ICFW Newsletter, Winter 2024

The mission of the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being is to improve the lives of children and families with complex challenges by implementing effective programs, conducting cutting-edge research, engaging communities, and promoting systems change.

The Institute for Child and Family Well-Being is a collaboration between Children’s Wisconsin and the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The shared values and strengths of this academic-community partnership are reflected in the Institute’s three core service areas: Program Design and Implementation, Research and Evaluation, and Community Engagement and Systems Change.

In This Issue:

Meet the ICFW

Meet our MSW/MPH Intern

Jo Guillian Uy Cabrera is a dual MSW and MPH Intern with the Institute for Child and Family Well-being. She has several years of experience as a case manager of older adults and families. She has participated in various data and strategy activities with the Strong Families, Thriving Children, and Connected Communities initiative. Her academic and professional interests focus on macro-level policies/systems-level work and exploring the intergenerational effects of poverty. Jo earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in public policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

If you are interested in joining our team as an MSW or MPH intern, please reach out to Luke Waldo at lwaldo@childrenswi.org or Gabe McGaughey at gmcgaughey@childrenswi.org.

Program Design and Implementation

The Institute develops, implements and disseminates validated prevention and intervention strategies that are accessible in real-world settings.

Scaling Storytelling

By Gabriel McGaughey

At its core, storytelling is more than entertainment; it’s a fundamental human experience that bridges gaps and builds connections. It offers a unique lens through which we can view the world, highlighting the nuances of the human condition, fostering empathy, and spotlighting social inequities. Stories have the power to simplify complex issues, making them accessible and relatable to a wider audience. This emotional resonance is crucial in advocating for change, as it motivates individuals to act, whether through advocacy, donations, or spreading awareness.

The importance of storytelling in driving social change can’t be overstated. It serves as tangible proof of concept, demonstrating that change is not only possible but happening. By sharing success stories of transformation and resilience, we offer hope and inspire action among communities and stakeholders. The narrative approach amplifies the impact of our work, fostering greater public awareness and altering entrenched mental models. In essence, storytelling is a strategic tool that can shift perspectives, mobilize resources, and influence policy.

Framing shapes how information is presented, influencing people’s perceptions, decisions, and actions by determining the content, delivery, and what’s omitted, including values, metaphors, and messengers involved. Framing shapes the overarching narrative that influences how people think, feel, and act regarding an issue.

Framing examples that the ICFW has used in the past include terms like “toxic stress” and “overloaded families” were both frames that were developed by the Frameworks Institute. Through the unique opportunity in the Change in Mind Institute grant from Social Current, ICFW’s Children’s leadership team was able to get trained in framing, practice among peers, and get feedback. Both storytelling and framing should be tools in the 21st century changemaker toolkit, however having the time to get trained and gain master in both while serving families directly, has numerous barriers.

At the ICFW, we recognize the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to change the way we tell stories. In our journey to support systems change, we are exploring how AI can create efficiencies in cultivating nonfiction stories from our communities and apply framing techniques and principles framing to create openings for our audience to think differently about the complex challenges facing families.  AI technologies offer the capability to take raw data, apply framing principles, to create drafts of short narratives for a wide range of uses. The human editorial perspective is still key. AI doesn’t use framing or metaphors perfectly, and the need for understanding the ‘why’ of the story has to have the human element. However, if you are a professional who is too busy doing the work to develop your framing and/or storytelling skills, or if you’ve ever felt that editing was easier than writing from scratch, the use of AI that the ICFW is piloting provides a path to efficiently cultivate stories focused on changing systemic challenges.

The SFTCCC community’s invaluable feedback has significantly shaped our storytelling process, with promising developments soon to be showcased on our Instagram timeline. This collaborative effort will inform a virtual training series debuting in May, further enriching our storytelling and AI utilization toolkit. Additionally, the ICFW team will illuminate these themes at the Together for Children Seminar on April 8th. Storytelling’s pivotal role in fostering social change is evident. By harnessing AI to streamline storytelling, we aim to empower changemakers across the board, supporting the well-being of families overloaded by stress.

Related Links:

Framing Communications to Drive Social Change, Urban Institute

Framing 101, The Frameworks Institute

Building Brains with Relationships

By Meghan Christian

The West Allis Health Department invited the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being to speak on topics of toxic stress and resilience, and their effects on individuals, relationships and organizations. Staff including dietitians, environmental specialists, nurses, support staff and more spent their morning together. They took time out of their morning to learn and practice tools that can help individuals and organizations embed trauma-informed care in day to day operations.

ICFW staff are continuing to engage with the Child Witness team at Sojourner Family Peace Center in 2024. Last year, staff were provided the opportunity to learn about what promotes and what derails brain development, resilience and simple ways to connect with kids. This year, the focus will be on trauma-informed care, facilitating difficult conversations, co-regulation and how their specific team can incorporate this material into their program design.

Learn more about Building Brains with Relationships

Research and Evaluation

The Institute accelerates the process of translating knowledge into direct practices, programs and policies that promote health and well-being, and provides analytic, data management and grant-writing support.

Recent ICFW Publications – Family Drug Treatment Court

ICFW recently published two papers from a longitudinal mixed-methods investigation of Milwaukee’s Family Drug Treatment Court program (Mersky, PI). Results from an impact study revealed that parents who participated in the program were significantly more likely to reunify with their children (see Mersky et al., 2023). Findings from interviews with program participants and staff highlighted barriers to and facilitators of program participation and success in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic (see Romain Dagenhart et al., 2024).

See more recent ICFW Publications

Community Engagement & Systems Change

The Institute develops community-university partnerships to promote systems change that increases the accessibility of evidence-based and evidence-informed practices.

Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities Initiative – Community Collaboration Critical Pathway

By Leah Cerwin

Embracing Authentic Community Collaboration

Authentic community collaboration brings together a diverse group of changemakers to share power and learning that animates co-design of solutions for social change that directly impacts their respective communities. By engaging the lived experience of families, communities, service providers, mandated reporters, and organizational and systems leaders, together we can improve systems and service coordination that prioritizes family empowerment and support over mandated reporting. To accomplish this, we will need to reach across many systems, build trust through power-sharing with each other and the families that we serve, so that we may amplify our impact. Together, we can advocate for policy changes, share best practices, and create a network of support that fosters the well-being of families, particularly families of color who have been disproportionately affected by family separations.

Essential Ingredients for Authentic Community Collaboration

  • Open communication: Encourage honest and transparent conversations among changemakers to promote understanding and empathy.
  • Shared language and goals: Establish common language and objectives that everyone can share and understand, ensuring collective efforts are rooted in lived experience and evidence, and focusing on achieving meaningful change.
  • Inclusive decision-making: Involve all those impacted in the decision-making process, respecting the diverse perspectives and experiences they bring to the table.

The Need for Systems Change and Coordination

In Wisconsin, families of color experience disproportionate rates of family separation and longer stays in foster care. Native American and Black families make up about 13% of our population, and yet make up 27% of all reports to Child Protective Services (CPS), 34% of all CPS investigations, 38% of all family separations, and a staggering 47% of group home placements. To truly combat historical inequities that are further exacerbated by family separation, we must advocate for systems change that addresses the root causes of these issues. At the same time, we have thousands of non-profits statewide that support our children, families and communities, yet families too often need support or services that are unknown to them or hard to access. Our greatest challenges, therefore, lie in how we coordinate our services to ensure that they are meeting the real needs of all that seek them. We must work smarter, not harder, to elevate solutions to ensure all families can access the help they need when they need it. By building bridges between service providers, community organizations, and the families we serve, we can create a more equitable, cohesive, and impactful support network.

The Path to Community Collaboration

By fostering authentic and inclusive community collaboration among our systems, service providers, communities, and families, we can effectively address the historical inequities that have resulted in disproportionate rates of family separations among families of color and poor families. Through co-design with families and service providers, we can shift more efforts and resources towards community empowerment and maltreatment prevention, improve our systems and service coordination, and strengthen social connectedness and trust, which can alleviate the stress that overloads families and reduce the risk of neglect and family separation.

Join our Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities’ Critical Pathways journey here.

Announcing Overloaded: Understanding Neglect Season 2

By Luke Waldo

We recently concluded our second season of Overloaded: Understanding Neglect where we confronted the challenging realities and complex questions from season 1 as we explore our Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities’ four Critical Pathways, our roadmaps for discovering and developing innovative solutions to these wicked problems. Through the first year of our Strong Families initiative, which included season 1 of this podcast series, we were able to align the insights and experiences of those who know these issues best with the evidence that has shown promise in advancing meaningful solutions. This collaborative effort identified four critical pathways – Economic StabilitySocial ConnectednessCommunity Collaboration, and Workforce Inclusion and Innovation – that will shape the future of our initiative that aspires to reduce family separations for reasons of neglect.

Join host Luke Waldo as we explore these Critical Pathways with research and policy experts Clare Anderson from Chapin Hall at the University of ChicagoMark Cabaj of From Here 2 ThereTim Grove of Wellpoint Care NetworkLinda Hall of Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health, my Institute colleague Josh Mersky of the University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeRebecca Murray of Wisconsin’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention BoardJermaine Reed of Fresh Start Family Services, and Liz Weaver of the Tamarack Institute. Additionally, we shined a light on these Critical Pathways through the lived experience experts of many of my close colleagues at Children’s Wisconsin’s child welfare and child maltreatment prevention programs and the caregivers with whom they have worked closely.

We believe neglect is preventable. Take a journey with us on our Critical Pathways to discover some of the strategies that can help us make that belief a reality for our families and communities. Explore the 11 episodes of season 2 of Overloaded: Understanding Neglect wherever you listen to your podcasts, and then keep an eye out for upcoming events that will engage you and our community to discuss the pathways to solutions.

Announcing Milwaukee Independent Column Featuring Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities Initiative

By Luke Waldo

Beginning in January of this year, I was given the honor to share the work that we are doing in Milwaukee and across our state with our Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities initiative through a monthly column in the Milwaukee Independent.

The Milwaukee Independent is an award-winning and advertising-free daily news magazine that advocates for inclusive social understanding in Milwaukee by publishing positive news content that covers a wide range of topics as a catalyst for community development. With a heavy emphasis on photojournalism and analytical reporting to fulfill this mission, our editorial staff is focused to being translators and storytellers more than traditional news correspondents.

Read January’s column here.

Recent and Upcoming Events

The Institute provides training, consultation and technical assistance to help human service agencies implement and replicate best practices. If you are interested in training or technical assistance, please complete our speaker request form.

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