It’s been said that any budget is a statement of values. Show me where the money goes, and I’ll tell you where the priorities lie.

For decades, child welfare dollars have been allocated based on how many children are placed in foster care. The Family First Prevention Services Act turns that model on its head – and, in doing so, will transform the focus and delivery of child welfare services. Rather than being cursed with the “gift” of hindsight after a kid enters the system, child welfare is being asked to collaborate to achieve “foresight” – identifying and intervening with families before their children become the subject of a protective services referral.

It’s a shift in priorities that will involve stakeholders and other agencies outside of child welfare. In fact, child welfare agencies cannot fully realize Family First’s vision or potential working in a vacuum or using only their own funding.

While every agency is funded to support its mission, families don’t fit neatly into a box or experience life in a linear fashion. Rather, they often touch multiple systems at different times for various reasons. Thus, one of the most important tasks today is designing a robust, comprehensive and seamless service array within neighborhoods, communities, cities and states that can begin to meet citizens’ needs.

Families shouldn’t have to be knowledgeable in which agency funds a certain intervention to get the right help. Imagine instead a system that starts by asking, What does a family need? and follows up with a plan for ensuring those needs are met. Imagine a system that responds to a family where they are – regardless of which agency “door” they happen to come through.

How can we change our fiscal approach to reflect that vision and those values? How can we maximize funding streams to support that kind of seamless experience?

Braiding and blending are two funding constructs that can help:

  • Think of blending as a shared “checking account” spanning two or more funding streams. Everyone kicks in some money – though not necessarily equal amounts – to pay for a certain part of a program or initiative.
  • Braiding also involves two or more funding sources, though managing this approach is a bit more involved. With braiding, funding sources come together to care for a population’s needs. Unlike blending, it requires careful coordination and accounting for how income is allocated and expenses are tracked by their discreet funding source.

Particularly in the context of child welfare, making greater use of braiding and blending doesn’t strip an agency of its specific funding. Instead, it gives practitioners and communities the tools they need to prioritize primary prevention, make the most of their dollars, increase capacity and ensure quality programming through a collaborative approach.

Before we can talk blending and braiding, though, we need the full range of agencies working with and on behalf of children and families to come together to examine their missions and funding streams. Through a process of fiscal mapping, they can identify opportunities to combine resources across service systems and funding streams. In systems with inadequate or scarce resources, braiding and blending can result in improved access and more “bang for the buck.”

By aligning child welfare budgets with prevention, rather than reaction, Family First is transforming how we understand and meet families’ needs. It’s helping drive a shift from intermittent or project-focused funding to a more holistic, coordinated effort. And when we align funding with proactive practices, we can finally meet families where they are, offering the right services at the right time.

That’s money well spent.

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

Kristina Stevens

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

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