Child Welfare Conference 2016: a recap
By Kate McKerlie
135 social workers, case managers, CASA volunteers, probation officers, and other child welfare advocates attended our 4th Annual Child Welfare Conference at Thompson Conference Center at the UT Austin Campus on November 16th, 2016. Each year TXICFW provides this professional development opportunity to give practitioners, researchers and advocates a chance to network and learn specific skills and concepts they can use in their work with children and families. This year’s theme sought to explore and identify strategies to help high-risk youth who are involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Monica Faulkner, Director of TXICFW, opened the day with remarks on how “despite each system having its unique issues, at the core of promoting child welfare is adequately addressing trauma in youth.”
Beth Gerlach, our Associate Director then introduced our Keynote Speaker, Honorable Lisa K. Jarrett, from Bexar County who presented a successful case study of their crossover court. Judge Jarett presented the Crossover Youth Practice Model developed by The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Casey Family Programs. The model has since has been implemented in 96 counties across 21 states. The model involves onsite training and consultation. Judge Jarrett stressed the need for collaboration and communication between the two systems when trying to implement the model. She also emphasized her personal goal of making sure the youth’s voice is heard by making sure they are present for their hearings and taking the time to meet with the youth one on one. She wants to make sure they know she is someone who is on their side and not just another adult in a “big black robe.”
The day continued with a panel of professionals from both the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems. Matt Smith, LPC-S from Williamson County Juvenile Services discussed the significant role trauma plays in the lives of these children and how they have begun implementing trauma-informed training among their staff. He said “honoring the youth and family voice” was incredibly important when working with these families. Sarah Muckleroy, J.D., from Travis County Juvenile Public Defender’s Office offered up specific examples of how they struggle to find non-detention, home-based placements for their youth and how immigration issues complicate the process at times. She was able to provide some success stories as well. Staci Love from DFPS CPS, Region 7 finished out the panel by making sure our attendees knew that despite the different goals of each agency they are “all dedicated to the cause.”
The conference finished out with three concurrent breakout sessions to offer attendees a more detailed exploration of particular issues regarding crossover youth. Our first panel was entitled “Race and Youth Empowerment: A dialogue on racial inequity and disproportionality.” The panel featured Tanya Rollins from CPS Disproportionality, Dorothy Garretson from Texas CASA and Daniel LIanes from Undoing Racism Austin and was facilitated by Valerie Gaimon. The panel identified how racism exists in all levels of our institutions and recommended that we need more staff training to address this issue.
Erin Espinosa, Ph.D. Led a session which detailed the different paths and unique issues crossover youth face with the current systems in place. She brought attention to how mental health, trauma, and social control influence outcomes of crossover youth within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She emphasized that we need to make “approaches based on individuals but in a systematic way.”
Finally, Monica Faulkner facilitated a panel on “the sexual abuse to prison pipeline” focusing on girls who are involved in both systems. The panel featured Julie Guirguis, LPC, LCDC a psychotherapist, Virginia Martinez from the Travis County Juvenile Probation Division, Andrea Sparks from the Texas Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking team, and Angela Goodwin from DFPS. Once again the panel discussed trauma and how “it is a matter of loss of control, and it’s up to us to empower these kids.” The panelists called for both systems to own up to the sexual abuse occurring before and while youth are within these systems and how these past experiences directly influence their dual involvement in the child welfare system. The session ended with a strong message that as child welfare advocates and professionals “These are OUR kids; they belong to us. Whether they’re in our city, whether they’re in our state, they’re ours,” encouraging us all to continue to take responsibility and work towards helping these youth become successful adults.
Overall the conference was a huge success. We would like to thank our sponsors who made this day possible: Rowena Fong, Ed.D., St. David’s Foundation, Topher Family Foundation, and The Center for Intentional Living.