By Martha Raimon, Gayle Samuels and Lisa Primus,

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

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

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

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

The causes of adoption disruption are predictable:

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

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

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

- Youth who had experienced a broken adoption.

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

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

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

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

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


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