FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

Reflections on our Work in Community — Troubling the Frame Julia Jean-Francois and Zenayda Bonilla

parenting skill-building, and counseling) and deterrents (family separation, termination of rights). For the past decade, the focus of child welfare system reform in New York City has been the adoption of evidence-based, trauma-informed counseling interventions (EBPs). These counseling interventions engage individual children and their families after they have come to the attention of the child welfare authority. The goal of these interventions is to achieve individual behavioral change in a way that is thought to ensure safety within the context of the family. Evidence-based models designed to impact safety and risk within families have been implemented across the country as part of the Family First Act reform efforts. We observe, however, that for the past three decades, a period in which child welfare data has been widely available here in New York City, preferred practice methodologies used by the child welfare system have come in and out of fashion, policies have changed, and the absolute number of children and families entering the child welfare system has fluctuated; however, the particular neighborhoods from which youth and families enter into the child welfare system have not varied. This pattern, where location or neighborhood is unchanging, even when methods, policies, and absolute numbers of participants do change, is consistent with child welfare participation patterns across the country. We believe this speaks to a failure of both focus and design of reform efforts and a larger failure to consider the proper frame for addressing the question of child wellbeing. The community districts in New York City ranking the highest in child welfare participation are also among those ranking highest in poverty and—consistent with national trends which are well established—are communities of color. Given the predictability and consistency over decades of neighborhood- level disproportionate participation of Black

We preface this essay with a clarification. This piece stands as a reflection on our community practice in a particular location, New York City. It is not an empirical research piece, though it references broad trends in child welfare participation that are universally accepted and well understood. This piece stands as an invitation to think differently about the frame in which we place questions about child welfare policy and practice when we consider these from the point of view of the histories of communities or neighborhoods. We turn to the reader at the close of this essay to engage them in troubling the frame along with us. What We Understand the Problem to Be We understand that in the dominant narrative, the problem to be addressed in child welfare is perceived risk and safety concerns related to minor children. The domain of intervention of the public child welfare authority is the family circle. In our thinking and in our community practice, we see the problem to be addressed and the domain of useful intervention quite differently. We see the challenge not as simply mitigating but profoundly reckoning with the complex origins of risk and safety concerns within the family circle as they emerge within the communities in which families live. We see our child welfare work as part of a much broader range of activities that we engage in to reckon with complex and fraught histories where human rights and justice have been disregarded, to support the resiliency of families, and to activate voice and full civic participation alongside and in partnership with the individuals and families who engage with us in neighborhoods. The principal methodologies used by the child welfare system in New York, the place from which we the authors write, engage a combination of supports (case management,

46 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022

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