In October 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) launched Child Safety Forward (CSF), a three-year demonstration initiative to develop multidisciplinary strategies and responses to address serious or near-death injuries resulting from child abuse or neglect and to reduce the number of child fatalities.
Five demonstration sites participated in Child Safety Forward, including:
St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut
- Cook County Health in Illinois
- Indiana Department of Health
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
- California’s Child Abuse Prevention Council of Sacramento County
Demonstration sites were supported by a technical assistance team comprised of national experts led by Social Current that supported the planning and implementation of an all systems approach to respond to and reduce child maltreatment fatalities and child crime victimization. Specific areas of technical assistance focused on data collection and analysis using a safety science approach; development of strong community collaboratives; engagement of persons with lived experience; developing and implementing a communications strategy; addressing systemic bias, racism and issues of power; and developmental evaluation.
The three core strategies applied by the CSF technical assistance team were encouraging a learning culture that promotes psychological safety, being adaptive and agile in how support was provided, and being responsive to the specific needs and preferences of each site.
Implementation Evaluation Methodology
The external implementation evaluation team undertook various data collection methods to understand how community-based collaboratives and the demonstration sites are successfully advancing strategies to support and influence child and family well-being by reducing childhood injuries and fatalities due to maltreatment, and to realize the impact of the technical assistance model in supporting the goals for each site and the collaborative.
Activities included capacity assessments for each site; document review; individual interviews with the demonstration site team, partners, parents, and community members; focus groups with the technical assistance team for each demonstration site; and a practice and/or policy change dialogue to capture specific practice and policy win for each site.
While each site’s goals and strategies were specific to their local context and communities, all sites successfully expanded their focus and understanding in how to promote child and family well-being by considering both risk factors and protective factors, which is at the heart of a public health approach.
The implementation evaluation highlights three core principles that initiatives should center in capacity building in the aim to build a 21st-century child and family well-being system: Maintain a playful orientation and constantly explore what’s possible; challenge the status quo and move away from the “checkbox” as a measure of progress; and recognize that discomfort is key to innovation.
Five key lessons and strategies for pushing the status quo that were highlighted as part of Child Safety Forward initiative include:
Communications and framing: Successful sustained communication strategies widen the media’s reporting lens and shift traditional ways of thinking about child abuse and neglect. Effective communications break down existing siloes and help all system actors work together to unify their messaging and outreach efforts. Sustained communications are built on strong, collaborative relationships between agency leaders, funders, media, and community.
- Data culture and infrastructure: To create a stronger child and family well-being system, we need a stronger and more collaborative data culture, where data collection methods are better standardized, and data is shared across systems and communities to analyze and inform decision making and effective and culturally sustaining strategies.
- Developmental evaluation (DE): Developmental evaluation promotes innovation through ongoing reflection, learning, and adaptation. DE emphasizes progress over perfection, and embraces shifts in projects, programs, products, organization, public policy, and system interventions as new learnings emerge in real time. It is instrumental for imagining how systems and communities can push past the status quo.
- Equity, power shifting and parent engagement: While data shows that child fatality rates are disproportionately experienced by people of color, many of these deaths could be prevented by addressing unjust conditions rooted in systemic bias, racism, and intersectional inequities. Addressing these unjust conditions requires eliminating the adversarial relationship between systems and parents that is largely attributed to inequitable power dynamics, and moving away from traditional, surface-level parent engagement strategies.
- Sustainability: Sustainability must be defined beyond funding to include factors that foster systems change, as opposed to specific programs and services. Sustainability requires a culture of learning, stronger connections within and across systems, aligning transformation goals with institutional changes, leveraging turnover as opportunity, continuity of equitable participation, and the shifting of mindsets that shape our thoughts and actions and have ripple effects in our systems.
There is more work ahead to create a 21st-century child and family well-being system. Child Safety Forward provides promising pathways and glimpses of what’s possible, but in the end, the best we’re able to produce today is still not enough to create a system that will keep all children and families safe and healthy. Learning from Child Safety Forward emphasizes the importance of continuing to challenge our systems from the inside. We need to hold on to our urgency and continue experimenting. This report further offers recommendations aligned to these five status quo shifting strategies for funders, system leaders, practitioners, and parents and community to execute these strategies to the fullest.