Interview with Martha Raimon and Steve Cohen
Martha: The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) is a nonprofit designed to influence public policy that affects children and families, and to provide technical assistance to states and jurisdictions testing new ideas and policies in child welfare, early childhood education and community development.
The Center is always looking to embed more authentic parent and youth voice in our work but it’s a work in progress. We rely on strong voices through partners that are already organized to provide input. So with Rise it’s a natural partnership.
The first project that CSSP did with Rise was to bring parent voice into a policy paper about the impact of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) on families. Rise developed a paper on parents’ perspectives on ASFA, and a Rise writer, Lynne Miller, spoke on a panel in Washington, D.C. alongside top policymakers and practitioners in child welfare.
Then, in 2009-10, CSSP was trying to gather parents and parent advocacy organizations around the country to do national advocacy work on child welfare. We envisioned developing a bill of rights for parents affected by the child welfare system. Rise’s publication, From Rights to Reality, came out of that. From Rights to Reality combines stories and recommendations for how to develop policies that parents consider effective.
Steve: Now CSSP is working with the Harvard Center on the Developing Child on a project to improve outcomes for babies involved in the child welfare system. Last spring we brought together 30 scientists and child welfare system leaders to talk about research and what science suggests would help babies in foster care.
We wanted the group to hear from frontline caseworkers, foster parents and parents in the child welfare system about their experiences with infants. Rise put together a video of stories and images of parents who had their babies in foster care. It was brief but really very powerful and made a strong impression on people in the room. People who run child welfare systems don’t hear that perspective every day.
Martha: I’ve been in plenty of situations where people say, “We need to talk to parents about how an aspect of the child welfare system is working.” Often, it’s pretty random who you encounter and how prepared they are to tell their stories. Because Rise has made investments in parents telling their stories over time, the parents are very prepared to tell their stories and to link their experiences very closely with a policy. They can provide feedback that is much more direct, helpful and focused than going out on your own.
I brought copies of From Rights to Reality to CSSP’s Strengthening Families conference a few weeks ago. It was one of the things that people were reaching for the most. People are interested in how to incorporate parents’ voice and need tools to do so.
Steve: Rise is a good dose of reality. For people who have not been exposed to what parents have to say, I think that when they hear it once, it’s hard for them to not want to hear from parents again. Harvard is an academic institution and doesn’t normally interact with parents. But I think the next time they plan a meeting they’re going to think, “It was valuable to hear from parents about what their experiences are like. We’ve got to build that into the work.”
Even judges and frontline caseworkers who obviously know lots and lots of parents can benefit from the Rise stories. They know parents in a specific way. It’s not the same thing as stepping back from a case you’re in the middle of and thinking about who these parents are. It can also be really hard for parents and foster parents to understand one another and come together to help the kids they both care about. Everything that makes parents in child welfare more real and more human helps with that.
Martha Raimon is a Senior Associate and Steve Cohen is a Senior Fellow at CSSP.