Spotlight Exclusives

Doris Duke Foundation Focuses on Prevention in New ‘Opt-in’ Family Welfare Initiative

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The Doris Duke Foundation announced a new $33 million initiative Monday that will launch pilot projects in four jurisdictions aimed at helping to build a national, prevention-oriented child well-being system that supports children and families within their communities.

The program, Opportunities for Prevention and Transformation (Opt-in for Families), will pilot in four sites – Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Oregon, and South Carolina—selected for their commitment to and progress in developing new ways of supporting families. They will each receive approximately $9 million from a coalition of funders including DDF, the Duke Endowment and the Aviv Foundation for technical assistance and direct support for families.

Opt-in for Families is specifically focused on reaching families who currently fall between the cracks, such as those who get referred to Child Protective Services for well-being needs rather than safety concerns that do not warrant investigation of neglect or abuse—and who therefore often get no help at all.

“Look, this is not a complicated concept,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), said at the launch event for the initiative at Martha’s Table, a non-profit community outreach center in Washington, D.C. “It takes a lot of heart, but the concept in and of itself is pretty clear. And that is we’ve got to meet families where they are.”

Wyden was the lead author of the Family First Prevention Services Act, a law passed by Congress in 2018 to create a new federal entitlement for prevention services. But Wyden and other speakers at the event noted that states have underutilized this funding stream to support families early at the first sign of need: the vast majority of federal and state funding continues to support the old system.

“The promise of the act is that we can begin to focus on prevention and solve the problems of today,” said Doris Duke Foundation President and CEO Sam Gill. “But this is a challenge to our system. It challenges our system to respond to a wider range of families far before the crisis point is reached. It challenges our system to acknowledge the role of material deprivation, which often has manifold causes and is often the result of systemic inequities. And it’s a system that challenges us to think about and implement a richer spectrum of tools to really get families what they need to thrive.”

Rebecca Jones Gaston, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, at the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, said that two-thirds of children and families involved with child welfare are coming to the services because of neglect.

“And many of those reasons are because of the experience of poverty. Guess what? Child welfare can’t fix poverty,” Jones Gaston said. “If we’re bringing families and children to a system that actually isn’t equipped and set up to help with the root cause that brought them there, then we’re just going continue to perpetuate what we get.”

The launch event also featured representatives from some of the jurisdictions that will be sites for the pilot projects, including a number of practitioners doing work on the ground.

Angela Anderson, a community well-being coordinator at the Brighton Center, a family support organization in Newport, Ky., said so many of the issues that ultimately bring children or families to her organization may be due to lack of employment or housing, which can then lead to cascade of other problems.

“They come to us with a collection of needs, which means we need a collection of solutions, right?” said Anderson. “There are so many needs that need support and not report.”

“We’ve heard today that it takes more than the child welfare system,” said JooYeun Chang, DDF Program Director for Child Well-being. “We have so many great examples in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., and Oregon where community and agency and work experts are working together. And it gives me a lot of hope.”

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