I showed up on StriveTogether’s doorstep as a social worker. I knew I wanted to support organizations to do better for kids and families, but I didn’t know how important a human services orientation would be in the work we do with our Cradle to Career Network every day. And now, which likely comes as no surprise to many of you, I wholeheartedly believe that partnering with public and private human services organizations is critical to ensuring every child has the opportunity to achieve success from cradle to career.
Last week I had the privilege to be an interloper at the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) annual summit. More than 400 people from human services organizations — mostly public, as the name would suggest — joined together to discuss how to best serve children, young people and families. As I sat in on sessions, chatted with attendees and admitted to my outsider status, I realized one REALLY BIG thing. These are our brothers and sisters in service of our vision. I sometimes feel like we’re isolated in our work or that we have to pull people along to achieve our goals. This feeling is at best myopic and at worst dishearteningly pessimistic. As I met new friends and allies, I heard them speak our language about race equity, systems transformation, practice improvement and policy change.
There are many truths in the work we do (although not everyone wants to admit to or face them):
- Wealth gaps are increasing between people of color and white people
- About 60% of people experiencing incarceration are people of color
- One in eight children experience abuse or neglect by age 18
This data tells a story. Not one of individual deficits, but one of systems that perpetuate oppression and allow harm to the most vulnerable. To achieve better and more equitable outcomes for every child and family, we need to support one another as humans AND work to upend the systems that enable these results to occur. Nelson Mandela once said that “there is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats children.”
Communities are better when we work together differently
The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network is focused on economic mobility, especially for kids and families of color and those experiencing poverty. To achieve this goal, we talk about engaging “adjacent sectors.” I often get confused expressions or eye rolls when I use this term or questions about what fresh jargon we’re using. I reflected and remembered that the StriveTogether approach is built on multiple sectors co-designing and co-developing better outcomes. We are circling back to our roots by embodying the notion that communities are better when those who make them up work differently together.
Understanding the alignment that exists across sectors is huge. The report A National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America was written in partnership with APHSA and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. If you look at the executive summary, you’ll also notice a few familiar names identified as investors. The recommendations from the report mirror what our Network has identified in the StriveTogether Theory of Action™:
|National Imperative Recommendations||StriveTogether Theory of Action™ Pillars|
|Commitment to outcomes — Focus on agreed-upon set of outcomes to drive the work||Shared community vision — Work with people throughout the community to create one vision everyone can support|
|Capacity for innovation — Develop capacity for innovation through better data sharing, analytics, technology and knowledge exchange||Evidence-based decision-making — Gather, assess and act on the evidence in front of us|
|Strategic partnerships — Establish deeper and disruptive partnerships to realize maximum value||Collaborative action — Have a bias toward action that is taken together|
|New financial strategies — Develop diverse financial strategies and generate public and private funding||Investment and sustainability — Engage investors to ensure we have enough sustainable resources to do the work|
The public health services sector aligns with our approach to transform systems. We share common values and concepts in our work. This feels like the start of something special.
I left the conference and returned to Cincinnati again as a social worker, but also with an extra dose of belief in the work we do as a Network. Our CEO Jennifer Blatz wrote a blog last week on the need for us to build authentic relationships to create real change in communities. There’s no secret sauce for how to do this, although I imagine the recipe requires a dash of trust, a pinch of love and a few crushed egos.
So, how can we ensure we’re partnering with human services organizations to achieve the results that every community deserves? I am looking to you, readers, to share your examples of how this is taking shape in your own backyard.