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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 5, No. 1
April 2000

North Carolina's Families for Kids: The Second Generation

In August 1999, North Carolina was awarded a $1.5 million, three-year grant from the Duke Endowment to take its Families for Kids initiative to the next level.

This initiative, which in its first five years tripled adoption rates and brought the phrase "one year to permanence" to the forefront of child welfare practice, will still be guided by the belief that every child deserves a safe, nurturing, loving family. In this new phase of the initiative, however, there will be more emphasis on building the capacity of communities to support families so that abuse and neglect never occur in the first place.

The National Alliance for Families

While tangible successes have resulted from Families for Kids (FFK), several organizations have noticed that the results of this intiative have begun to level off. Determined to improve outcomes for even more children and families, the N.C. Division of Social Services, the Duke Endowment, the Child Welfare League of America, the Family Resource Coalition of America, the N.C. Association of County Directors of Social Services, the N.C. Family Resource Coalition, and the Jordan Institute for Families at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) School of Social Work formed a partnership. Calling themselves the National Alliance for Families, these partners submitted a proposal to the Duke Endowment asking for support to enable them to launch a second wave of the initiative, taking FFK to the next level.

The Duke Endowment accepted their proposal—the first time the Endowment has funded a public child welfare program. They were drawn to the National Alliance proposal because it focused on involving and empowering communities to take ownership of their role in the public child welfare system and to become part of the solution. The Endowment also bought into the plan because it understood that to increase the gains FFK had already made it would be necessary to carry the initiative beyond the scope of DSS control, into other systems and parts of the community.

Renewed Focus on Goal #1

When it began in North Carolina in 1995, FFK had five goals (see "North Carolina's Families for Kids Goals"). While these continue to be the goals for child welfare practice in North Carolina, the emphasis of this new phase of the initiative, Families for Kids 2 (FFK2), will be on the first goal: community-based support for families.As stated in the proposal to the Duke Endowment, the National Alliance partners believe "that child welfare reform cannot be successful until the child welfare system truly works in partnership with the community and focuses on preventive measures that keep families and children from coming into the system."

What Comes Next

FFK2 is still in the earliest stages of implementation. The plan, however, is to follow the model used in the first wave of the initiative: to pilot innovation in a few lead counties and then share the lessons learned with the rest of North Carolina. For FFK2 the lead North Carolina counties will be the same—Buncombe, Catawba, Cleveland, Edgecombe, Guilford, Iredell, Richmond, and Wayne—with the addition of a ninth county, Forsyth.

As a first step, each of these counties must identify members of their family support community and the community at large to become members of a Community Collaborative. As the decision-making bodies for FFK2 in the lead counties, these community collaboratives will consist of people with "fire in the belly," people interested in becoming part of the solution to the challenges facing local families.

Once the community collaboratives have been formed, they must choose the path they will take to improve community-based support for families. During the planning for this initiative, National Alliance representatives, social workers, family members, and professionals from North Carolina's family support community identified seven issues a preventive/supportive reform effort might tackle (see "The System Reform Issues Guiding FFK2"). The collaboratives' decisions about which of these themes to choose to guide the reform efforts will be based in part on input gathered during forums involving the entire community.

Each FFK2 county will have help implementing the initiative. Through funding from the UNC-CH School of Social Work, each of the nine communities will be able to hire a Community Education Specialist. The people in these positions will focus on bringing together and educating the child welfare and family support communities. Based on the system reform issue they have chosen to focus on and the needs of their community, the community collaboratives will decide what needs they have, and the education specialists will bring together resources to help them.

Community collaboratives and the education specialists who serve them will have additional sources of support. At the state level counties will be able to turn to the FFK2 Program Coordinator and the FFK2 Community Liaison. Employed by the UNC-CH School of Social Work, the individuals in these positions will provide the lead counties with technical assistance, training, and support, and will connect them with local and national resources.

If counties run into a serious stumbling block, they will be able to turn to the FFK2 Management Team, which will be composed of National Alliance members and representatives of the Duke Endowment.

FFK2 counties will also receive special training and technical assistance from the National Alliance partners. Once they have conducted an assessment and identified needs in the counties, the nine education specialists and the community liaison will contact the Family Resource Coalition of America, the Child Welfare League of America, the N.C. Family Resource Coalition, and the UNC-CH School of Social Work to arrange for in-service training or other assistance.

What the Future Holds

At this point in time, it is hard to say what forms the FFK2 intiative will take. This is in part because, as in the first phase of the initiative, each county must address the problems it faces, in an order that is right for it. But if this second phase of the initiative is anything like the first, it seems possible to make a few predictions.

Certainly, the county DSS's engaged in FFK2 will go through some painful changes as they strive to take on an even more collaborative and preventive approach in their work with families. To get beyond these growing pains, it is likely they will embrace family-centered and family support principles in a deeper way than ever before.

Finally, if the FFK2 counties can improve outcomes for even more families and children—as the Duke Endowment believes they can—we will see their lessons learned and their success spread across North Carolina.

2000 Jordan Institute for Families