It’s been an exciting six months at the Children’s Bureau and within ACF! I now have had time to learn people’s names, figure out the e-mail system, and learn who does what within ACF. I am so grateful to work with a dedicated, focused group of professionals. I see what my colleagues are doing every day to improve the lives of children, youth, families, and communities, and to support states, tribes, and territories as they do the critical work of helping each individual who receives support from our programs.
Those of us who work in the human service field care deeply about the people we serve. We spend far more than our required work hours thinking about each individual and their unique life stories. This dedication has continued during a uniquely tumultuous time of pandemic, social unrest, and hopefully social awakening. I want to thank each one of you for the work you have done, seen and unseen, especially over the last year and a half.
For over 20 years, I have worked hard to create opportunities and improve the lives of children, families, and communities. I always make sure that my work is informed by individuals with lived experience. Through this work, I have learned about human service systems through the lens of people who have experienced it. They have given me a window into how each of their lives have been shaped and affected by our policies, procedures, and practices. They have encountered structural barriers, many of which have had intergenerational impact, that have made their journeys infinitely more complex and challenging. Their stories and their experiences have stayed with me over years, and along with my ACF colleagues, I now have the unique opportunity to use what I’ve learned to work towards achieving the goals described in the President’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity.
Those life stories underscore why equity must be the foundation of ensuring each child and youth’s safety, permanency, and well-being, and why it must be at the foundation of providing services to their families and communities. Through interagency collaboration, ACF has established an Equity Advisory Group that is examining equity issues internally and externally, including examining whether our policies have exacerbated inequities. We will seek to integrate lived expertise in our strategic planning and policy making. At the Children’s Bureau, we are reimagining “business as usual,” and instead are challenging ourselves to imagine what could and should be possible. Children’s Bureau has created a team that is focusing on equity issues internally and externally, and they are helping me to lead and shape this work. We are collaborating with the Tribal Advisory Group to ensure that we are aware and mindful of tribal communities’ needs. Similarly, the Office on Trafficking in Persons has scheduled anti-racism and racial equity training so that its grantees and staff can better meet the needs of the populations we serve, many of whom are adversely affected by discrimination, bias, and structural racism. In the coming months, look for more information about ACF’s equity-related activities and programs.
We want to partner with you in ways that may not have been tried. We acknowledge that these issues of inequity span longer than human service systems themselves. We acknowledge that structural racism has influenced how federal programs are administered- including our own programs. We also know that we do not have the answers or solutions to eliminating historical inequities, so we approach this work thoughtfully and with humility. We do know that we can make the most progress when diverse, and sometimes divergent, perspectives are at the discussion and brainstorming tables. We value feedback from all sources, especially those who have lived experience. ACF hopes to be partners for prevention, support, and equity, both in terms of policy and practice. So I encourage all to be prepared for our asks: to partner with us; to share your lived experiences with us; to give us honest feedback and suggestions, and to be ready to innovate to make change.
Aysha E. Schomburg, Esq.