All In For Kids: What collaboratives have to teach us about preventing childhood trauma and domestic violence

Martin Ricard
A staff member high-fives students on the yard of The Primary School in the San Francisco Bay Area

All In For Kids is committed to preventing traumatic childhood experiences and supporting families and communities affected by trauma and domestic violence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2021, this multi-donor initiative has been supporting eight grantee partners — including the Primary School, pictured above — who are working hard to reimagine early childhood support systems that can interrupt trauma, prevent domestic violence, and advance racial, gender, and health equity.

Blue Shield of California Foundation and our fellow All In For Kids funders have heard encouraging stories since the initiative launched, and they affirm the Foundation’s commitment to addressing the root causes of domestic violence so that parents and their children — and our society as a whole — can thrive and prosper.

The importance of increasing parent engagement

One of the most significant lessons that All In For Kids highlights is the importance of parent engagement and building parent leadership. Partner organizations like Mission Economic Development Agency, Primary School, La Luz, and First 5 Monterey have developed ways to gather firsthand insights into parents’ challenges and create pathways for parent participation, advocacy, and leadership.

The Mission Promise Neighborhood, which operates under the umbrella of the Mission Economic Development Agency, supports families with their children’s education by advancing strategies to better understand and respond to the stressors and burdens families face as well as their goals, hopes, and dreams.

By enabling parent involvement and leadership, the Mission Promise Neighborhood has seen improvements in school attendance, academic performance, and overall family well-being.

Recently, the organization conducted a community report card to seek feedback directly from parents and figure out how to further improve educational outcomes for families in the Mission District of San Francisco.

They not only uncovered common obstacles that families have been facing, such as language barriers, challenges with immigration systems, and the severe time constraints that come with raising a family and holding multiple jobs. They also learned how to hold government, education, and health care systems accountable if they are not working for families.

“It’s really about co-creating with families,” said Liz Cortez, the director of programs and partnerships at the Mission Promise Neighborhood’s Promise City program. “We’re really trying to move our organization and partners to a model that allows families to not just come and sit at our table and follow our agenda, but shift the power so they are part of the decision-making process.”

Another example comes from The Primary School, where each family is paired with a parent wellness coach who proactively partners with parents to promote healthy behaviors and reduce stress to enable healthy child and family development in the home. They also created an eight-week program called Foundations that helps parents build community with one another as they address topics such as stress management, sleep, and other factors that can impact children’s health long-term.

The biggest lesson: the more genuine opportunities for parent engagement and participation, the more parents learn, the more leadership they take on, the more return of positive impacts on family life and children's development.

Facilitated by La Luz, the Sonoma County Parent/Padres LEAD network is centering parent voices and providing leadership development, which is increasing parent participation in Sonoma County leadership positions.

The Central Coast Early Childhood Advocacy Network, which is housed at First 5 Monterey County, is also prioritizing early childhood by empowering parents. Advocates from Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties have created the Central Coast Early Childhood Advocacy Network. They are shaping and reimagining systems that impact early childhood outcomes through parent storytelling and joint advocacy.

The need for ‘mandated supporters’

Another lesson is that we need to put more effort into preventing families from entering the child welfare system.

A staggering truth emerges when examining racial disparity within child welfare systems. Astonishingly, a child from a Black or Native American background is twice as likely as their white counterparts to experience a child welfare investigation, and many of these investigations result in the separation of children from their parents — often leading to their placement in foster care.

Since the beginning of the year, Safe & Sound has been a key member of a statewide task force that is studying how to reform mandatory reporting laws. Their primary focus: addressing the pervasive bias in many of the state's child welfare laws, which were established decades ago and disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities.

Traditionally, “mandated reporters” such as teachers, doctors, and police officers have acted as the eyes and ears of the child welfare system. However, an increasing number of community leaders argue that these reports frequently invite unfair investigations and court involvement, perpetuating harm within already vulnerable families.

"Most of these laws still mandate that you have to report it if you suspect child abuse," said Jenny Pearlman, Safe & Sound’s chief policy officer. "We're really trying to shift the focus to policies that can support families rather than report them."

Investment beyond health care and education

All In For Kids partners have also learned the importance of investments beyond the health care and education systems.

Children Now is advocating for greater investment and focus on young children outside of the medical model and school model, in communities and families.

The Young Women’s Freedom Center has been supporting young people whose parents are incarcerated by providing guaranteed income, education, job training, and leadership development.

Carry the Vision is expanding access to health care, prevention services, and housing in Santa Clara County and East San Jose, offering training and support to community leaders and health workers.

By increasing parent engagement and leadership, emphasizing prevention, expanding beyond health care and education systems, and providing financial support and training, our grantee partners will have what they need to drive change and improve outcomes for the children and families that need help the most.

Challenges and opportunities

Our Foundation sees All In For Kids as yet another example of why community-led, multisector collaboration is key if our society is going to make progress with addressing the root causes of domestic violence. But it’s important to acknowledge that there are still many challenges ahead.

The prevailing punitive paradigm in many systems concerning domestic violence remains a significant hurdle, as highlighted by a number of our partners. This approach is rooted in punishment and often relies on arresting and prosecuting offenders.

However, research indicates that this can sometimes cause more harm than good for domestic violence survivors and may not always be effective. 

Another challenge we're seeing: too little focus on equity in addressing domestic violence and its root causes.

Domestic violence is everywhere, but it's healable and preventable. It can affect anyone, no matter their race, class, or gender. The reality is that some families and communities are at a greater risk of experiencing domestic violence — and have fewer resources to heal and recover. That’s why it’s important to focus on the underlying causes of domestic violence, especially in communities of color with low incomes, and to prioritize community-led solutions that take into account the unique challenges they face.

Multisector efforts like All In For Kids help us learn from our community partners on the ground and survivors themselves to create better solutions. Investing in collaboratives that focus on systems, policy innovations, and transformative change have the potential to provide adequate wages, nutrition, housing assistance, and educational opportunities for domestic violence survivors, their families, and those at risk of domestic violence. 

And we shouldn’t stop there.

To continue making strides in preventing traumatic childhood experiences and supporting California families and communities affected by trauma and domestic violence, we must work together on policy and systems changes at the state and local levels that have the potential to reach more families.

By increasing parent engagement and leadership, emphasizing prevention, expanding beyond health care and education systems, and providing financial support and training, our grantee partners will have what they need to drive change and improve outcomes for the children and families that need help the most.

That is one way we will make California the healthiest state and end domestic violence.

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