Why The White House Needs a Child and Family Policy Council

American families need help. Years of disinvestment and the pandemic have compounded stressors for families and those responsible for their education and care. Fortunately for families, President Biden’s American Families Plan proposes much-needed economic assistance, child care, early childhood education, paid leave, and more. To advance the needs of children and families in current and future federal policies, the president should create America’s first Child and Family Policy Council.

How Public Policy Affects Families

Public policy affects every aspect of family life, including family creation, partnership support, economic security, childrearing, caregiving, and family safety. For example, policy shapes access to and eligibility for legal recognition as a family (e.g., adoption, same-gender marriage, immigration status), financial assistance, (paid) leave to care for a newborn, protections in cases of abuse, and care and education for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Investing in families’ basic needs, such as healthcare, food, housing, education, transportation, wages, and workplace supports (e.g., flexible work, predictable scheduling) helps families thrive and provides an essential foundation for economic growth.

Designing Public Policy to Meet Families’ Needs

Despite the many ways that policies (or their absence) affect families’ lives, there is no centralized entity in the White House to coordinate the range of fragmented policies across federal agencies and levels of government. At the Federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services manages early learning and cash assistance, the Department of Agriculture manages food assistance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development manages affordable housing, and the Department of the Treasury manages tax credits. Federal agencies set their own eligibility parameters, within which state and local governments adapt further, creating a complex patchwork of policies, administrative burden, and benefit cliffs for families to navigate. Like “Children’s Cabinets,” which align people, data, evidence, and money around children’s issues at the state and local levels, and the federal Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs, the Child and Family Policy Council would take a whole of government approach. Specifically, the council would facilitate the development of government-wide goals, data and cost sharing across agencies, and identification of gaps or duplications across systems. By aligning goals, data, and measures for success, the council can examine performance across policies and programs and recommend investments in efforts that most effectively serve children and families.

In partnership with agency leaders, the Child and Family Policy Council would develop a federal strategy for a coordinated, multigenerational, and equity-centered ecosystem of policies and programs. “Multigenerational” or “two generation” approaches involve designing systems that integrate the needs of the whole family and promote positive health, education, and economic outcomes that strengthen the intergenerational well-being of adults and children (e.g., joint health screenings). Further, the council would evaluate policies and rules for direct and indirect impacts on families and ensure equity across various identities, including: race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, citizenship status, justice system involvement, and family structure (e.g., single parent, grandparent, adoptive, blended families). For example, systems for distributing tax credits and child benefits must be accessible to families headed by grandparents or other caregivers, with options to split tax credits between parents and caregivers who share custody.

Investing in Families is Investing in America’s Future

Families need public policies that alleviate stressors and prioritize their well-being, not only as current and future workers fueling economic growth, but also as humans in pursuit of happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. The Child and Family Policy Council would demonstrate the Biden Administration’s commitment to promoting family well-being as a worthwhile goal and create opportunities to integrate evidence and expertise from family, developmental, implementation, and other sciences into policy planning. For example, beyond the economic case for paid leave as a strategy to increase women’s labor force participation, paid leave also supports parent and child health and the establishment of secure parent-child relationships, which are critical for optimizing child development outcomes. This council would complement the expertise of the White House’s long-standing councils on the economy, environment, national security, environment, domestic policy, and the recently reinstated gender council.

Focusing on child and family functioning may also generate new policy ideas or stimulate new ways of thinking about policy. For example, the council might shift the policy default from separating families to keeping them safe and together in cases where family members cannot afford bail for non-violent offenses, face eviction because of a rule change, or lack a visa. Policies have enormous potential to alleviate stress and hardship, support children’s and adults’ development and relationships, and create thriving communities that fuel economic growth.

President Biden is answering families’ cries for help. While America waits for the future of the American Families Plan to unfold in Congress, we can leverage the Child and Family Policy Council to elevate families’ voices at the highest levels of government; engage with a diverse range of families, scientists, local and state governments, and child- and family-serving organizations; and create a federal government that is more equitable, efficient, and responsive to families’ needs.

The views expressed in this memo are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s current or future employers.

This article was originally published on Scholars Strategy Network.

Democrats Are In a Policy Funk

After losing the House in 2010 and now the Senate four years later, Democrats seem bereft of ideas about how to reconnect with the electorate. Democrats seem to have a grip on the White House and Hillary Clinton appears to be the odds on favorite going into 2016. Yet, with Republican policies blatantly favoring the rich, you have to wonder why so many middle class voters are casting votes for the GOP.

Republicans now hold majorities in both chambers of the legislatures in 29 states—their most since 1920—compared to just 11 states for the Democrats. In 23 states, Republicans control both chambers of the state legislatures and the governorship, compared to just six Democratically-controlled states. Republicans are now governors in 31 states including the very blues states of Maryland and Massachusetts, and President Obama’s home state of Illinois.

Quotes About Moving Forward 0001 (5)Republicans gained nine seats in the Senate in the 2014 midterms for a total of 54 seats, They picked up another 14 seats in the House to increase their majority to 247 to 188 over Democrats—their largest majority since 1928. Much of the Republicans hold on the House is due to gerrymandering.

However, only a strong appeal to the middle class can challenge their advantage, but questions remain on whether this recent surge is truly a swing to Republicans or a warning to the Democratic Party that it needs to get its act together. A recent essay in the New York Times by Thomas Edsall raised the question of whether the Democratic Party has failed working class whites.

Democratic support for affirmative action and comprehensive immigration reform turned off many working class white voters. Edsall argues that white working class voters see these policies as limiting their own prospects. Even though blacks had long been denied minimal opportunities because of Jim Crow laws and other state-sponsored constraints, whites viewed the gains of blacks as coming at their expense. For them, the economic pie is a zero-sum game.

Having fought successfully for New Deal policies, civil rights for African Americans, equal rights for women and gays, Democrats have spent recent years defending their achievements against the backlash of a Republican Party that grew in numbers as conservatives—particularly those in the south—fled the Democratic Party. In recent years Democrats have largely been seen as defenders of the social safety net—social security, Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps, unemployment insurance—all programs erroneously perceived to be benefiting more blacks than whites. While a larger percentage of blacks rely on the social safety net, far more whites are the recipients of these benefits, many of them in red states.

The Republican Party has branded itself as the party of low taxes and small government while enacting supply-side tax cuts that disproportionately benefits the wealth, policies that have only worsened income and wealth inequality. Economists differ on whether inequality slows economic growth. However, the preponderance of economic gains has gone to the wealthiest Americans while wages continue to stagnate, leaving the middle class with diminishing purchasing power. Democrats have offered few ideas for improving economic outcomes for middle class families outside of raising the federal minimum wage. They offer no broad vision of policies that would tilt more economic gains from the very top to the middle and the bottom quintiles. Americans want a social safety net, but only as a last resort. Nobody wants to depend upon it for their existence.

Though not by design, President Barack Obama’s presidency was the best thing that could have happened for the nation’s most wealthy. Republicans are able to place the blame on his administration for the economic malaise of the middle class while blocking his policies in the House and Senate. When the President or other Democrats try to remind Americans that the policies responsible for the nation’s economic woes preceded his time in office, he is chided as trying to avoid taking responsibility while blaming his predecessor. That Republicans were able to raise campaign contribution limits and weaken provisions in the Dodd-Frank bill during this last budget negotiation demonstrates how much they believe that they have the upper hand in the public relations war.

Future elections like most elections will be about what have you done for me lately and what will you do for me going forward. It is not just about getting people to the polls. The 2014 election should have taught Democrats that they must give voters a reason to vote for them. It is not just about keeping Republicans out of office, it is about electing Democrats with ideas and policies that will restore hope in the American dream for many who believe it’s nothing more than a myth.

Family Friendly Workplace Policies Are Not Frills — They’re Basic Needs

President Obama Speaking at the Working Families Summit
President Obama Speaking at the Working Families Summit

As President, my top priority is rebuilding an economy where everybody who works hard has the chance to get ahead.

That’s the subject of the first White House Summit on Working Families, which is taking place today. We’re bringing together business leaders and workers to talk about the challenges that working parents face every day and how we can address them.

Take flexibility — the ability to take a few hours off for a school play or to work from home when your kid is sick. Most workers want it, but not enough of them have it — even though studies show that flexibility makes workers happier and helps companies lower turnover and raise productivity.

Take paid family leave. Many jobs don’t offer adequate leave to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so workers can’t afford to be there when their families need them the most. And the United States is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave.

Take childcare. Most working families I know can’t afford thousands a year for childcare, but often, that’s what it costs. I recently got a letter from a woman in Minnesota whose kids’ preschool is so expensive it costs more every month than her mortgage.

And take the minimum wage. Nearly 28 million Americans would benefit if we raised the minimum wage to $10.10. And we’re not just talking about young people on their first job — the average worker who would benefit from an increase is 35 years old. Many have kids. And a majority are women. Right now, many full-time minimum-wage workers aren’t even making enough to keep their kids out of poverty.

Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses — they should be the bottom line.

Parents who work full-time should earn enough to pay the bills and go to work every day knowing that their kids are in good hands. Workers who give their all should know that if they need some flexibility, they can have it — because their employers understand that it’s hard to be productive when you’ve got a sick kid at home or a childcare crisis. And talented, hard-working people should be able to say yes to a great new opportunity without worrying that their families will pay the price. Nearly half of all working parents surveyed say they’ve chosen to turn down a job not because they didn’t want it, but because it would be too hard on their families. When that many members of our workforce are forced to choose between a job and their family, something’s wrong.

Some businesses are realizing that family-friendly policies are a good business practice, because they help build loyalty and inspire workers to go the extra mile. JetBlue offers a flexible work-from-home plan for its customer-service representatives. Google increased its paid parental leave to five months — and the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half. Cisco lets their employees telecommute as needed, which they estimate saves them over $275 million every year.

And there’s a bigger economic case here, too. The strength of our economy rests on whether we’re getting the most out of all of our nation’s talent — whether we’re making it possible for all our citizens to contribute to our growth and prosperity. That’s the key to staying competitive in the global economy. Right now, we’re leaving too many people on the sidelines who have the desire and the capacity to work, but are held back by one obstacle or another. It’s our job to remove those obstacles. That’s what supporting working families is all about.

States are getting on board, too. California, Rhode Island and New Jersey give workers paid family leave. Connecticut offers paid sick days. So does New York City. Since I asked Congress to raise the minimum wage last year, 13 states have taken steps to raise it on their own.

But all Americans should get to benefit from these policies. That’s why we need to see some action here in Washington.

I’ll work with anyone — Democrats or Republicans — to increase opportunity for American workers. But in this year of action, whenever I can act on my own, I will.

Today, I’ll sign a Presidential Memorandum directing every agency in the federal government to expand access to flexible work schedules, and giving employees the right to request them.

I’m calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, because too many pregnant workers are forced to choose between their health and their job. They can get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks, or forced on unpaid leave just for being pregnant. It’s inhumane, and it needs to stop.

And to help parents trying to get ahead, I’m directing my Secretary of Labor to invest $25 million in helping people who want to enroll in job-training programs, but don’t currently have access to the childcare they need to do it.

I take this personally — as the son and grandson of some strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me; as the husband of a brilliant woman who struggled to balance work and raising our young ladies when my job often kept me away; and as the father of two beautiful girls, whom I want to be there for as much as I possibly can — and whom I hope will be able to have families and careers of their own one day.

We know from our history that our country does better when everybody participates; when everyone’s talents are put to use; when we all have a fair shot. That’s the America I believe in. That’s the America I’ll keep fighting for every day.

The following op-ed by President Obama appeared first on the Huffington Post.

The Trouble with Mentors & Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

President Obama Announcing his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

On May 30, 2014, President Barack Obama met with the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to hear their 90-day report after launching the initiative. The report had all of the usual suspects as it outlined topics across the life-span from school readiness to elimination of structural barriers. Mentoring will figure as  an important part of the White House initiative, and t is my hope that we begin to get mentoring right. President Obama seems to have it about right when he stated,

 so that these young men, young boys, know somebody cares about them, somebody is thinking about them, and that they can succeed, and making America stronger as a consequence.

The President seems to recognize the need for a community of caring, but I hope the “somebody” mentioned in his quote is cumulative. For mentors, I hope it is somebody who cares and who is thinking about the mentee while figuring out how to help them succeed. Only through implementing a structure of multiple mentors can we model and sustain success through mentoring.

President Obama’s initiative for Black boys has renewed a discussion on the plight and structural barriers to success faced by minority males in the United States. Let me first clear up the only criticism that pundits have been able to advance to date: What about women and girls? The fact is The White House Council on Women and Girls was created March 11, 2009 through an executive order from the President in addition to host a White House Summit for Working Families later this month. Now, let’s get down to the work at hand.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Freshman at Tennessee State University giving a symposium on financial literacy. In all my presentations, I remind audiences that I know the best mentor alive: me. A student came up afterward and stated, “I have a mentor, but do you think I can get some help from you as well?” The question reminded me that many people still feel that having more than one person helping you out is the opposite of loyalty. The truth is successful people have many people who support them…in many and varied ways.

My experience is that when you come from a background where loyalty, privacy, and ability to defend against invaders from outside the household is prized, you tend toward a view that “only mom” or “only dad” has my best interests at heart. If the target of the White House initiative are Black boys that grew up like me, it will be important to structure a system that educates the young person on what few adults have put into practice. I present the outline of the education here in 3 points: training mentors and mentees, systems navigation, and the power of networks.

Training Mentors and Mentees

I have news for would-be mentors. Your motivation for participation as a mentor may be detrimental to the sustainability of the mentee and the mentor-mentee relationship. Often, the motivation to become a mentor is to give back to another. What is implicit in that motivation is a possessiveness. As well, there is an insidious quid-pro-quo: If I give of my time and mentoring, you will do what I say and praise me as the person who was there for you. This is a natural human need–to be rewarded or at least appreciated for the contribution you have made. The problem with this is that it is not consistent with the realities of the world. If mentors and mentees are not taught another way, mentors will burn out attempting to be everything to their mentees. Mentees will focus on a single mentor as a matter of loyalty missing the lesson of network development.

Instead of the simple pairing of mentor to mentee, a more sustainable process would be to build a network of mentors. Each with specific expertise and access. Sponsor open events that allow mentors to set up booths and pitch their expertise and networks to the mentees. Allow mentees to collect multiple business cards based on their interests. Have a life coach sit with the mentees later and map out a life plan listing each of the mentors and how they fit with the plan. The map would also identify areas that still need to a mentor assigned. This approach communicates to the mentee that mentoring is not about a one-person, focused sense of loyalty. It is about utilizing and honoring the multiple relationships needed for success.

Systems Navigation

Winning strategies for human development are centered in the idea of multiple mentors. The idea is that individual interaction with each system is enhanced when the individual is guided intentionally by another person. My hope is that the programs created or bolstered through the president’s initiative understand that the goal is to create communities of support, not just mentoring relationships. The goal is a community where we ALL have structural methods and opportunities to care for each young person. The goal is that no child feels that they have to succeed alone.

The idea of mentoring is best centered, not in the individual mentor, but in the community-mindedness and structural safety of the systems that touch a child each day. For example:

  • Family mentors: These are effective resources for food security, funders from which to borrow money, and sponsors for activities and trips.
  • High School/college mentors: These are system guides for successful progression, references recommending for internships and employment, and instructors on how-to do tasks.
  • Career Mentors: These offer system guides in employment, collaborators for product creation and brainstorming, and advocates for promotion or social redress.
  • Friends as Mentors: These offer sustainable ways to blow off steam, connections to new networks, and a varied pool of  ideas.

Power of Networks

I hope for a two-fold understanding of networks in the White House Initiative: technology as connector for mentoring AND recognition of the “who you know.” My brother’s keeper, like the Council on Women and Girls before it, is slated to have two key technological interventions. The first is an

Administration-wide ‘What Works’ online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The second is

comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education, that will assess, on an ongoing basis, critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color in absolute and relative terms.

These two are critical to the success and sustainability of the initiative. I am happy to see Annie E. Casey as a major partner on this initiative. They have recently produced a major report on racial disparities among youth in the United States.

The second understanding of Networks will sustainably be implementation of my expanded view of the cliche, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” I state,

It’s not what you know or who you know. It’s who knows you and is willing to risk their reputation to develop yours. – Michael A. Wright

What I communicate here is mentors have the task of launching the careers of their mentees. Mentees have the task to discern the relationships that will support, propel, and sustain their success. The task of the larger community is to structure a world that makes these tasks not just possible, but probable. In order to accomplish this, we have to retrain some of our fundamental assumptions about how mentoring works. We must organize around a community of caring. This organization will show through even in the ways that we solicit and engage mentors.

You can also view the Presidents February 27th 2014 Fact Sheet by clicking here, and you can also sign up to be a mentor.

Social Work White House Briefing Presentations Now Available

As previously reported, Council for Social Work Education joined with the White House Office of Public Engagement on September 25 in hosting the White House briefing “Addressing the Social Determinants of Health in a New Era: The Role of Social Work Education.”

Presentations from the event are now available. Follow the links below to access the presentations of a number of Obama administration officials:

White House Briefing
Aaron Bishop and Roslyn Holliday

Roslyn Holliday Moore, MS, Office of Behavioral Health Equity, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • PowerPoint Slides (PDF) 

Aaron Bishop, MSSW, Deputy Commissioner, Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Community Living, HHS

Data used for prepared remarks:

•         Visualizing Health Policy (Kaiser Family Foundation)

•         Americans With Disabilities 2010 (Census Bureau)

•         Census and Disability (Census Bureau)

The New Expectations of Health Care

Stephane Philogene, PhD, Associate Director, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health, HHS

  • PowerPoint Slides (PDF)

A National Dialogue on Mental Health

Brian Altman, JD, Legislative Director, and Paolo del Vecchio, MSW, Director, Center for Mental Health Services, SAMHSA, HHS

  • PowerPoint Slides (PDF)

Building Workforce Capacity to Meet the Need

Marcia K. Brand, PhD, Deputy Administrator, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), HHS

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Panel4-SocialWorkWHBriefingslidesbrand.pdf”]

Source: Council for Social Work Education

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Government Shutdown: Why Can’t the White House and Congress Get Along?

US Capitol

I have found that negotiation and mediation are advocacy tools that successful social workers use to bring about change within individual client systems as well as in policy making. Social workers sometime use creative advocacy techniques that may extend beyond traditional channels in order to protect their clients from harm while balancing organizational policies and procedures that often restrict their ability to do their jobs.  

The government shutdown over funding the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, reminds me that strong advocacy is often adversarial and can have negative consequences. What happened to using negotiation and mediation as advocacy tools?  While there are many benefits to Obamacare, few would dispute there is much opposition to the law and full implementation. Mediation is a viable and evidenced-based process for resolving disputes peacefully and collaboratively.  Why take the American people hostage?

Perhaps it’s time for each of us to become mediators. I would like to ask everyone who reads this column to become an armchair mediator with a fair and impartial in examining the government shutdown dispute. Before we can assume the role of armchair mediators, we must first put aside our political affiliations as well as our position on Obamacare to be objective in the matter.  We need to honestly ask each of the parties  “What if you are absolutely right, where do we go from here?”

A mediator would ensure all stakeholders, not just the loudest voices, at the table were heard. The politician, the everyman…Mediators ask difficult questions: for example, where is the opportunity for common ground and how do we respectfully acknowledge opposing points of view?  Read More

In my inaugural column for the Social Worker Helper, my hope is to share my expertise as a mediator  for over 30 years and highlight the use of mediation and negotiation as advocacy tools.  All opinions are valued.

CSWE Coordinates First White House Briefing for Social Work Education

Dr. Darla Coffey, President of the CSWE
Dr. Darla Coffey, President of the CSWE

Every fiber weaving together today’s social safety net for our most vulnerable populations included social workers in the development of those historic legislative pieces.

On September 25, 2013, the White House Office of Public Engagement coordinated the first-ever White House Briefing for Social Work Education with the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) led by President Dr. Darla Coffey. The purpose of the briefing was to address the social determinants of health in a new era and the role of social work education.

As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I had the opportunity to attend this historic event. Presentations were given by federal officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Before I begin my ongoing series of articles to discuss the resources provided during each presentation, I wanted to adequately document the historic value of the event. Moving Americans closer to universal healthcare with the rolling out of the Affordable Care Act to full implementation, those of us in attendance had a curbside seat to history.

Dr. Coffey and her efforts as President of CSWE will hopefully move social workers closer to reprising their role as leaders in the development of legislation and policies affecting vulnerable populations. According to the CSWE’s website,

CSWE is a nonprofit national association representing more than 2,500 individual members as well as graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. Founded in 1952, this partnership of educational and professional institutions, social welfare agencies, and private citizens is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States.

Social Workers have always been instrumental in the development of landmark legislation. Social Workers’ influence in advising Presidents is documented as far back as 1933 when President Roosevelt appointed Social Worker, Frances Perkins, as the first female cabinet member who some say was the architect behind the New Deal. In 1939, Social Worker Abbott Grace has been credited with helping to draft the Social Security Act.

White House Briefing Social Work Education

During the Civil Right’s Movement, Social Worker Whitney M. Young was an advisor to President Lydon B. Johnson alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the creation of legislation that has come to be known as the War on Poverty which includes Medicaid, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act 1964.

In 2010, Social Work Professor and leading Child Welfare Expert, Bryan Samuels, was appointed by the Obama Administration and confirmed by the Senate to serve as commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

My impressions, from the presentations and Q&A sessions that preceded each, give me hope that the current White House Administration and the social work profession will work towards bringing social workers’ influence back to the policymaking table. View below for a list of the attendees who were apart of this moment in history.

The Department of Health and Human Services have put together videos, webinars, toolkits, and state by state fact sheets to help you better understand the changes being implemented.

View all resources using this link: http://www.hhs.gov/opa/affordable-care-act/index.html

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