Am I an abolitionist?
This is a question that I get asked now and then. I can’t say that I have an answer that would be the same answer for each member of Team Alia, but personally, I’ve decided to answer this way: “Not yet.”
What I mean is that I can envision a future where we obsolete the need to separate children from their families (i.e., to obsolete the need for the child welfare system as we know it today), and I don’t believe we are there… yet. At Alia, we are working every day alongside systems and impacted parents to move the power and resources of the public child welfare system into community led responses. Supports located in and delivered by local communities so parents can seek and receive the help that they need earlier, delivered by people from their community, and without risking what is most precious to them—their children.
Parents who are struggling (as all parents do from time to time) are not going to call people who have the legal authority to remove their children and separate their family. Co-designing, resourcing, and standing up community-led responses can create opportunities for parents to receive desired support and resources without system intervention. This is the future we are working to build with a goal of reallocating 80% of public child welfare resources and power into community-led responses that eliminate racial disparities and family separations.
That number, 80%, is not a random number. 83% of reported child abuse and neglect is for reasons other than physical and sexual abuse. The remaining 80%+ are for reasons of neglect tied to poverty, mental health needs, substance use, racial bias, etc. That 80% could be attended to earlier with community-led responses and resources. The public child welfare system has expanded beyond its initial scope, and is now being asked to promote family wellbeing, prevent placement, and provide supports to families. Although well-intended, the same system who has the legal authority to enter a family’s home without a warrant, leave with their children, enter the family into the penal/criminal system, and legally separate families cannot be the same system who provides early intervention and support—too much is at risk for families to place a call for help.
At Alia, we’ve been using this graphic to describe the transition from placement through forced family intervention, to prevention of placements, to promotion of community conditions needed for families to thrive. There is still more to do to clarify this approach, but as we try, test, and build this new way of work, we are seeing dramatic reductions (73%) in foster care placements, while child safety is maintained. We continue to work with our partners to build a Proof of Concept that operationalizes our vision of all children thriving with their families and communities.