Family Voice Makes a Difference Illuminating Systemic Change

Family Voice Makes a Difference Illuminating Systemic Change

Families are experts on their children and by extension the programs intended to support them in strengthening their families and addressing challenges. It is for this reason that Illuminate Colorado looks to parents and caregivers with lived experiences as the driving force within coalitions and networks focused on systemic change. We connected with three Coloradans giving voice to their experiences through two collective spaces “walking the walk” so to speak when it comes to the family voice movement to get their reflections on the impact Illuminate is having in the field.  

Increasingly, there is an effort to involve parents and caregivers from all walks of life in the decision-making process of systemic change, as well as program improvement. “Nothing for us without us! It is important that we listen and honor lived experience. We need to uplift and celebrate lived experience by saving them a seat at the table,” said Heather Hicks, a mother of two and a family voice representative for the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families. “The Partnership”, as it’s more commonly known, is a collaborative space aiming to create conditions where children and the adults in their lives can thrive. The Partnership is building collaboration at the state and local level to align funding, priorities, regulations, outcome measures and implementation – across sectors and jurisdictions to create a strong family well-being system that supports families. As the backbone support team for the Partnership, Illuminate is guiding vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, cultivating community engagement and mobilizing resources in support of this collective effort. 

“I have worked in various spaces similar to the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families. I have been the parent that professionals have refused to listen to. I have been that parent that professionals look in the face and nod their heads then do nothing. I have been the parent that has continued to cry out and strive for equitable spaces for families so that they come and participate in the decisions that are being made for them. I have been the parent that has spent years fighting for change and has seen very little transpire from it. So to come from that and walk into a space where Illuminate has opened their arms and hearts to not only hear what we have to say, but to boldly act upon what we have to say – it is a beautiful thing,” said Hicks. 

Hicks and Fikile Ryder, another mother of two engaged as a Partnership family voice representative, have been involved in this collaborative space for more than a year now. They both co-founded the Partnership Family & Caregiver Space and serve on the leadership team for the Partnership. “Illuminate is an unsung leader in the equity charge for lived experience. What makes them special is that they lead with compassion and heart. As an organization, they have unconditionally supported our asks and needs,” shared Ryder.

When the two women spoke to the Partnership leadership team about fair compensation for families and lived experience working with the Partnership, they said it was an extremely awkward and difficult conversation to have. As women, they felt the social constraints against them that make it even more difficult to advocate and ask for compensation for their time and talent. Reaching out to Illuminate to talk about how they were feeling was a moment the women recognized as the moment “the tables turned a little bit and they felt like equals who were being valued and heard”, crediting Illuminate for acting quickly to strive towards a solution. “We were met with support, kindness, advocacy, ideas, kind words and overall love. This was a turning point for the Family and Caregiver Space,” said Ryder.  

From that moment on efforts were made to demonstrate a real commitment to equity within the Partnership by compensating family voice representatives for their time away from their personal and professional lives, increasing pay for family voice partners to $50 per hour. And while Illuminate is heartened to hear that the process of getting to this milestone in family voice compensation felt positive and swift, Illuminate is also quick to credit philanthropic support and a shared desire among all of the Partnership Leadership Team for this additional investment. It is unique among the collective spaces that Illuminate supports right now, however, honoring the lived experiences of families is not. The Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns Steering Committee was established in 2008 and is a subcommittee of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force. In 2019, the Family Advisory Board (FAB) to the steering committee was formed in order to elevate the voices of families who have experienced, directly or indirectly, the impacts of substance use during pregnancy.

Diane Smith is a mother of three who has a leadership role within this steering committee, as well as the Family Advisory Board. “It is important to involve families with lived experiences as voice partners in program improvements and systemic change because it is the best way for our systems to evolve. When people are trying to identify what works, what doesn’t work, and how we change things for the next family, it is important for families to give input and share their experience,” said Smith.   

The FAB has been instrumental to the understanding of barriers in seeking support, health care, including treatment and other services, and informing of priority-setting within the steering committee to raise awareness and best serve the needs of families impacted by substance use. Stepping into an advocacy role like this one can be hard for parents and caregivers and Smith points to a strong relationship with Hattie Landry, Illuminate strategic initiatives manager for making her experience a positive one. 

“It is important for FAB members to feel like they are vetted into the situation and feel comfortable with the group of individuals before they share their story. Hattie makes us feel comfortable, she shows a lot of empathy as a person and colleague,” said Smith. When asked what decision-makers can do to support family voice partners and what non family-voice partners can do to create spaces where everyone feels valued and heard, Smith reminds organizers to be flexible and meet families where they are at by communicating by phone, email, text or even in person to ease the stress of sharing their story. 

Five Things We've Learned from Collaborating with Family Partners

Illuminate’s work within the Spectrum of Prevention fostering coalitions and networks to ensure continued progress on policy priorities, identify opportunities to protect existing policies that are serving families and enhance policy implementation has expanded over the last several years. The organization now supports eight different collaborative spaces to advance child maltreatment prevention in Colorado, with Landry facilitating discussions with family voice partners across many of these spaces. She gives five quick tips for organizations and collaborative spaces based on what we’ve learned from collaborating with family partners: 

  1. Ask family voice partners what their goals & visions are for systems-level projects.
  2. Involve family voice partners from the very start of projects.
  3. Don’t make assumptions about what families need. Ask questions, listen, learn, adapt, and grow.
  4. Provide equitable compensation to family voice partners for their time and expertise.
  5. Support family voice partners and non family-voice partners to create spaces where everyone is and feels valued and heard, creating equitable decision-making processes. 
The Time is Now to Make Wise Investments on Local and State Levels

The Time is Now to Make Wise Investments on Local and State Levels

In the months and years ahead, Colorado State and local leaders have the opportunity to spend both American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and Opioid Settlement Funds. Being a local-control state is both a blessing and a curse in so many ways when it comes to investing in strengthening families. On one hand it allows local county commissioners and government agencies the flexibility necessary to listen to the children and families in the community and respond to the unique challenges they face. On the other hand, it requires a considerable amount of time and thoughtful coordination to communicate best practices, evidence-informed research, and lessons lived and learned to help county commissioners and State leaders alike make informed investments.

Through our roles as both a convener of collaborative spaces and experts on the prevention of child maltreatment, Illuminate Colorado proudly guided the collaborative development of investment recommendations to aid State and local decision-makers in prioritizing family strengthening to the most of this opportunity. Illuminate led both the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families ( the Partnership) and the Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns (SEN) Steering Committee, a subcommittee of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, and it’s Family Advisory Board, regarding ARPA funds and Opioid Settlement Funds respectively, to identify concrete investments Colorado can make to transform systems and services to build brighter childhoods.  

Investing American Rescue Plan Act Funds to Prevent Child Maltreatment and Promote Family Well-Being

The pandemic has impacted so many different aspects of our communities, and the challenge on local, state, and federal levels is to determine how to prioritize allocation of these ARPA funds. Decision-makers within county and state agencies are having to balance and prioritize everything from physical infrastructure to community infrastructure.

The Partnership members including; Colorado Counties Inc., state and local public health and human services departments, families with lived experiences and Illuminate Colorado, created recommendations for county commissioners to guide investing ARPA funds in early childhood and reap long-term benefits of these investments to build stronger communities and families. 

Wise investment of American Rescue Plan Act funds will go a long way to address pronounced need and opportunities during pregnancy through the first five years of life.

Nobel-prize economist, James Heckman, shows that every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13% per annum return on investment.

The recommendations include an overview of why it is important to invest in the prevention of child maltreatment and promotion of family-well being, data on the pronounced needs and opportunities of families during pregnancy and through the first five years of life, and specific recommendations on how ARPA funds can be leveraged to support families in Colorado.

Setting Up a Framework for Dedicating Opioid Settlement Funds to Children and Families Impacted by Perinatal Substance Use

In the coming months and years, Colorado will also continue to receive funds from settlements and court rulings resulting from numerous lawsuits against drug companies, distributors and pharmacies over their role in the opioid crisis. It’s money that can — and should — be channeled to programs and services that equitably serve all families through prevention and reduction of substance use during pregnancy and provide multigenerational support for families to thrive. 

Investing in tailored substance use disorder treatment and recovery services for families leads to better outcomes, cost savings and stronger communities. 

While pregnancy and motherhood can be a time of increased motivation for substance use disorder treatment and recovery, an absence of tailored services creates a gap between need and access. Substance use disorder treatment that supports the family as a unit has proven to be effective for maintaining maternal recovery and child well-being. Residential treatment programs serving women and children produced nearly $4 in savings for every $1 invested through reductions in child welfare costs, crime, foster care and low birth weight babies.

With both support and leadership from Illuminate, the Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns Steering Committee and its Family Advisory Board which elevates the voices of families who have experienced, directly or indirectly, the impacts of substance use during pregnancy, jointly developed a set of guidelines and recommendations for how opioid settlement funds with a focus on building Colorado’s statewide capacity to: 

  • align efforts, 
  • apply lessons from data, and 
  • recognize and respond to emerging needs.

Share these recommendations with your regional, county and state agency decision-makers.

American Rescue Plan Act Funds Recommendations

Opioid Settlement Funds Recommendations

Reflecting on Progress Toward Prevention During the 2021 Colorado Legislative Session

Reflecting on Progress Toward Prevention During the 2021 Colorado Legislative Session

When families, organizations, communities and policy makers focus on building protective factors, we can effectively prevent child maltreatment and keep families strong during the pandemic and beyond. Last week, state legislators concluded the 2021 legislative session–which included some crucial wins for Colorado families.

Thank you to the Governor, legislators, staffers, advocates and community partners for their work to make the session so successful.

Illuminating the 2021 Colorado Legislative Session

Get a complete summary of progress made toward Illuminating policy during the most recent Colorado Legislative Session.  

Highlights from the 2021 Colorado Legislative Session:

  • Almost all of last year’s budget cuts to critical family strengthening supports were restored including state funding for Family Resource Centers, the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, The Colorado Children’s Trust Fund, evidence-based Home Visiting Programs, the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP), Child Abuse Response and Evaluation Network, the Child Fatality Prevention System, Comprehensive Sexual Education, Family Planning Program,  the Child Care Services and Substance Use Disorder Treatment Pilot Program, and the High Risk Pregnant Women Program.

  • The passage of HB21-1311 was a big win for family economic security. HB21-1311, Income Tax, expands the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and funds the Colorado Child Tax Credit (CTC), among numerous other provisions. The EITC and CTC are two of the most well-researched mechanisms for reducing childhood poverty. Refundable state EITCs are documented to reduce foster care entry rates, child maltreatment, and rates of abusive head trauma.

  • The passage of both SB21-073 and SB21-088 made important progress toward preventing and appropriately responding to child sexual abuse. SB21-073 removes the statute of limitations and other restrictions on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct, allowing child and adult survivors time to heal so that they may access the civil legal system and monetary resources to thrive into adulthood after surviving sexual abuse. SB21-088 creates a new civil cause of action for any person sexually abused in Colorado while participating in a youth program as a child, ensuring that all survivors of child sexual abuse, including those who have delayed disclosing abuse into adulthood, have the opportunity to hold culpable and complicit individuals and organizations accountable.

The Work Continues
Advancing systemic improvements and policy change requires year-long collaboration. Below are just a few areas that require immediate attention to advance the 2021 Illuminating Agenda. We will all need to:   

  • Ensure Colorado makes practical investments in child maltreatment prevention using the billions of dollars the state will be receiving from the 2021 American Rescue Plan
  • Ensure Colorado makes practical investments in tailored, specialized services for families impacted by substance use using opioid settlement funds at the state and local level
  • Continue to advocate for family economic security and family friendly work policies, including livable wages for Colorado families.
  • Continue to prioritize resources for adult education about child sexual abuse prevention. 
  • Advocate federally:
    • For increased investments in proven child maltreatment prevention programs and services through MIECHV, CBCAP, and CAPTA
    • To advance Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) research, prevention, and services at the federal level through the FASD Respect Act

 

Review the 2021 Policy Agenda

Download the complete 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda, highlighting specific protective factors each policy solution builds in Colorado.

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Bills Supporting Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Cross the Finish Line in Colorado

Bills Supporting Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Cross the Finish Line in Colorado

All children deserve the opportunity to live, learn, grow, and play in safety. Policies that support prevention strategies related to child sexual abuse are critical in order to support the health and safety of future generations. In 2020 alone, a year when reports of child maltreatment were dramatically down as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine and stay-at-home orders, over 1,000 children were substantiated as victims of child sexual abuse through the child welfare system in Colorado. (1) However, Colorado has made some important strides in 2021. 

As the Colorado Legislative Session wraps up, bills focused on child sexual abuse prevention and response make their way across the finish line.

Senate Bill 21-073, Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault, removes the statute of limitations and other restrictions on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct, including derivative claims and claims brought against a person or entity that is not the perpetrator of the sexual misconduct. Eliminating the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault allows child and adult survivors time to heal so that they may access the civil legal system and monetary resources to thrive into adulthood after surviving sexual abuse.

→ SB21-73 was signed by Governor Polis on April 15th, 2021.

Senate Bill 21-088, the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, creates a new civil cause of action for any person sexually abused in Colorado while participating in a youth program as a child. The cause of action applies retroactively and victims whose assault occurred between January 1, 1960 and January 1, 2022 may bring a cause of action before January 1, 2025. The bill ensures that all victims of child sexual abuse, including victims who have delayed disclosing the abuse they experienced into adulthood, the opportunity to hold responsible culpable and complicit individuals and organizations accountable. 

→ SB21-88 passed both the Senate and House.

SB21-017, Sexual Contact By An Educator, updates hiring practices and ongoing duties of both charter schools and public schools to support information sharing with the Department of Education regarding whether a potential hiree or previous employee has been dismissed by or has resigned from a school as a result of an allegation of unlawful sexual behavior or an allegation of a sexual act involving a student who is 18 years of age or older. The bill additionally creates a class 1 misdemeanor, abuse of public trust by an educator, for limited and specific cases of educator sexual contact with students over the age of 18. 

→ SB21-17 passed both the Senate and House.

House Bill 21-1320, Sunset Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB), authorizes the SOMB to continue, unchanged, until September 1, 2023. A stakeholder process is anticipated in the coming year to create a bill for the next legislative session. As changes are considered to the SOMB, Illuminate Colorado encourages the inclusion of mandatory standards, comprehensive oversight, and victim input throughout the process. 

HB21-1320 passed both the House and Senate.

Adults are responsible for creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where children can grow up and reach their full health and life potential. It is possible to ensure that every child, in every community, never experiences sexual abuse if prevention strategies are thoughtfully incorporated into all aspects of society by governments, businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and individuals.

Thank you to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and many survivors, for leading the efforts on SB21-073 and SB21-088.

Citations

(1) Colorado Department of Human Services, Types of Allegations of Maltreatment Report Time Period: January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020, Retrieved from CDHSDataMatters.org on May 18, 2021 https://rom.socwel.ku.edu/CO_Public/Login.aspx?H=7152.

Review the 2021 Policy Agenda

Download the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda.

Review the Illuminate Colorado Bill Tracker to find the status of other bills this session related to strengthening families and tune in next week for a full recap of the 2021 Legislative session and the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda.

Leveraging the American Rescue Plan Act to Invest in Colorado’s Future

Leveraging the American Rescue Plan Act to Invest in Colorado’s Future

Colorado has reached another milestone in building towards COVID-19 recovery for families. Building on the roughly $800 million of state stimulus funds already already invested in Colorado’s COVID recovery, last week Governor Jared Polis, legislative leadership, members of the Joint Budget Committee, members of Colorado’s federal delegation, and State Treasurer Dave Young announced how the state will use Colorado’s $3.8 billion allocation of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)

Our future workforce, innovators, leaders and community members can only reach their full potential through thoughtful development and investment in services and policies that strengthen families and protect children. Given the unprecedented challenges the pandemic has inflicted on Colorado families, there is an urgent need for services and supports made possible by federal, state, and local investments. Access to these services and supports can be instrumental in lowering parent and caregiver stress and incidences of child abuse by providing families the support they need before harm occurs. It is essential for elected officials and policy makers–at every level–to understand how to prevent child maltreatment and listen to parents in every community.

During the last remaining days of this legislative session, the state will work to spend $2 billion of the state’s total $3.8 billion in federal funds. Looking further ahead, the remaining $1.8 billion in federal funds will be held for spending next legislative session, after an interim stakeholder process designed to study changing economic needs over the coming months.

Policymakers and advocates like Illuminate have been hard at work to inform how those funds can be best leveraged for Colorado families. 

The state’s spending plan introduced last week prioritizes services and concrete supports to strengthen family economic security and promote family health and well-being. In addition to COVID pandemic response, the plan includes:

  • Between $400-$550 million for affordable housing and homeownership efforts
  • Between $400-$550 million for mental and behavioral health programs 
  • Approximately $200 million for workforce development and education 
  • Approximately $817 million for economic recovery and relief
  • Between $404- $414 million for transportation and infrastructure, and parks and agriculture 

By investing in services and supports to provide families the support they need before harm occurs, Colorado is strengthening the foundation for families and communities to thrive.

Review the 2021 Policy Agenda

Download the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda.

Especially as the legislative session draws to a close, use the Illuminate Colorado Bill Tracker to stay up to date on the progression of bills this session related to strengthening families.

"

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Stay up to date on policy that prevents child maltreatment and the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda by subscribing to Illuminate’s blog.

Removing Barriers to Public Opportunities

Removing Barriers to Public Opportunities

For all families and communities to thrive, state and local officials must utilize an inclusive approach to family economic security as we push toward a post-pandemic Colorado. Unfortunately, current state law requires verification of legal presence when determining eligibility for public benefits. This prevents undocumented entrepreneurs from holding a business license that would allow them to participate fully in our economy. These businesses would create jobs and increase access to services like child care. Colorado families are struggling to find affordable and safe licensed child care, yet undocumented immigrants have been unable to access licensed jobs for 15 years. Illuminate Colorado is proud to be a member of a statewide coalition working to advance policies to remove barriers to public opportunities and boost family economic security. 

Senate Bill 21-199 Remove Barriers to Certain Public Opportunities is a crucial step for our state to open the door for immigrants to apply for occupational and commercial licenses in Colorado, opportunities to apply for grants, contracts and loans, as well as access to basic public support services at the state and local level if funds are available. The bill gives local communities the authority to offer more resources to our immigrant and undocumented neighbors. While it does not mandate access to resources, it paves the way for cities and counties who have expressed interest in providing licensing, grants, and support services to their immigrant residents. 

If passed, Senate Bill 21-199 will remove barriers for undocumented Coloradans:

  • Provide occupational and commercial licenses in Colorado.
  • Opportunities to apply for grants, contracts, and loans. 
  • Access to basic public support services at the state and local level if funds are available.
  • Prohibit the use of immigration status as an eligibility factor in issuing benefits across the state.  

Illuminate Colorado supports SB21-199, as hurdles to family financial security, public benefits, and child care must be overcome to secure a foundation for families and communities to thrive.

SB21-199 passed the House State, Civics, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee May 27th and is moving on to House Appropriations. Thank you to the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition for leading these advocacy efforts. 

 

Review the 2021 Policy Agenda

Download the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda.

Especially as the legislative session draws to a close, use the Illuminate Colorado Bill Tracker to stay up to date on the progression of bills this session related to strengthening families.

"

Subscribe

Stay up to date on policy that prevents child maltreatment and the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda by subscribing to Illuminate’s blog.

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