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Today is a Good Day to Fight the System

By Shereen A. White

Amidst the growing momentum to transform what has been known as the child welfare system and reimagine true support and empowerment of families and communities, my transition to this role could not be more timely. As the Director of Advocacy and Policy, I will lead Children’s Rights in expanding our use of policy and legislation to achieve change for children. 

Our strategic advocacy priorities include racial justice, child mental health, discrimination against and overrepresentation of LGBTQ+ youth in systems, and ending the unnecessary use of institutionalization. 

Shereen A White

Racial Justice

I am very proud of the race equity and racial justice work we are doing and will continue to do both internally and externally as it relates to systems impacting children and families. Institutional and structural racism has led to the disproportionate representation of Black children in the child welfare system. Nationally, Black children represent 14% of the general population of children, but 23% of children in foster care. In 2019, this disproportionality was also reflected in 39 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. This is and has been a civil rights crisis. 

Building on our Call to Action published in May 2021, we will move forward in pursuing specific recommendations detailed in the report. We are committed to working more broadly to address institutional and structural racism to ensure that everything we do moves us in the direction of seeing fewer families torn apart and fewer children suffering as a result of system-induced trauma.

Child Mental Health

Our mental health advocacy will focus not just on system-involved children but all children experiencing poverty and barriers to quality mental health services. Recent data shows that as many as 1 out of 5 children will experience a mental disorder in a given year. What’s more, almost 1 out of 3 parents reported that their child’s mental or emotional health is worse now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

LGBTQ+ Youth in Systems

Advocating for an end to the discrimination, institutionalization, and abuse of LGBTQ+ youth in out of home care remains a top priority for us. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, we issued a report examining the amplified stress and anxiety LGBTQ+ youth are living with due to the discrimination and rejection they experienced during the pandemic and beyond – and calling for changes to bring them the resources they need to be healthy and safe.

In this work, we recognize the heightened risks facing Black LGBTQ+ youth solely as a result of their intersectional identities. Even more, we remain steadfast in standing against religious organizations seeking to discriminate against same-sex couples and deny so many needed caregivers the opportunity to care for the many children in need of a family home. 

I look forward to continuing our LGBTQ+ work in partnership with our internal team that has been leading this work and our partners.

Ending the Unnecessary Use of Institutionalization

More youth who experienced congregate settings are speaking out about their traumatic experiences, the harm they endured, and identifying recommendations that will get more youth into family settings.  Earlier in 2021, we released a report, Families Over Facilities, addressing the harms associated with group or institutional care for children, including the disproportionate placement of Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ youth in facilities. This report includes a Toolkit to assist agencies in reducing the use of congregate care and prioritizing placement of children with families. 

All of these areas, along with child welfare and juvenile justice system transformation more broadly, will be at the forefront of our strategic advocacy plan. Over these next few weeks, we will continue to meet with stakeholders across the country and as an organization to drill down on specific policy and legislative initiatives and finalize our advocacy plan. 

I am honored that included in the many relationships I’ve been blessed to build during my time at Children’s Rights and in the field prior, are people with lived expertise, some as a result of being a system-involved child and others who are parents impacted by the system. My hope is that in this new role, these relationships will grow stronger and new ones will be formed. My goal is that those of us who have a shared understanding of the oppressive and harmful nature of these systems can move forward together to educate and take action. 

This work is critical to ensure a fair and more just future for children and families. Join us in our campaigns to stand for children’s rights. Sign up to receive updates, news, and action you can take to help.

May we be reminded that #todayisagooddaytofightthesystem.

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