In the Chronicle of Social Change Jerry Milner, Donald Trump’s appointment to the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees federal child welfare funding and policy, speaks about his priorities in running the agency and improving outcomes for kids. The hard to imagine part is that I agree with almost all of his proposals, at least as they are described in this article..
He starts with an observation about how child welfare systems work today and how we have to get ahead of the game.
Right now, we typically respond only after families have lost much of their protective capacity and children have been harmed. We need to strive to create environments where they get the support they need before the harm occurs, which, in my mind, calls for a re-conceptualization of the mission and functioning of child welfare systems. Tweaking what we already have in place won’t solve the problems.
I totally agree, and the design of the new agency I head (The Department of Children, Youth, and Families) is structured around the same idea – that we should focus on preventing children and families from experiencing the kind of trauma that leads child welfare agencies to need to remove children for their own safety.
It’s worth reading the short interview. In his former life he ran Alabama’s foster care system and did interesting work in President Bush’s Children’s Bureau.
His level of oversight is narrower than I envision our agency embarking on – we are also responsible for the early learning system in Washington. This lets us invest in some of the key experiences in a young child’s life that build resilience and the ability to deal with some trauma, and in many cases actually reduces the trauma a family may experience by providing supports.
I’m also interested in his take on efforts at the federal level to re-structure the funding stream used for most child welfare work so that it more stable. Currently if we’re successful in reducing the number of children in foster care (say, by spending money on programs that provide support for them…) our level of funding goes down. This is super complicated to address, but something that needs to happen. I look forward to working with our federal delegation on this effort, and it’s good to know we have support from the administration.
Flexible funding, thoughtfully applied, will allow us to be a proactive rather than reactive system, which is key to preventing maltreatment, and key to strengthening families.