By Amy Templeman, director of the Within Our Reach Office
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time for communities to come together to build caring connections, supportive environments, and positive experiences for all children. This year’s theme is “Every day, we help positive childhood experience take root!”
Science shows us that positive childhood experiences in nurturing environments provide fertile ground for physical and mental health, learning, and social skills to flourish. Enabling these positive childhood experiences requires that we reimagine child welfare and focus instead on child well-being with upstream resources that can prevent child abuse and neglect before it occurs.
The Family First Prevention Services Act, which was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act on February 9, 2018, was an important step toward realizing this goal. By emphasizing prevention, early intervention and evidence-based practices for children and families, Family First is helping shape the future of child and family well-being systems based on a public health approach.
What do policies to build a child and family-well being system look like in practice? Answering that question is the impetus behind a new national demonstration initiative to address child fatalities and injuries from maltreatment launched by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime. The initiative features five sites selected across the nation, including Cook County Health in Illinois; Indiana Department of Health; Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut; and Sacramento County, California’s Child Abuse Prevention Council.
The project launched a year ago with each site conducting retrospective reviews of at least five years of fatality review data to identify families who could benefit most from supportive services. Based on that data and informed by a community needs assessment to identify areas of opportunity for improved services and response, each site has developed an implementation plan targeted to a specific focus.
The following summarizes the implementation focus for each site:
- Cook County Health in Illinois – Based on a data review of Cook, Peoria and Vermillion counties, as well as data released in the annual Office of the Inspector General report, they will focus on community awareness programs targeting unsafe sleep practices and coping with infant crying. They will also work to improve They will also work to improve systems and training to support earlier detection of families in need of support. Their efforts will help to normalize and destigmatize parents seeking help and foster collaboration among community leaders by opening new opportunities to work together to strengthen multidisciplinary teams.
- Indiana Department of Health – Based on research conducted over the past year in four target counties, Clark, Delaware, Grant and Madison, unsafe sleep-related deaths were the leading cause of death due to external cause for children ages 0-18 years old, when excluding medically expected fatalities. Based on this data, they will focus on local safe sleep interventions. Child Fatality Review teams and community stakeholders will have the opportunity to engage with training in such areas as trauma-informed care, social determinants of health, inter-state record sharing, and death investigation training. They will also focus efforts on a one-year research plan to increase knowledge around unsafe sleep behaviors in the state of Indiana.
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – With input from an advisory panel, they will employ a collective impact approach to enhance the level of services for families in need of support and improve safety planning across Michigan’s child protection system. To improve the level of services for families, they will examine outcomes of current policies and practices related to families with low or moderate risk for child maltreatment to identify change recommendations. They will also partner with statewide or regional outreach efforts that focus on protective factors and work to promote these services to families. Finally, they will review current safety planning practices, assess the perceived needs, barriers, and facilitators to safety planning among child protective services (CPS) workers and other professionals, and assess the perceptions of safety plans among persons with lived experience. Collectively, this information will be used to identify areas for practice change and inform the development of educational resources and supports to reinforce safety plan best practices.
- St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut – They have established a stakeholder group, composed mostly of community- based organizations and community leaders, who will work with leadership of State and municipal agencies, elected officials, medical and other service providers to improve systems and practices to support healthy families and children. This model is unique among the demonstration sites because the lead agency is a community-based organization. They are working to integrate community leaders with decision-making agencies such as CPS, law enforcement, the courts, etc. As part of their sustainability plan, St. Francis Hospital has committed to support the project for ten years with a focus on establishing a more standardized data collection and analysis system; improving cooperation between community members and agencies responsible for child protection; and, ultimately, significantly decreasing repeated child maltreatment and injury.
- Sacramento County, California’s Child Abuse Prevention Council – Based on a 10-year analysis of data, they identified several common risk factors across families, including poverty, parental crime and drug history, sibling child welfare history, and certain child and parental characteristics such as child age, age of mother at birth, child welfare history, and substantiated abuse/neglect history. Based on this data, the Sacramento County Prevention Cabinet has developed a model for a coordinated response using collaborative partnerships and data to inform and implement a strategic plan to eliminate child abuse and neglect deaths and critical injuries in Sacramento County by 2030. Strategies and corresponding actions will focus on building community partnerships through continued data collection and analysis of risk and protective factors; supporting trauma informed systems and practices through the expansion of collection, analysis, and review of data regarding risk and protective factors; promoting community, parent, and youth voice by engaging members of the community with lived experience; embedding equity into all aspects of the implementation plan; and advancing work on community resource education and cross-referrals to ensure strengthening of the referral process.
Each site is working with a collaborative body of stakeholders and partners, including those with lived experience, to guide the work. All sites are reviewing short and long term goals through an equity and diversity lens. The sites are supported in their efforts by a broad range of technical assistance providers led by the Within Our Reach office at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation.
“We know from the work of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities that child abuse is not inevitable,” noted Stacy Phillips, DSW, and a program specialist with the Office of Victims of Crime. “We also know that child protection agencies cannot do this work alone. Through this initiative we hope to examine what works and help build a knowledge base about the impact of a multidisciplinary approach to child and family well-being that engages a broad range of stakeholders working jointly to strengthen families and ensure the well-being of all children.”
As we celebrate National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let us not forget that addressing community needs by giving families support prevents traumatic events from happening, has much more impact, and costs much less, than attempting to address the consequences of adversity after a child has grown up. We all have a stake in our kids’ future. Let’s plant those seeds today.
Amy Templeman is director of the Within Our Reach office at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Within Our Reach is supported by Casey Family Programs.
Disclaimer: This product was supported by cooperative agreement number 2019-V3-GX-K005, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.