PLEASE NOTE: The ADVOCATES FOR FAMILIES FIRST project ended in spring 2017 and we are not updating this site. This website will be available until early 2018. Many of the resources have been moved to


PLEASE NOTE: The ADVOCATES FOR FAMILIES FIRST project ended in spring 2017 and we are not updating this site. This website will be available until early 2018. Many of the resources have been moved to

Children Need More Than Residential Schools Can Give

Request for Input from Caregivers

Dear friends,

Happy National Foster Care Month!

We invite U.S. foster and kinship caregivers and agencies to participate in this brief, 2 question survey thelp Members of the U.S. Congress better understand the needs and qualities of excellent caregivers for children in foster care. Please submit all responses by this Monday, May 9, 2016 so we can share your response in a briefing for congressional staff next week.

Thank you for your participation and for your service to children experiencing foster care.

With warm regards,

Becky Weichhand
Executive Director
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute | Washington, D.C.
(202) 544-8500

Soft Skills: Anything but Soft

from American Youth Policy Forum, Wednesday, 30 March, 2016


I recently stumbled upon Andy Calkins’ 2015 blog post on the outdated terms “non-cognitive” and “soft skills.” The post was a reflection on his time spent at last year’s SXSWedu conference, during which he heard the terms used numerous times, despite the groans of dissatisfaction that came along with them. Having just returned from this year’s SXSWedu conference, I must say, not much has changed. We still dislike those terms and the way they reflect (or don’t reflect) the skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. Yet we still, begrudgingly, use them.

As education is not always at the top of the list of “cutting edge” fields, it was exciting and carine-quotequite inspiring to see so much innovation and momentum in the education space. It was evident, however, that although we’ve made progress in some areas like technology and instruction, we still have a long way to go in others. The terms “non-cognitive” and “soft skills” have increased in ubiquity, yet the distaste for the words has become ubiquitous as well. Critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, grit, leadership, decision-making – these skills indubitably require a level of cognitive function, so the term “non-cognitive” is a misnomer. There’s also nothing “soft” about them. In fact, the implication that skills like grit and problem solving are “soft” is counter to the idea (and evidence) that these skills are just as (if not more) critical to success as other “hard” skills like algebra and reading comprehension.

Another striking takeaway from SXSW was that regardless of the words we use to describe these skills, we are talking about them a lot, and not just with regards to education. In both education and workforce-themed sessions, and almost every session in between, concepts like decision making, critical thinking, and teamwork were infused in the dialogue. These skills, and the terms that define them, are perhaps the ultimate connector of the education and workforce fields. Why, then, do we continually struggle to describe them? Is the movement to find a better descriptor for these competencies really a discussion about language? Or is it a reflection of a larger philosophical and cultural shift in the way we think about these skills? Perhaps it’s both, but I would argue that perhaps we should focus on these skills as being absolutely necessary to succeed in adult life – the essential bridge between education and the workforce.

Despite our attempts to better connect these two worlds, it appears there really is a divide between them. Although much progress has been made to bridge the college and career divide, most traditional schools still operate within an unadaptable structure and culture that developed over many decades, with relatively rigid definitions of what school and learning “should” look like. In these instances, our 20th century education system is out of sync with the realities of the 21st century workforce. This means that often when students complete high school or college, we send them off into the workforce and expect them to suddenly be competent members of this new environment, despite our inability to draw connections between the world they are leaving and the world they’re entering. This is where these essential skills come in, and perhaps why it’s so important we stop trivializing them by calling them “soft” or “non-cognitive” – as if they’re second rate to being able to diagram a sentence.

We have seen some success in schools that prioritize this deeper, more comprehensive type of learning. As Mr. Calkins stated, “schools that show promise in building the whole continuum of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills are doing so through deliberate integration across their students’ entire learning experience.” We’ve also seen success in out-of-school experiences like internships and afterschool learning programs – environments in which these skills are utilized in both an educational and a practical capacity.

Given the importance of these skills in all of these settings, and many others, our language should be reflective of their 21st century applicability. I can’t say I know what the ideal descriptor should be, though I believe the terms agencyemployer-desired, and 21st century skills are all superior to terms we’ve used in the past. I also don’t think a language change is enough to bring the education system up to speed with the 21st century workforce. What I do know, however, is that if we can call these skills something that conveys both their necessity and their wide applicability, we will be taking an essential step in the right direction.

Carinne Deeds is a Policy Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.

‘A Brighter Day’ for grandparents raising grandchildren


Many of them are not like your grandparents, they are quick to ask for a “selfie”, they are internet savvy and they are raising their grandchildren.

300 seniors gathered April 22nd for the 19th Annual Conference of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, a non-profit organization formed as a support group for the older generation now being saddled with upbringing of another load of children.

The theme for this year’s gathering is “Second Time Around” and participants know well what it means. Dot Thibodaux and Danna Spayde, two Baton Rouge women, are the founders and torchbearers of the group.

Without a source of funding, GRG has depended on donations and volunteers to survive since beginning as a support group at the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging in 1993.

This week’s conference features two sessions of no less than 8 different seminars, all addressing the many needs in the home, including what grandparents need to know about their taxes, health, the laws and cyber-bullying.

Grandparents attend this meeting year after year because of the sheer practicality of the information they can get and bring home.

At this meeting came the news both women have been wanting for years. Senator Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge took the podium to announce that thanks to her bill in the current legislative session, GRG would now have more stability, and definitely more funding.

“I am the author for Senate Bill 313,” Barrow said, “which is a bill for the council of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.”

“It changes the makeup of the board, it moves it under the Department of the Governor as part of the Children’s Cabinet,” she continued. “In addition, it restructures the funding so we can get money for this organization. And I’m excited about that because for too long you guys have operated on pennies.”

Grandparents traveled to Baton Rouge from all over the state. GRG has chapters in all corners.

Louisiana Secretary of Children and Family Services Marketa Garner Walters even managed time away from the legislative session to talk to this crowd and apologize.

“I’m willing to bet the farm that we have not supported you,” said Walters. “We at DCFS have not supported you the way that we need to support you.”

The crowd applauds loudly after that statement.

Walters says DCFS workers may have offended or even mistreated them, but asked for their understanding.

“The past administration did not treat them well. And they are a hurting work force. And sometimes when people are hurting, they hurt. And I know that there are spots and people that are employed by this agency that don’t always have the best service attitude and don’t always do the best right service. I hope and I’d like to believe that they are hurting too.”

Walters promised to locate problem employees and services and correct them as she finds them. She also invited GRG’s participation in the oversight and planning for her agency operations.

“I would like to have a couple of representatives from your group to sit on that internal board for me. Because you are internal partners; you are who we do the work with. We are not on the front lines raising the kids, you are, and so if we’re not doing the best for you, then we are really off-base.”

Walters said her workers will now sit down with grandparents who come in to find out about benefits and how to file for support rather than shoving a computer in their hands to fill out a form. She also offered that if grandparents find it difficult to go to their local DCFS office, that there can be a home visit.

“One of the staff who could do home-visits, similar to the ones in child welfare, not to check on the kids but to check and see what needs you may have that you don’t know about benefits.”

And she offered that her office will try to organize other community groups who can offer services grandparents might need that the state does not offer.

Walters wants to be the source of connecting community services.

And Walters rounded out her To-Do list with adding a grandparents icon (there is none right now) to the DCFS internet homepage.

If the GRG Senate Bill 313 becomes law, Senator Barrrow says “It’s a brighter day!”

Dot Thibodeaux agrees.

“We’ve been working for that for a long time, to be recognized as a body that needs help. These are grandparents, a lot of them are on social security, when you get an extra child or two or three, that check doesn’t go up. There needs to be something to help them and it doesn’t have to be for the rest of their lives. It can be temporary.”

Something to Consider… for the next time you teach or preach on worry

From ACEs Connection

As I start to talk with pastors about why ACEs matter and why they should inform themselves and their congregations, I regularly hear something like this: “But why does it matter? What difference should it make in ministry? Can’t I simply preach and teach the Bible and leave the results up to God?”

By way of answer to these questions, I am starting to put together a training called “10 things that kid with ACEs would like you to know: moving your church toward greater empathy.” The following is from my second point in the presentation: “The traumatized are biologically wired to worry.” I hope you find it helpful, and if you pass this on to a pastor-type person, please do so in the context of want to raise their awareness to an issue, not in a judgmental way. Having been a parish pastor, I know all the demands on their time. The hurt that a pastor might do to someone with ACEs is unintentional… they just don’t know what they don’t know! Finally, this was prepared as a spoken presentation rather than written, and rather than have to rewrite the whole thing, I hope you picture the setting and glean the same truths.

Thanks, Chaplain Chris Haughee

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

While we may have all been created equal, that does not make us the same, nor does it change the fact that we have all had different childhoods.

Toxic stress wires a child’s brain to be in constant vigilance against potential threats… Pastor, consider your most stressful situation, perhaps a time you really thought or knew your life was in danger. Remember that adrenaline rush? Now, imagine that in even a heightened, regular rate, let alone anything close to constant. Can you see how this might affect a child’s brain? Can you see why toxic stress–a prolonged heightened sense of fear from a potentially life threatening situation–can be so damaging?

So, because of what we know about ACEs, especially here in Montana—where 17 percent of children have experienced three or more ACEs, and 1 in 10 have four or more (the “tipping point” for all sorts of negative consequences statistically, including a 1200% increase in suicidal behavior) how might that change the way you preach and teach?

Raise your hand if you have ever taught, preached, or heard taught or preached a message on Jesus’ teaching about worry from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34)? How many? Look around.

Okay… next question: How many of you, leave your hands up if this is you… How many of you heard from those messages, or taught from that passage that the main lesson was: “Worry is bad. You should worry less?” Look around… lots of hands.

Telling the survivor of ACEs to worry less, and that’s what Jesus wants you to do, is about as sensitive as telling the child in the wheelchair that they need to stop using their wheelchair and that Jesus wants them to walk. (Unfortunately, having had a brother with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair most of his life until his death at age 20, this message is sometimes taught from ‘Christian’ pulpits).

Think I am overstating the case? Then ask yourself, “Do I lend more validity to the child in the wheelchair, considering their limitations because I can see them while discrediting the limitations of child with ACEs?” And, if so, ask yourself the follow-up question: “Is this because the effects of their trauma are in their nervous system and endocrine system, remaining unseen and hidden?” Pastor, teacher… if someone’s infirmity doesn’t scream out to your sense of sight, touch, or hearing you shouldn’t assume it is less significant. The child with six or more ACEs dies 20 years early than the rest of the population. That’s significant.

As you prepare your sermon, remember this: your worries and anxiety, as someone without a rewired brain or a hyper-vigilant endocrine/nervous system, cannot be compared to those who have experienced toxic stress as a result of ACEs. It just can’t.

Back to Matthew 6: Jesus was teaching less on worry than on recognizing our dependence on God. What did Jesus speak to? Worry about food and drink, about clothes. Does anyone without a traumatic childhood REALLY worry about these things? We worry about our jobs, our mortgages, our children’s behavior. There are few in our churches that truly worry about food, clothing, and their thirst (though that may be another issue to address… our missional impact… but that’s for another time and place).

Food, drink, and clothes are not pressing issues for us. But, for the child who truly didn’t have enough to eat as a child, who learned to hoard when food was available, just might have food issues in adulthood… and, that’s just one common example I see in my ministry. Try preparing a lesson on this passage for these children rather than the kids that argue about how many stalks of broccoli they might have to eat in order to get dessert. Changes things a bit, yes?

Lastly, the same person that gave this teaching about worry also prayed in Gethsemane, troubled (“depressed and dejected”-ademoneo in Greek) to the point of sweating blood! Dare we say that Jesus was “worried” or anxious about the manner of death that lay before him? This level or worry or anxiety is a better corollary to what children with numerous ACEs might have experienced.

Imagine if those sleepy disciples in the garden had quoted Jesus back to himself: “Jesus, why are you so worried? Can you add a single hour to your life? You said it yourself!” I am not so sure that would have gone over well, and I don’t think our admonishing those with anxiety issues from very troubled childhood experiences goes over any better.

Just Released: New Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Resources


Access New Resources on Adverse Childhood Experiences for National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time to acknowledge the importance of working together to prevent child abuse and neglect in our communities, and assure that all children have access to safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that impact lifelong health and opportunity. ACEs have been linked to risky behaviors, chronic health conditions, educational and employment challenges, and early death. CDC is committed to preventing ACEs before they happen.  The new ACE resources available at will help your community better understand ACEs, their health impact, and strategies for prevention.

·         New infographics

·         Updated information on ACE data collection

·         Map of states collecting ACE data

·         How ACEs can be prevented

·         Presentation graphics for public health practitioners

·         Up to date list of ACE journal articles by health outcome

Additional Resources·         ACE Study Infographic: Visual, interactive representation of data from the 1995-1997 CDC-Kaiser Permanente study on ACEs prevalence and relationship to health outcomes.

·         ACEs Snapshot: Interactive tool that provides insight into how ACEs can be prevented and how to minimize negative effects.

·         Case Studies: State case studies provide detailed descriptions of how selected states have valued and used ACE data to inform their child abuse and neglect prevention efforts.

For More Information: Please contact

House Passes the Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act

Advocates for Families First hosted a webinar on the NEICE model last year. Please access it here.

This afternoon the House of Representatives passed by voice vote, under suspension of the rules, the bipartisan Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act (H.R. 4472) <> , introduced in February by Representatives Todd Young (R-IN) and Danny Davis (D-IL). This bill provides funding for the development and implementation of the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE) to expedite the placement of children in foster care or guardianship or adoption across state lines. The bill also continues the discretionary authorization for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program at current authorized levels ($200 million) through September 30, 2017, and reserves $5 million of this discretionary funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide grants to aid states in developing NEICE. Click here for a copy of House Report 114-460 on HR 4472 <>  and for a brief press release <>  on the bill passage.

The Senate counterpart, Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act (S. 2574) <> , was introduced on February 24 by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Adoption Triad resources from Child Welfare Information Gateway

This month, Adoption Triad focuses on how adoptive parents can help their adoptive and biological children become a cohesive family unit. Changing the family dynamic for any reason often requires planning to ensure an easier transition period. The resources below provide some tips and ideas on how to ease the adjustment period for all family members.

  1. Review Creating a Family’s “Top Ten Tips for Blending Children by Birth and Adoption”. The article provides tips and resources for families with children by birth and adoption.
  2. Explore why it’s important for families to recognize similarities and differences when “Making Blended Families Work” on the Adoptive Families website.
  3. Learn four ways parents can ease the transition of becoming a family when blending siblings from birth and adoption “When One Child is Adopted and the Other Isn’t” at

Finally, Disney Junior’s animated series “Doc McStuffins” features an adoption storyline, which began on Friday, March 4 (8:00–8:30 a.m. EST), on Disney Channel. The multiepisode story arc will showcase the McStuffins family as they experience the joys of adoption while adjusting to a new baby in the house. Geared toward kids age 2–7 and their families, the storylines will focus on a variety of emotions and the situations young children may encounter when a new baby arrives in the family. 

Leveraging the Strengthening Families Act

The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative partners with communities across the nation to help improve outcomes for young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood. The federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (Strengthening Families Act/SFA) provides new opportunity to achieve our collective goal of creating a brighter future for these young people. We invite you to register for the third session in our six-part webinar series, “Leveraging the Strengthening Families Act,” which explores these critical opportunities.

Keeping Systems Accountable in the Implementation of the SFA
2 p.m. – 3 p.m. EST March 28, 2016


The SFA creates many new requirements and opportunities for child welfare agencies. Developing effective enforcement mechanisms that are truly accessible to youth are difficult to build and implement, but is crucial to successful implementation. This session explores strategies to build effective and youth-friendly enforcement mechanisms such as court enforcement, case planning and caseworker visits; grievance policies; youth feedback; and data collection.


  • Jenny Pokempner, supervising attorney, Juvenile Law Center
  • Clark Peters, assistant professor, University of Missouri School of Social Work and Truman School of Public Affairs
  • Carol Behrer, executive director, Youth Policy Institute of Iowa
  • Mike Leach, director of independent and transitional living, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services

Previous webinars in the series
“Creating Effective Normalcy Policies”  provided an overview of the “reasonable and prudent” parenting standard that states must implement and highlighted key considerations in working toward effective implementation of the standard and the law’s other normalcy-related requirements.
“Effective Court Oversight to Support and Enforce Normalcy and Youth Engagement”  focused on court oversight as a powerful tool to ensure the benefit of the SFA’s normalcy and youth engagement/participation provisions positively affect the everyday lives of youth.

Related publication
The Jim Casey Initiative’s recently released report, “What young people need to thrive: Leveraging the Strengthening Families Act to promote normalcy,”  highlights recommendations from young people in foster care.