Shifting the Narrative on Abuse and Neglect
Recently, the ICOY Policy Team hosted a panel discussion, “Shifting the Narrative on Abuse and Neglect.” It focused on prevention, policy solutions, and the intersection of poverty and child maltreatment. The event featured an esteemed panel of experts. For example, it included two Directors from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Tierney Stutz and Lori Welcher-Evans. In addition, Chicago Chapin Hall Senior Policy Fellow Clare Anderson provided her expertise. Family & Community Advocate, Mentor, and Educator Vernessa Gipson, LMSW, added a rich first-hand perspective. Finally, State Representatives Carol Ammons (D-IL-103) and Tom Weber (R-IL-64) added a legislative and political lens. ICOY Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs Ashley Deckert moderated the event. Last but certainly not least, ICOY CEO Andrea Durbin offered opening and closing remarks.
Key Highlights from Shifting the Narrative on Abuse and Neglect
First, the discussion began with a poll of the attendees. The poll intended to gauge the attendees’ estimation of the percentage of children in Illinois living at or below the poverty line. Next, the poll asked attendees to chose from either “abuse”or “neglect” as the number one reason children and youth come in to care. Throughout the discussion, participants received insight on how Illinois can reshape and expand the recognition and understanding of neglect allegations. Moreover, the panelists discussed the role of prevention strategies in abuse and neglect. Finally, the conversation covered the intersection of poverty and maltreatment and policy solutions moving forward.
Each panelist brought an astounding level of passion, insight, and expertise to the discussion. For example, some panelists shared specific, personal examples of lived experiences within the child welfare system. In sharing these experiences, they expressed the hope to highlight the dire need for a paradigm shift. DCFS representatives addressed challenges they face within the system and the efforts that are being put forth to accurately assess safety in the future. For example, the Department recently announced the Safe Model, as well as other prevention and supportive services. Rep. Ammons and Rep. Weber highlighted current efforts to engage system changes. Furthermore, they suggested future policy considerations. Clare Anderson underscored the broader, federal, and nationwide efforts that can be utilized when addressing these salient issues in Illinois.
Key Take-Aways from Shifting the Narrative on Abuse and Neglect
- Parents and caregivers fair better with natural, community, and formal supports which boost their own protective factors. In most cases, it is better for families to be served in and by the community rather than having a child removed from their home and placed into foster care.
- The data strongly shows a correlation of poverty with allegations of neglect. In 2021, 64% of allegations in Illinois were due to neglect, unrelated to abuse. Neglect allegations consisted of inadequate food, clothes, shelter, or medical care, which are directly linked to a lack of resources, not intentional physical harm (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) FY2020 data).
- We all have a role to play in keeping children safe and families strong. One of the keys to systemic reform and transformation is the partnership between community and state legislators to advocate for changes that are rooted in equity, diversity, and inclusion.
- Prevention, Prevention, Prevention. Helping families meet the needs of their children through financial supports decreases the number of abuse and neglect allegations.
Additional Articles to Shift the Narrative on Abuse and Neglect
- What We Lose When We Conflate Child “Abuse” and “Neglect”
Growing up in Southern Illinois, I knew many children whose basic needs went unmet. Reporting here decades later, I began to wonder why the system wasn’t doing more to help their families (ProPublica, April 2022).
- The State Took His Kids Three Times. And Three Times It Gave Them Back.
In Southern Illinois, many families suspected of neglect cycle through the child welfare system. Too often they don’t get the help they need (ProPublica, April 2022).
- In Child Welfare, If the Solution is Money, the Problem is Poverty
In the beginning, the builders of what would become a system of massive intrusion into families, and, ultimately, the separation of millions of children from their parents, all in the name of “child welfare,” insisted that poverty had nothing at all to do with what they labeled “child abuse” and “child neglect.” (Youth Today, March 2022).
- System Transformation to Support Child & Family Well-Being: The Central Role of Economic and Concrete Supports (Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 2021)
- A Key Connection: Economic Stability and Family Well-being
Building evidence and developing policy to address economic hardship as a factor in child welfare involvement (Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, April 2022).
- Addressing Child Poverty Before and After COVID-19, 2021 Kids Count Report (Voices for Illinois Children)
- How Racial Bias Facilitated the US Child Welfare System’s Targeting of Black Communities
Given the vague definitions of child maltreatment and the discretion given to people who report, investigate, and respond to abuse and neglect allegations, it should come as no surprise that studies have discovered bias against Black families at every stage of decision making (Literary Hub, 2022).
ICOY is also extremely grateful for the robust engagement of the attendees! The questions and thoughts in the chat helped to better navigate the discussion. For those unable to join the conversation, please view the recording. Similarly, it may be useful to those who want to revisit or share the discussion. To clarify, this event was informational and policy-focused. It was not intended to indicate any position with regard to any candidate for political office.
In conclusion, ICOY is contributing to systems change, building and strengthening Illinois’ human service infrastructure so that families are healthy, inter-generationally successful, and thriving towards their full potential. As a result, the ICOY Policy Team intends to continue Shifting the Narrative on Abuse and Neglect through future panel events.
ICOY Staff Contributions
Written by ICOY Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs Ashley Deckert and Communications & Marketing Manager Melissa Franada. Editing contributions by ICOY CEO Andrea Durbin and Assistant Executive Director Sarah Daniels. Find more information on the ICOY Staff.