Leaders unite to share community-driven solutions for children and families

Martin Ricard
A view of the All In For Kids roundtable conference room

An unprecedented opportunity has arisen in California. It’s an opportunity to leverage funding and momentum to address adverse childhood experiences head-on.

But how can advocates rise to the occasion in this moment?

And what’s next for organizations that are already on the front lines of this critical work?

These questions echoed through the room at the All In For Kids roundtable that took place in the fall of 2023 in San Francisco.

The event punctuated the urgency of the moment and the pressing need to turn the successes of the All In For Kids initiative into tangible solutions that can spread throughout the rest of California.

It was an emphatic call for unity, an appeal to displace individualistic agendas with a collective pledge devoted to helping children and families thrive and prosper. Many of the influential thinkers and innovators in the room also agreed that taking advantage of this moment meant allowing the direction of the initiative to be steered by the very communities — more importantly, the children — whom we all aim to serve.  


What set this event apart was the discussion around three monumental shifts in California's child welfare approach that have catapulted us into an era distinctly different from where we stood a decade ago. 

Funding revolution

The first shift is in funding.

Unprecedented amounts of money have become available for children and youth across California, earmarked for behavioral health, learning, and other critical areas.

This financial windfall represents a significant opportunity to fuel innovative programs and initiatives that can make a real difference in the lives of our children. 

Alex Briscoe from California Childrens Trust offered a refreshing perspective on the changing funding landscape by highlighting Medi-Cal, Californias Medicaid program.

Briscoe said that change is indeed happening and that understanding and navigating Medi-Cal's collection of multiple programs — including county mental health plans, Medi-Cal managed care plans, and school-based initiatives — is essential.

Briscoe said our organizations should celebrate the new types of coverage that have been added to Medi-Cal in recent years, including for community health workers, doulas, peers, and wellness coaches. These roles, Briscoe said, present a remarkable opportunity to transform care and support for children and families.

“There’s lots of one-time money available, so get your hustle on,” he said. “It’s extraordinary, these commitments that are being made.”

Policy successes

The second shift is in policy.

Over the past few years, we've seen a surge in progressive policies aimed at expanding the provider class and ensuring equity in child welfare services.

Lishaun Francis, of Children Now, an All In For Kids grantee partner, said her organization's advocacy for the needs of parents, caregivers, and young people in Sacramento is a testament to the potential for systemic change.

She highlighted the importance of family and community support systems, including programs like CalFresh and local nonprofit organizations.

The recent surge in homelessness among young people, for example, posed a threat to funding for these organizations, she said.

Despite the challenges, Francis said Children Now has been able to achieve some significant victories, such as prioritizing infants and toddlers in the Mental Health Services Act and promoting inclusivity in evidence-based practices through programs like the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative.

That initiative, Francis said, now includes funding rounds for early childhood wraparound, parent and caregiver supports, and trauma-informed supports and services all benefiting children under 5.

"My goal is that, one day, I can go out of work because there is someone in Sacramento whose only job is to say, 'This is where children sit.'"

A wider view of the conference room showing attendees and speaker at the All In For Kids round table meeting

Systems innovation

The third shift is in systems.

There's a growing recognition of the interconnectedness of all systems and the need for more integrated programming.

No longer can we afford to work in silos, many of the leaders said. We need to build holistic, multidisciplinary, multigenerational systems of care that meet the complex needs of families.

To highlight that example, Courtney Garcia from The Primary School shared the story of Kiana, a parent from their organization, who was an ardent advocate and main caregiver for her son, Tyron.

Kiana's experience showed how easy it is for caregivers to neglect their own needs while focusing on their family's well-being.

This realization, Garcia said, led to the development of The Primary School's parent wellness program, which centers not just on parenting but also on the overall well-being of parents by bringing in parent wellness coaches and doctors from Kaiser.

Garcia's insights underscore the importance of a holistic and integrated approach to preventing adverse childhood experiences.

"A major principle of our work at The Primary School is centering parents, not just as voices, but as humans," Garcia said. "Truly, their well-being is a critical driver of their child's learning and growth.”

Jenny Pearlman, of Safe & Sound, also emphasized that when it comes to child welfare initiatives, change needs to be driven by the community.

By community, she referred not just to existing systems and organizations, but also the informal structures and individuals with lived experiences.

Pearlman said Safe & Sound recently led a coalition of 40 family support organizations in San Francisco.

Through their efforts, they raised funding to build infrastructure and ensure the long-term success of these organizations, with a focus on equity, smaller organizations, and those led by people of color.

They advocated for millions of dollars for these organizations, she said, which enabled them to invest in their people and gain community support.

"We've been able to raise this money," Pearlman said, "because we've had the community support and we've been able to act as a seat at the table to represent the interests of community organizations on big initiatives.”

In all, the roundtable showed us that creating the experiences and conditions that help children and families thrive and prosper requires more than just rhetoric.

It demands action, collaboration, and a paradigm shift in our approach.

The initiatives shared by the All In For Kids grantee partners demonstrate the power of a community-driven, holistic approach that centers around not just children but also their parents and caregivers.

They show us that genuine change is possible when we extend our gaze beyond traditional structures and include those at the grassroots level — especially those with lived experience. This is where the solutions exist — not in board rooms, but in the hearts and minds of the community.

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