FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

with their kin. Kinship caregivers also require specialized supports due to the complexity of caring for their relatives’ children. After learning more about these complex needs, Bethany created a program, called Say Yes 2 FAMILY (Family Always Matters In the Lives of Youth). Provided through a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Children and Families, Say Yes 2 Family partners with 30-Days to Family ® , an evidence- based program that significantly increases the placement of children with family in their first 30 days in care. Each child removed to foster care has an average of 150 relatives 5 , and Bethany believes relatives can do it. Bethany also offers specialized kinship training, support, and counseling, as well as shared parenting supports, to ensure kids stay closely connected with their families. How can you start shifting your mindset about relatives and investing your dollars in a manner that promotes this shift? 4. Best-interest determinations are extremely subjective and must be reframed through a lens of family connection and human belonging. Since my beginnings in investigations in 1998, I have worked in foster care, adoption, quality improvement, and training and I have held numerous leadership and executive roles. I have worked in several child welfare systems in multiplestates.Inowrealizeeachagency,county, and state has its own culture and subjectivity around best interest determinations. I first heard Dr. Amelia Franck-Meyer, president and founder of Alia Innovations, speak at a conference in 2019 and her bold truth-telling about the consequences of family separation re-ignited in me pieces of myself that had been cast aside for decades. Pieces of my soul knew that pulling crying children from their mothers’ arms was traumatic for all of us. I’ve learned that a better way is possible, and one of the ways is through co-building solutions with community. Bethany partners with Alia Innovations 6 both in our Say Yes 2 FAMILY program, as well as in our five-year strategic plan to significantly change the way we invest in families through family

support, strengthening, and preservation services. Not only has Dr. Franck-Meyer published the research to prove the detrimental societal cost of family separation 7 , she and her team are helping organizations like Bethany build a new way, together with communities. How can you innovatively build solutions together with the communities you serve? Final Reflections This year marks exactly half of my life I have invested in serving vulnerable children and families. Over the past five years, I can point to two specific experiences that have caused me to reflect deeply on my career. The first was a three-day intensive training experience on racial equity I attended in the summer of 2018, and the second was seeing Dr. Franck-Meyer speak in the fall of 2019 on how the system harms families. This timeframe coincided with taking my current role with Bethany’s headquarters, where I help set the strategic direction for future programs. These two experiences kicked off my deep and personal journey of reflecting on the perpetuation of systemic inequities in the child welfare system in America. At first, I was ashamed that I had been in this work for twenty years before learning many of the foundational origins of America’s child welfare system. But now I know that by continuing to partner with transformational trailblazers, and, most of all, truly listening to youth, families, and communities, we can build a new way together—in both public and private child protection spaces. And that is what it’s going to take. Reflecting. Learning. Listening. Dreaming. Building. Supporting. Now that we know better, we can all do better. The well-being of children and families in our communities depends on it. Who’s in? ______________ 5 30 Days to Family ® FAQ – Institute for Child Welfare Innovation 6 7 Alia-Research-Brief-2019.pdf ( _________________________ Cheri Williams is a Senior Vice President of Domestic Programs at Bethany Christian Services.

© Rohit Seth |

66 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 67

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