A note from our CEO... I have been on the road a bit more lately, and having more visitors at the office, too. It’s been a bit of a mid-pandemic (I hesitate to say “post” pandemic as I think we have a couple more years of adjustment ahead of us) reconnection with partners. I’m seeing folks I’ve known for a very long time, but haven’t seen in person since before March 2020 when the world shut down. I have to say, it’s been food for the soul to hug folks again, to share a meal, and to dig into topics more deeply than is possible in the 50 minute meetings we can tolerate on Zoom.
It's been a time of reconnection, but also of redefining this new way of work. In child welfare, we didn’t just go through a pandemic together—this time also accelerated a dramatic and transformational shift in our field. We are moving from placement and treatment as a way of work to healing and belonging.
We haven’t fully emerged yet from this pandemic, or from our field-wide transformation. We’re still in a chrysalis phase.
At Alia, we are spending our time doing work in new ways, concretizing our insights and learnings from these most unusual three years. As we work together to figure out how to do this work in a new way, one thing is still true: we need to do it together, with each other, in partnership with those most impacted. And when that can happen in person, it’s magic. There is just no substitute for human connection; virtual will do for a while, or now and then, but eventually, we need to be in each other’s presence—to hug, to see whole persons (not just heads), to read body language, to share a meal, to laugh or cry together…to be human, in connection with other humans.
That’s what we all need – our children, our families, our teams, our partners, our neighbors – all of us...because human connections are sacred and we must build a way of work together that honors this human need for belonging and connection by eliminating the need to separate children from their families. That’s the work; let’s do it, together!
"The system trained the tears out of us"
The child welfare ecosystem is moving into unprecedented territory, with an increasing focus on keeping families safely together by providing support families rather than removing and treating the child separately. Rooted in 75 years of history of service delivery to families, longstanding agencies must make intentional, focused efforts to continually assess existing work with historical roots as knowledge and best practices develop.
Alia guided a team from Bethany Christian Services through a two-day Breakthrough Session in support of gaining this alignment between agency history, values, and existing services.
Moving from head space to heart space, the Bethany team was encouraged to consider their long history of placing children outside of their families and communities. “The system trained the tears out of us,” said Cheri Williams, Senior Vice President of Domestic Programs.
Legacy organization or not, we must all take long, hard pauses and ask difficult questions like Bethany did: How did we get here? Are we having the impact we want? Does our work align with our values? Who will we be in the future?
Bethany Christian Services is working to envision a future model of excellence in service delivery to families.
Onward, with open minds and open hearts.
Here are some ideas that got us thinking this month. Join us in the conversations!
- We know that system improvements can dramatically improve the lives of some families, yet if the DNA of the system remains unchanged, there is always an opportunity for that system to rubber band back to earlier days with high caseloads, increased removals, more separation, and more trauma.
- Corey Best, Curator at Mining for Gold, is joined by parent leader, activist, and advocate, and Executive Director of JMAC for Families, Joyce McMillan to do some truth-telling to kick off day one of the 47th Black History Month. Their though leadership has and continues to deeply influence our approach to system transformation.
- In a recent report, the Urban Institute and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) answer the simple yet fundamental questions of, "What are human services and how do governments structure them?" This complex set of service coordination and delivery can be configured in myriad ways – the landscape is wide for how we move toward building UnSystems across the country.
Bright Spots is a first-of-its-kind online resource library of child welfare practices reviewed and recommended by parents who have been impacted by the system.
Practices for humanizing Black lives from the proposed Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act (AAFPA) reflect a lens through which those who work with children and families can use to overcome racial biases when supporting Black families.
Founder of the Minnesota nonprofit Village Arms and primary author of the AAFPA, Kelis Houston is implementing practices outlined in the bill in a MN county pilot project. Read an interview with Kelis and learn more about this practice at findbrightspots.org.
Coming soon: Online Learning Toolkit!
We are so excited to share with you a new Alia offering, the UnSystem Toolkit: Foundations of Change. This online learning course is complete with five modules, with topics around workforce wellbeing, trauma, and system transformation. Each module contains a pre/post test, hour-long video, and facilitator guide. Be on the lookout for more information in the coming months!