Improving Child Well-Being Forum Convenes City Policymakers to Find Solutions
By Kate Hoagland – Communiqué: Fall 2010, Volume 7
One in six children is now raised in poverty – a rate that the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports has increased by over one million since 2000, an 18 percent rise. Experts estimate that over 40 percent of children in the United States are now born into single-parent households. Before the age of eight, those children will witness their mothers in at least three separate relationships and their fathers in five.
“America’s families are really in crisis now,” said Julie Wilson, director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, speaking to city policymakers and welfare agents at the Improving Child Well-Being Forum: What Cities Can Do event. “And it is within this environment that we are counting on you to innovate in our cities.”
The Improving Child Well-Being Forum was held on August 5, 2010, and convened over 100 city and child welfare practitioners and policymakers to examine innovative municipal programs and policies that are aiding young children and their families.
Panelists included 2009 Innovations in American Government Award winner Wraparound Milwaukee, a consolidated social service program that has cut the cost of treatment of needy youth in half with notably improved clinical outcomes, and Maine’s Cutler Institute of Health and Social Policy, which created youth leadership teams of kids that have aged out of foster care. As a result of their work, legislation was passed to allow foster kids to visit with their siblings, sadly a rare occurrence before the bill.
The event was made up of three interactive panel discussions moderated by Wilson. Discussions addressed successful and innovative models for keeping kids in the home instead of foster care and juvenile delinquency facilities and creative solutions for encouraging youth to be involved in decision making and civic opportunities. The final panel included Stephen Goldsmith, the Center’s Innovations in Government director, who shared his personal experiences while mayor of Indianapolis consolidating and improving synergies across treatment agencies by working more effectively with unions.
Much of the day’s discussion centered on the importance of community-based care, whereby case workers share the responsibility of a child’s treatment with parents. “I spend a lot of time on the street blowing bubbles with kids,” said Roberta Lipsman, coordinator of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children in Portland. “You need to spend time building relationships with the neighborhoods you serve.”
Michael Bock, a youth leader of 2005 Innovations in American Government winner Youth Civic Engagement in Hampton, Virginia, gave his own perspective on the importance of encouraging meaningful engagement with youth. Through the support of adult leaders, he and his peers brought about much needed renovations to a run-down health and teen center. “Our program was born out of the idea that there is nothing to do in suburbia,” said Bock. “But now we’re building relationships and still having fun.”
The event concluded with a policy brainstorming dinner keynoted by Kathleen Feely, vice president for innovations at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Members of the conference were joined by the Urban Policy Advisory Group, made up of policy advisors from America’s largest cities.
Feely talked about her organization’s creation of Casebook, a real-time welfare case management system. “I saw my daughter’s Facebook page and was blown away by it,” she said. “We don’t have this capacity now, and we should. Our kids plan their social lives on it, and we need it for human services.”
Using the Foundation’s new Casebook, welfare agencies can better collaborate with all parties involved with a specific family’s social services. Instead of wasting valuable time recreating the family’s experiences with a welfare agency, all information is documented in one complete narrative for all parties. The new technology is designed to improve how caseworkers interact and cut down on unnecessary bureaucracy.
The forum was convened by the Ash Center and the Malcolm Wiener Center with sponsorship by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.