FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

Investing in Communities is an Act of Justice Jerry Milner and David Kelly


A family’s ability to remain together should never hinge on their zip code, race, or economic status. Yet when we look across the country, state-by-state and county-by-county, there are clear patterns—clusters on maps where most children that enter foster care are from. We’ve seen these maps compared to historic maps of redlining in specific communities and the shapes and borders are a near match. Geography also affects which children are removed from their families when looking at locations of American Indian populations. These places hold in common a history of government-planned isolation, planned disenfranchisement, and lasting disadvantage. There are other places that may have once thrived and are now forgotten or places that have never truly prospered. As diverse as these places and their families and communities are, they have something deeply important that unites them; they are the homes of parents that love their children. In urban centers in the northeast, midwest, and deep south, on the west coast, in Appalachia, throughout Indian Country, on the borders, and everywhere in between, families living on the margins economically are most likely to come into contact with the child welfare system. And it is their children who populate the child welfare system in the United States disproportionately. The simple fact is certain communities are affected more by the way we operate child welfare in the United States than others— poor communities and particularly poor communities of color. For as long as we’ve been in the field of child welfare, we’ve heard the common refrain that communities must step up, that the child

protection agency can’t do it alone. Likewise, there is growing recognition that communities know what their families need most, and it is becoming increasingly popular to hear the importance of sharing or shifting power to communities and community-led design. So far, these remain largely words—void of meaningful action or investment. When it comes to investing in communities and shifting power to communities, tokenism and superficiality continue to rule the day, no matter the sector. Rather, it’s been treated as a nice idea, deemed less important than testing treatment approaches and evidence-based services that are remedial rather than preventative. Something folks may nod their head to in a public setting or even verbalize a commitment to but have not mobilized around. Efforts have been piecemeal, tentative, or temporary—the equivalent of dipping toes in the water. In child welfare, we’ve often tried to squeeze the concept of community-based support and services into the mold of what current child welfare consists of—responding to reports of abuse and neglect, separating children, and providing convenient, standardized, and predictable services. As a field, we have yet to explore the concepts behind community-based supports and services and their relationship to child and family well-being and involvement in the child welfare system. Very few federal child welfare dollars go to true community-based supports or services. For example, the amount of federal dollars appropriated for the Community Based Child Abuse Prevention Program (CBCAP), specifically devoted to primary prevention, is minuscule compared to the multi-billion dollar foster

6 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022

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