systems of waste management, along with enforcement of voting rights, fair banking practices, and other community-strengthening measures, embrace a commitment to ensuring that residents understand the conditions, both historical and current, that have challenged their health and wellbeing. Such communities lift up the ways in which those conditions differ from conditions in other communities, and they are engaged in collective action to change those conditions and to demand equity. What Does a Successful Child Welfare System Look Like? We suggest that a successful child welfare system will be grounded in community life. It will require that families be supported not only to obtain stability and thrive but also to engage families collectively in identifying current and historical barriers to attaining resources and power. It will promote community- level ownership of policy-level priorities and will integrate access to the supports and opportunities for collective advocacy that community members desire to enable their own families and neighbors to thrive. What a successful child welfare system will not do is promote a narrative that it is the attitudes, virtues, or vices of individual people that create and maintain harm in the collective. It will not reduce the complex historical drivers of social, economic, and political marginalization to individual motivations or decisions and insist on the reformation of individuals as a substitute for a social reckoning. Our Practice We ourselves practice in an imperfect but evolving organization that seeks to work toward the actualization of a vibrant and resilient community while working in partnership with the families who live in this neighborhood. We try our best to stand up as a service organization that prioritizes partnership and makes space for all voices. The organization that we work in defines itself as a settlement house. We are intentional about the architecture of our organization, and we have created a service system that provides many
points of access throughout our community and varying thresholds for engagement—some programs require no criteria for participation, and some have complex criteria. Our goal is to create a service architecture with the fewest barriers to access and one that can be found in the places that families will naturally find themselves in during their day-to-day activities. The majority of our activities take place in public school buildings. We work alongside our public school partners both during the school day and after school, where we stand up learning and growing spaces for over a thousand children daily. We run summer camps for children and are the partner of our city’s summer youth employment program, which offers paid employment experiences to youth and young adults. Thousands of individuals access the Center for Family Life through our participation in our outdoor neighborhood sports and recreation centers located in our public school sites across our community, making engaging in our services highly accessible and non-stigmatizing. We offer economic support services to neighborhood families. These include a food pantry that serves many thousands of community members each year, particularly frail elders and families with small children. We have a benefits access program that screens community members for their eligibility for public benefits, including health care, rental assistance, public assistance, and SNAP benefits, to name only a few. We offer a volunteer income tax assistance tax site where we provide free tax filing for low- income individuals and families and legal services, including wage and hour, landlord- tenant, and immigration legal supports. We offer a job-readiness and placement service and cultivate relationships to local employers, and we connect our job program to a robust English for Speakers of Other Languages program, case management programs for immigrant families and new arrivals to the country, and an innovative small business development program that supports community members to become worker-owners of cooperatively owned businesses, most in the domestic services. We are the incubators of the first worker-owned franchised business, which is a model for accessibility in small business development.
FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022 | 51
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