The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation has announced the formation of a nonpartisan center to enhance the existing network of state child welfare policy advocates working to achieve comprehensive reforms for children and families involved in child welfare systems.
The State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) will work to engage, build, and support a network of reform-minded child welfare stakeholders. To that end, the foundation has selected First Focus, a bipartisan nonprofit advocacy organization that works to make children and families a priority in policy and budget discussions, to coordinate the efforts of the center.
Over the next five years, First Focus and SPARC will support the work of state advocates pursuing both incremental and comprehensive child welfare reform through a broad range of policy efforts, including child-focused adoptive parent recruitment, post-adoption services, educational stability for children in foster care, improvement of legal representation for children and families involved in the child welfare system, and customized services for immigrant children and their families.
SPARC also will emphasize technical assistance that deepens its partners' knowledge of communications strategies and child welfare policies; networking opportunities that facilitate peer-to-peer learning and information-sharing among state advocates; and evidence-based guidance on policy issues and reform strategies that draw on leading child welfare expertise.
First Focus will manage the various relationships, provide expertise on bridging political differences, and help create and nurture innovative policy proposals with the help of five partners: Child Trends, which will contribute to the project's strategic planning activities; ChildFocus, which will help oversee and conduct state environmental scans, reach out to and maintain relationships with child welfare leaders, and identify primary state groupings for technical support and additional assistance; the North American Council on Adoptable Children, which will provide technical assistance to states and serve as a resource for state partners on state and federal permanency and adoption policy; and Yali Lincroft, a noted policy expert who will provide on-site technical assistance and consultation to state partners on the intersection between immigration and child welfare policy.
"In this economic climate, state budget cuts across the nation are draining resources from programs that provide critical services to vulnerable children who need safe, strong and permanent families," said Lisa Hamilton, vice president of external affairs at the Casey Foundation. "We have developed SPARC to help advocates deliver the data and research that policy makers need to make the best possible decisions so that these children and their families can enjoy a brighter future."