FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

based food pantries and other local organizations to provide onsite assistance with SNAP applications. During the pandemic, this assistance shifted to remote telephone, video, and mail-in assistance, in order to meet the varying needs of families requiring help. This same model—linking those in poverty who are receiving government supports to local organizations to meet on-the-ground needs—could be replicated to serve a variety of needs, from healthcare and housing assistance to education. Like most of us, this grandmother looked to and relied upon her community for support. In the midst of a crisis, she continued to need critical help from government agencies that provided her with supports because of her poverty but was challenged because of program rules and structures that failed to have the flexibility needed to adapt to meet her changing needs. Since she was involved with the child welfare system, that agency, as part of its mission to provide “financial or other assistance or services as necessary,” could have played an important role in coordinating help for her during the pandemic crisis. Using a framework where we include child welfare as a governmental agency designed to anticipate and adjust to an ever-fluctuating need, whether individually or societally based, enhances child welfare’s ability to achieve its core purpose—ensuring the safety and best interest of our children. Caseworkers need to be empowered to respond quickly with a flexible array of supports and services. Caseworkers should establish internal mechanisms and protocols to meet families' needs through financial, transportation, and other assistance as well as tailored case planning. Child welfare agencies should be encouraged to coordinate with local legal services agencies and governmental authorities to identify needs and barriers of those living in poverty, connecting these families with resources for legal representation and housing options. For child welfare agencies to meaningfully address poverty issues and the needs of struggling families, they must understand the ramifications for families living in poverty. For example, it is unrealistic to ask a family to relocate to an apartment during a pending

of transportation by the agency. It took almost three weeks before DCPP set up FaceTime with her grandchild. It took almost three months before her grandchild was able to see his grandmother in person again. Community and Child Welfare Agencies The pandemic demonstrated how essential a functional community is for all of us. I left P.B.’s home that day thinking about what a community looks like for this grandmother living in poverty. She described that she knew everyone at the food pantry, the lady at welfare, and the housing worker sends her a Christmas card. She has lived in public housing her entire life. Was this her community? Are government providers a community? How should we integrate or support a network of both traditional community service providers and government agencies? Or is the question, how can government agencies and the people who work there be part of an individual’s community? At its core, a community is a group of people or organizations coming together for a common purpose. Traditionally, geography, family ties, or common interests or experiences form the basis of an individual’s community. While we frequently identify certain community organizations like local schools and places of worship as core institutions within a community, they are not necessarily seen as actual components of the community. Instead, they are seen as external entities existing at the periphery of a group, often tied by geography or socio-economic level. These are places one goes to for a specific reason or necessity, like the Motor Vehicle Commission. With some adjustments, government agencies can be integral community partners along with other public, private, non-profit, and faith- based organizations, all working together on behalf of a family. In New Jersey, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey (CFBNJ) provides an example of an expanded community. CFBNJ has increased its SNAP outreach and enrollment assistance program. They partnered with community-

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