A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for kids
When the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First Act) was signed into law in 2018, it presented a first-of-its-kind opportunity for states to invest in child abuse and neglect prevention. The law matches state funds invested in preventative programs and services that help keep children safely in their homes and out of the foster care system. Recognizing the extraordinary power the Family First Act had to improve the lives of children and families, the Children’s Alliance of Kansas decided to dig in, partner up, and organize an effort to ensure the law would be effectively implemented across the state. And recognizing that a unified message would have more impact, the organization needed to help advocates with different priorities get on the same page.
The main event
A plan for progress
We partnered with the Children’s Alliance to develop the Kansas Families First Forum – an event that brought together dozens of leaders with a stake in Kansas’ child welfare system, representing diverse priorities ranging from mental health and addiction to poverty and homelessness. We worked with the Children’s Alliance to set a simple yet ambitious goal: give policymakers a joint set of recommendations for effective implementation of Family First. That meant getting more than 60 stakeholders to come together for one day, share ideas, concerns, and insights, and agree on concrete steps for Kansas policymakers to take advantage of the new law.
That was no small task, so we worked closely with the Children’s Alliance to help participants make the most of their time together. A detailed survey gave helped us to identify common ground, by raising up the factors participants thought contributed most to child abuse and neglect in Kansas, as well as the policies or solutions that could protect kids. We also mined research and summarized past recommendations from Kansas experts to improve child wellbeing.
We needed to make sure Kansas policymakers were actively engaged, and that the event created a space for lawmakers and advocates to work collaboratively and make real progress. The Secretary of Kansas’ Department of Children and Families and two state lawmakers participated in the discussion. To focus the conversation, the Children’s Alliance brought in a panel of experts who could speak to promising prevention strategies that would make a difference for Kansas’ children and families.
The prep work made it possible for attendees to come together for a dynamic discussion. The event met and exceeded the Children’s Alliance’s goals. In addition to culminating in a joint letter to Kansas policymakers conveying stakeholders’ consensus recommendations, the Kansas Families First Forum:
- Influenced the Kansas legislature to approve the state’s participation in the Family First Act, putting Kansas on a shortlist of states starting implementation in October 2019
- Led to a commitment from Governor Laura Kelly to put $15 million toward child abuse and neglect prevention efforts
- Generated media coverage about the event and about post-event advocacy efforts
- Positioned the Children’s Alliance as a “go-to” for all things Family First. Following the event, Children’s Alliance staff presented about the law at a governor’s conference and a statewide conference on poverty, and helped educate key partners, policymakers, and journalists on the law.
- Pioneered a model for other states to engage advocates and policymakers in their own Family First implementation efforts.
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