A note from our CEO...
Families are suffering; we are in meetings—without them.
I’ve spent time over the past few weeks with partners, and in Alia’s own strategic planning process, and it’s got me thinking about how families benefit when we build up internal processes, rather than working to dismantle them. I wonder what would happen if with any changes you were making internal to your agency, you first ask yourselves, “Will this improve the lives of children and families?”
We’ve sometimes seen agencies disproportionately focus their time, energy, and resources on their internal work—restructuring, having prolonged periods of planning, training, or preparation—but little time executing or doing things much differently. When we focus largely on building “operational excellence,” I wonder about our connection (or lack of) to the suffering of families. When we spend our time, energy, and precious resources upholding and rearranging systems that are not accountable to families, nor tied into the urgency of attending to their suffering, we must ask ourselves, “Who are we serving?”
One way to ensure that the ways you are spending your time are in tune with and responsive to family’s needs is to do the work alongside families. When families are at the table with us, we are more accountable to how our investments of time and resources are improving the lives of families. At the very least, we must get proximate with families often enough to build the necessary understanding and empathy to make decisions with them, and with the urgency of relieving their suffering in mind. Building systems alone can present an even bigger risk if we build something that delivers “interventions” that families neither want nor need or are out of tune with those needs.
Internal work is important to support the wellbeing and retention of those providing services, as we know a stable workforce contributes to better outcomes for children. At the same time, closely consider how your changes or investments will make the lives of children and families better versus how it will make the system better or your life easier. We must be cautious about not insulating ourselves from the pain and suffering that is hard to hold and instead consider, “If it was you or someone you loved who was suffering, where would you want the agency to invest its time, energy and resources?” #DoWhatLoveWouldDo
Team Alia recently facilitated a training on Cultural Responsiveness for the Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Program and we were so pleased at the high level of engagement and positive feedback from those present. Over 150 GALs across the state attended and leaned into this topic with curiosity and insight.
Sharing takeaways from the time learning together, one Guardian Ad Litem said, “Everyone has judgment. It’s our own awareness that we have to work on before we judge others.” With this comment, another participant touched on the common shame response during conversations about difference: "Really enjoyed the insightfulness and the comfortability the instructors provided. Too often the willingness to learn is thwarted by the influx of guilt for not knowing everything about everyone. There has to be compassion and guidance in educating or you lose your learners. Thank you.”
Thank you, MNGAL, for inspiring us with your commitment to self-inquiry and learning, to connect with all types of families with authenticity and support.
Here are some ideas that got us thinking this month. Visit our website to read the full-length posts, and join us in the conversations online!
- One of the reasons the existing child welfare system can never be successful in keeping children safe from harm, is that power over parents is the system’s only method of controlling potential, perceived, or actual threats against safety. For a system where 80+% of reported cases are due to poverty and neglect, parental punishment and behavior modification is largely the wrong tool for the job.
- “We must change our measures of success to not only protect children’s physical safety, but to also safeguard their hearts,” is a quote from the organizational manifesto Alia developed alongside Pollen Midwest back in 2017. Since this was written, so much has changed – in the world, in child welfare, and at Alia. What will never change is the song we sing – and have always sung – about connection and belonging. Alia has always been in the business of safeguarding hearts.
- There are two questions which still dominate child welfare discussions: "What can I do to keep bad things from happening?" and "Who will be blamed when bad things happen?" These questions keep child welfare in forensics, figuring out who did what to whom, when, and how so that blame can be determined and punishment assessed. And because child welfare workers can and are held liable when children are harmed, removals occur “just to be safe.” But, safe for who?
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.
QPI MN uses a practice framework which promotes a culture of teamwork among foster and birth parents. Specific ways to connect at different points in the relationship to build, support, and maintain these relationships are outlined in a series of short, easily implemented, how-to guides for foster parents.
One highlighted practice which became part of Minnesota law in 2020, was based on the QPI practice called comfort calls. Being placed with strangers in foster care (family or not) is often scary and confusing, which adds to existing trauma. Comfort calls encourage relationship-building between the foster parents and the birth parents. Visit findbrightspots.org to learn more about this practice and how it can be implemented in your agency.