Since the establishment of US child protective agencies, there have been several reforms and legislative changes that have taken place to ensure continued efficacy in protecting America's children. Despite this however, child welfare systems have not evolved to a level that has the diversity of our country's families in mind. Rather than putting family preservation on the forefront, systems have conditioned us to believe that removing children from their homes is a viable solution. Many times, poverty is confused for neglect. Instead of understanding a majority of potential safety concerns stem from social inequities, the focus is shifted on caregiver assessments that are completed with the attitude that CPS involvement is solely their fault.
What we also need to recognize is the disparity that exists as a result of system practices. Families of color, especially Black families, are grossly overrepresented in most, if not all, societal facets—including CPS involvement. There is a substantial amount of data and research that provides evidence of the racial disparities that exist within child welfare systems.
We at Our Sister Our Brother believe wholeheartedly that system change is possible, and we will continue to persevere in the fight for racial equity, and pathway to progressive solutions that keep children safe and families together.
How we work
During, and after, his time with the Department of Child Safety, Matthew Stewart saw the disproportionally at which Black children were being removed and created Our Sister and Our Brother, an organization dedicated to creating systematic change and forming community alliances between culturally relevant providers and families.
Our Sister Our Brother believes specific areas and programs are needed to create change.
Race equity is both a wanted outcome and a process. We apply racial equity when those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives. Below are our goals and programs created to not only create this change but also sustain and grow them by utilizing the voices of the community that have been impacted the most.
Cultural Hub: Families who need help are not getting what they need. Having a sensitivity to cultural differences and a plan to deal with the needs of Black families is important to reversing the disparities in the foster-care ranks. Our Sister Our Brother is closing the gap by creating a network of service providers that are committed to listening, understanding, and are building trust with Black families.
Forensic Social Work: Safety Planning is the process of identify a safety threat, identifying when that specific threat is present and then creating a plan so children are protected. Our Sister Our Brother will utilize the concept of Forensic Social Work to complete case reviews and create safety plans to manage the identified danger threat to each child. Through this approach safe environments can be created in order for families to remain together. Utilizing Social Workers and Child Safety Consultants, with specialized knowledge, skill and ability to apply the safety framework (SAFEAZ model) they could, together with the family, create a plan to ensure the children would be safe at all times. Outcomes of the forensic evaluation of the family's functioning assessment could also be used as supporting documentation to illustrate the need for specific services and support. Our agency will help these families understand child safety and assist them with creating strong foundations in order to successfully remain or reunify with their children.
Listening Sessions: There needs to be a commitment to listen and hear from these families who are overrepresented. We believe the community voice is vitally important in developing solutions and aim to host listening sessions with members of the Black community impacted by child welfare in Arizona. The family home is one of the most sacred spaces on earth. When those from outside a home invade that space, impose their view and will upon a vulnerable family it invokes serious feelings of violation. Oversurveillance of the Black community is common across systems but often child welfare is over looked. We plan to convene system leaders and community members to discuss findings, review data and develop a plan of action.
Joint Response: We plan to implement a team that responds jointly with DCS to child welfare reports for African American families in order to help build trust and understanding between the Department of Child Safety and the community to reduce disproportionality. Having an understanding of the historic trauma and discrimination faced by the Black community is paramount to ensuring that equity is kept at the forefront when serving Arizona's families. Many of the services DCS requires parents to take are cookie cutter and don't recognize the cultural needs of Black families.
Cultural Broker: Our Sister Our Brother aims to bring Cultural Brokers to Arizona. The Cultural Brokers Program is designed to raise and address concerns related to disproportionality and disparities that exist in the child welfare system, as well as concerns that involve issues of fairness and equity. The core belief that drives the work is that every family regardless of race, ethnic background, or economic status will be empowered to develop their own strengths and capacities. Cultural Brokers are community members who advocate and navigate for families. This program, developed with the community and child welfare agency, cultural interpretations are provided to decrease the likelihood of cultural misunderstandings.
Future: Moving forward, the voices of African American community members with lived experiences will help guide increased collaboration on other initiatives.
With these organizations Our Sister Our Brother hopes to create a community safety net that would not only identify safe places for children who have to be removed from their homes, but also identify families in need before someone makes a call to the state's child-abuse hotline.
We strive to live up to our name and treat the community like Our Sister and Brother.