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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

Dismantling the Pipeline: Addressing the Needs of Young Women and Girls of Color Involved in Intervening Public Systems

Young women and girls of color are disproportionately represented in intervening public systems, including the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Involvement with these systems is related to poor outcomes for all children and youth, but young women and girls of color face unique challenges. Public systems often overlook the strengths of young women and girls of color and are frequently ill-prepared to address their distinct needs. This can result in an alarming trajectory that often involves early and unplanned pregnancies, homelessness and sexual abuse and exploitation.

Public policies, however, have the opportunity to improve the ways in which we support young women involved in these systems. For public policies to best respond to the particular needs of young women and girls of color, they must be created in ways that advance prevention and address trauma. At the same time, they must provide solutions that go beyond reducing and mitigating risks to advancing opportunities to thrive.

A new policy brief from CSSP, Dismantling the Pipeline: Addressing the Needs of Young Women and Girls of Color Involved in Intervening Public Systems, aims to shine a spotlight on the disparities young women and girls of color experience when involved in intervening public systems, as well as highlight policies that have potential to positively impact young women and girls involved with, or at risk of involvement with, these systems. The brief provides a snapshot of important work taking place across the country by highlighting state and local efforts to promote better outcomes for young women and girls of color.

The strategies included in the brief highlight opportunities for public policies and programs to:

  • build a solid platform for effective interventions
  • ensure that young women and girls can stay with their families and in their communities whenever possible
  • support young women and girls in work and school
  • promote the health, positive relationships and well-being of young women and girls
  • combat the violence against and exploitation of young women and girls
  • prevent deeper system involvement

To read, download and share the report and related materials, visit

Megan Martin is CSSP's public policy director.

Journal of Child and Youth Care Work Volume 25The Journal of Child and Youth Care Work just released a new volume focused on trauma-informed care. Along with CSSP colleagues Charlyn Harper Browne, Francie Zimmerman and consultant Andrew Schneider Munoz, I wrote an article for this edition, titled “Youth Thrive: A Framework to Help Adolescents Overcome Trauma and Thrive.” Through this piece, we challenge the field to focus on helping youth heal from the effects of trauma by building youth's protective and promotive factors. By summarizing the research on the risk factors that impede healthy development and the protective and promotive factors that mitigate risk and build well-being, we present a framework for helping youth move beyond trauma toward thriving. The protective and promotive factors that contribute toward youth well-being are:

We also caution against adopting trauma-informed care in name only. The goal of being “trauma-informed” doesn’t end by asking youth what happened to them; it begins there. Healing from trauma is the first key step toward being able to build the qualities and strengths that help youth to succeed and thrive in life. Youth workers, foster parents, teachers, caseworkers and parents all need to be informed by the research on adolescent development and resilience and the impact of trauma on that development to help youth move toward the outcomes of well-being. 

In addition, systems need to ensure that:

  1. Their workforce is attuned to the needs of youth and able to build on youth strengths.
  2. The workforce is adequately trained in relevant research and how to apply it in their work with youth.
  3. Workers have access to a new “toolbox” of nontraditional strategies for helping youth overcome their trauma history and thrive.
  4. Their policies and programs embrace a youth thriving, trauma-informed framework.
  5. Youth are engaged in their own case planning and have a voice in shaping the policy and programs that affect them.

The article also highlights specific examples of strategies from public and private agencies that exemplify the Youth Thrive™ framework and approach. To learn how to get a copy of the journal and read more ideas about trauma-informed approaches that explicitly focus on helping youth to thrive, check here.

For more information about Youth Thrive™, visit the initiative’s webpage at

Susan Notkin is an associate director at CSSP.

images from the 2015 Forty to None Summit

Though the oft-cited statistic that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT drove the recent Forty to None Summit convened by the True Colors Fund—the youth, speakers and facilitators made clear that successful strategies to reduce this number would be as varied and unique as the population it represented.

I and my colleagues on the getR.E.A.L team at CSSP were in attendance at the Houston gathering last month, which brought together about 220 service providers, government officials, educators, advocates and youth. The summit also emphasized the unique needs of transgender and gender non-conforming youth, who are often overlooked in these discussions. Intersectionality was a key theme throughout the conference, and we were all challenged to consider intersectionality not only through personal identities but also via the multi-level, cross-system efforts taken to respond to this problem.

Who better to unpack this complex topic than young people themselves? The summit featured many of this year’s 40 of the Forty, awarded to LGBT young people ages 18-25 who have experienced housing instability and homelessness, as well as True Fellows, a fellowship for young people to design and implement a community project in partnership with the True Colors Fund. These young people played an integral role at the conference, not only sharing their stories but facilitating panels and providing recommendations.

This authentic interaction enabled a consistent incorporation of intersectionality, including what that means to young people, service providers, researchers, advocates, policymakers and others and how systems can recognize the importance of intersectionality to best meet the needs of the LGBT youth homeless population. Discussions on topics such as education, employment, community connections, policing and technology raised revealing points on barriers that LGBT homeless youth face. For example, how might immigration and detention policies that aim to keep families together look different for queer families? Or, how can systems provide the needed supports and services to youth who may not identify as homeless even though they fall within the legal definition? Addressing questions such as these will entail the multi-level, cross-system approach referenced throughout the convening, but answering them will require engagement with the young people who have lived these experiences.

This summit served as a model of how getR.E.A.L and CSSP can continue to integrate intersectionality and youth engagement in our work. With a few projects in the works specifically aimed at lifting up the youth voice—particularly youth of color and transgender youth—we hope to further examine the experiences of young people involved with intervening public systems and facilitate meaningful youth collaboration on these issues.

Amelia Esenstad is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

Focusing on Families to Achieve Results for Children

  ·   By Judy Langford,

Judy Langford at the recent Get Georgia Reading Summit

Grade level reading starts before birth. Reading is significantly shaped by a child’s earliest experiences, experiences that happen in their families. Families are the primary source of learning and development for young children, long before they go to a classroom, long before they say words or learn letters, long before they pick up a book. Families—and the communities where they live, play, work and worship—overwhelmingly shape every young child’s experiences and opportunities 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  

Thus, families are the most important partner in changing results for children and are powerful agents of development for their children. 

But their capabilities to do their job are heavily influenced by their access to systems, like health care and education, which provide the basic services all families need to promote healthy development for their children. These multiple partners provide help to families, but sometimes the communication and collaboration among the key players is not what it could be. Programs and services may see things one way; families another, and communities still another. 

One way to align the conversation among the key players is through adopting a common framework so that systems and services can communicate and cooperate more effectively, and to align their existing work while providing quality services in their own sector. Using a “protective factors” template to shape an effective approach is an emerging strategy nationwide in more than 30 states, including Georgia, and across different systems, including early care and education, mental health, child abuse prevention, child welfare and home visiting. This approach starts by focusing on family strengths – those same characteristics that are shown through multiple research studies to reduce risk and promote healthy development. It doesn’t ignore risk, trauma and adverse experiences, but when it comes to doing something about those negatives, a protective factors approach helps individuals, communities and systems focus on what to do both to reduce risk and promote healthy development. 

The overwhelming response from families when service providers and systems start this way is enthusiastic participation. Families see clearly that the focus is not blaming or stigmatizing or focusing on deficits, but helping them build on their own strengths and meet the challenges of trauma or adverse experiences.

The other key partner that provides significant support to families is the community where they live. Communities are the life that surrounds families and young children on a daily basis. Service providers and systems, even though they play an essential role for families and communities, are only a small part of the community world that families and children experience—vital when they’re needed but most of the time just a little part of a child’s experience. 

Communities need safe places for children to play and for families to connect with each other, sidewalks and transportation that works for families, access to healthy food for everyone, opportunities for learning and jobs and for striving toward success.

The community’s capacity to support the overall environment that families need for their young children is critical to the family’s success. And the community itself needs the leadership and energy of young families to make it work.

Community opportunities and services that help families support their children’s development can be even more effective if they do their work in alignment with what families themselves need and want. That doesn’t require changing everything but it does mean changing perspectives about families and working more intentionally to engage families in new ways.

Some school systems, for example, have completely changed their planning, training and curricula by flipping just one perspective. Schools usually ask: How will we know if the children entering our schools are ready? A different question that gets very different answers is:  How will we know if our schools are ready for the children who are coming? It requires the schools to focus on knowing much more about the children—and their families—who will be entering their classrooms and to make their plans to match what those children need to succeed in school.

Families are key to improving results for young children. The challenge for communities and service providers alike is to develop and sustain powerful, authentic partnerships with parents, including partnerships that:

  • Acknowledge and support families own wishes and beliefs
  • Build on the strengths parents bring
  • Shape the community and systems of support for families
  • Create a new future for states and cities through the young children who depend on all of us

Judy Langford is an associate director and senior fellow at CSSP. This blog is based on a panel presentation she participated in at the Get Georgia Reading Summit.


Quality Service Review and Child and Family Service Review: Mechanisms for Case-Level Advocacy and System-Wide Reform

Today, the National Association of Counsel for Children will release a journal with our article, “Quality Service Reviews: A Mechanism for Case-Level Advocacy and System-Wide Reform.” The journal and related presentations are for the 38th National Child Welfare, Juvenile, and Family Law Conference. Our article focuses on case-based reviews, specifically those that are a part of a Quality Service Review (QSR) or a federal Child and Family Service Review (CFSR).

case practice model

We use the term QSR, but this protocol and process is known by other names; for example, Qualitative Review in New Jersey and Community Service Review in the Department of Behavioral Health in the District of Columbia. Both the QSR and CFSR are tested tools of quality improvement with similar data collection processes—focus groups, individual stakeholder interviews and case-based reviews—which are guided by a protocol or review instrument with a set of questions. One goal of the process is to learn about what is working and not working for those receiving services. In the aggregate, these data tell the stories behind the numbers and illuminate how well our human service systems are working together to support better outcomes.

The reviews provide an opportunity for rich and in-depth assessments of how well we work with individuals and families across multiple human services systems: medical, educational, mental health, child protection and substance abuse treatment. More importantly, the results can lead to action towards improvement.

In our view, QSRs are a mechanism for case-level advocacy and system-wide reform, but this stance is not without controversy. Many questions are raised:

  • Should information from reviews be shared with attorneys and other advocates?
  • How will attorneys and advocates use the information?
  • Will expanding the uses of the “products” from a case-based reviews inhibit participation in the review process by those receiving services?
  • Will those who provide services be less willing to participate in the reviews if they offer critical feedback?

As part of both the QSR and CFSR process, attorneys and advocates are expected to be interviewed and offer their perspectives about the case under review. Reviewers want to know about the strengths, challenges and functioning of the child, youth, family and service systems. We encourage attorneys and advocates to welcome the opportunity to participate in these reviews and give input based on their unique perspectives. They can also encourage those for whom they work to participate in the reviews to share their own experiences and aid in the understanding of the experiences of other individuals.

In our article, we specifically state that review results should not be used in an adversarial manner by advocates and attorneys. However, the results can be used to facilitate discussion with others working on a case. For example, they can talk about how the findings of the review impact the collective ongoing work. With an understanding of practice and systems expectations, advocates and attorneys can discuss whether the substantial strengths, needs and risks of a person or family are identified and understood through both formal and informal assessments. They can talk about how that understanding is being used to guide case planning and individualized interventions. Attorneys and advocates may also ask themselves and/or colleagues whether their collective actions “reflect a pattern of effective teamwork and collaboration that benefit the child and family.”

Across the country, as states undergo the third round of CFSRs and continue to conduct QSRs, a significant amount of case- and system-level data will be gathered and used to inform practice and policy enhancements. In many places, there will be opportunities to learn about the results of reviews. Communities deserve well-functioning systems that are transparent about their strengths and challenges in meeting people’s needs. We can all be advocates for better use of review data and increased accountability to individuals and families from all who work with and for them.

Alex Citrin is a senior policy analyst and Gayle Samuels is a senior associate at CSSP.


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