Imagine being a child waking up with your family – amid familiar people, sights, sounds and smells – and later that evening falling asleep in a stranger’s home. This singular event and the circumstances leading up to it can have a profound impact on a child’s future development, attachment and sense of self.

Sadly, for too long, the child welfare system has been set up to perpetuate this reality.

We all have a fundamental need to belong – to know where we came from and, consequently, who we are. Family is central to that. For those of us who have ever removed a child from a home, experienced a youth aging out of care, or tried rather unsuccessfully to respond to a child’s questions about their family, their background and where they belong, we know all too well: Systems are not designed to raise children. Families are.

Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, funding streams, access and eligibility have historically been aligned to support children and families who have essentially fallen off the cliff rather than reaching them before they start climbing the mountain.

The Family First Act is intended to turn that approach on its head and, in doing so, put children and families at the center of the work. It aims to transform a system to focus on every child having a safe and permanent family they can call their own – while empowering the workforce with the tools and strategies to engage families as each of us had hoped.

At Accenture, we see the Family First Act as the opportunity to reimagine child welfare with a focus on upstream support of children and families – in other words, providing help long before they become the subject of a child abuse and neglect report.

So how do we design a system that is timely and responsive before a family approaches a steep and perilous cliff? We have an unprecedented opportunity to change this reality, and it requires a system to fire on all cylinders. Taken as a whole, the shift can be daunting. And yet, a piecemeal approach will result in only minimal impact. Our collective effort must be bold – and focused on the outcomes that matter.

This blog series will lay out key elements of the legislation to move from reactive to preventive and supportive services. That includes examining and redefining “the front door,” accelerating workforce learning and empowerment, taking a closer look at funding streams and critical partners, and promoting practices with proven success. This comprehensive approach is grounded in putting families and their children at the center of our work, reducing the number of children in out of home placement, and promoting timely permanence for those who do.

Let’s continue the conversation. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and stay tuned for upcoming blogs.

Read the next post in this series, Child Welfare: How Can We Reimagine the ‘Front Door’?

Kristina Stevens

Senior Manager – Consulting, Health & Public Service, North America

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