Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The quick walk from the hotel to the Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago was brisk enough to feel in your cheeks. The beautiful buildings of downtown Chicago reflected the rising sun. It was the first day of the 9th Wicked Problems of Child Welfare Institute, a national convening focused this year on harnessing the power of youth and families to achieve the opportunities for child welfare system reform included in the 2019 Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).
Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois opened the event. He remarked on the complex issues of child welfare, noting that unraveling these issues requires an expansive view – one that looks way beyond the specific practice of child welfare. He talked about the importance of early childhood, and the need for mental health and substance abuse treatment that considers the trauma experienced by parents and children. Governor Pritzker acknowledged the opportunity the Wicked Problems Institutes have created, for child welfare leaders to embrace creative strategies to engage parents in improving their care for their children and approaches to enlist friends and kin in providing loving, familiar homes for children who need them – and to support children and youth who will grow up in foster care without this effort.
Dr. Kyle Pruett, M.D., at the Yale School of Medicine provided the keynote on the first day, educating and inspiring the audience of public and private sector child welfare leaders, their research partners, and philanthropic supporters, in supporting fatherhood engagement. His remarks inspired the audience with a call to action to better support and engage fathers in parenting. Dr. Melissa Merrick, President and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America moderated a panel of FFPSA experts, including representatives from Casey Family Programs, U.S. House committee staff, and early state adopters of FFPSA who presented about implementation, evaluation, and other key aspects the law.
A panel focused on kinship care, with Christine James Brown, President and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America serving as moderator as kinship care experts provided a national framework for kinship support within the context of FFPSA. Public child welfare leaders from New York City shared their successes with kinship care.
To end the first day, an impressive panel that included former foster youth, a kinship care provider, and adoptive parents shared their lived experiences. Their perspective, which for some panelists are both personal and professional, as they have focused their adulthood on contributing to the success of the child welfare system, were among the most powerful remarks of the day.
Not all listening and discussion, the Wicked Problems Institute also provided participants the opportunity to work with their state partners across public, private, research and philanthropy sectors, to plan collaboratively for successful FFPSA implementation. Groups generated opportunities and challenges, and prioritized ideas for action.
The final keynote speaker, David Kelly, special assistant to the U.S. Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner, gave a thought provoking talk about lessons the administration is learning as they travel the country, working with states around FFPSA implementation, including the challenges presented by the current dearth of evidence-based services that meet FFPSA eligibility criteria.
At the conclusion of the Institute, the importance of state-level cross-sector partnerships emerged as a primary approach to successful implementation of the law and ultimately the improvement of safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children and youth. The participants identified several key strategies needed, including enhancing the quality of the child welfare workforce, developing a cross-sector vision for family well-being, increasing support for kinship caregivers. Wicked problems can have inspiring solutions.