As a therapist, I was taught that every individual is an expert in their own life. While I believe this to be true, I do not always see it reflected in the systems we have created that are intended to serve individuals.
Expertise is a word often used to describe those deemed professionals, but it is limited in that it fails to recognize those for whom there needn’t be a “professional” designation. It also fails to recognize and harness the incredible power, brilliance, and deep insight of those directly impacted by our social service systems – like child welfare. If we are truly going to focus on supporting the unique, individual needs of children and families within the child welfare sector, we must also listen to their voices and lived experiences as experts.
Last November, Tennyson officially launched a Family Advisory Council. Council members’ paths have touched the child welfare system in a variety of ways: adoption, raising grandchildren, living in and transitioning out of foster care, and parenting in isolation. The Council’s purpose is to invite and hear the unique and diverse perspectives of these individuals and utilize their wealth of knowledge and range of experiences to become better at doing what’s best for kids and families (one of Tennyson’s values). Each member brings expertise and deep, comprehensive knowledge from their life experience of what has worked, what is supportive, and where the system let them down. They share our vision of reimagining child welfare as a system of child and family wellbeing in Colorado and beyond.
The Council aims to advise and provide direct guidance to Tennyson in its decision-making. Tennyson has been in business for 116 years, but staff often don’t know what it’s like to truly walk in the shoes of the people we serve. We try our best to make strategic, helpful moves to advance our mission, but when we embrace humility and acknowledge we don’t know it all, so much more becomes possible.
Intentional listening and partnership with our Council members propels opportunities to close gaps, address real strengths and needs, and become a more useful agency to the people we serve.
As Tennyson positions itself to become a louder advocate and change-maker for children and families in Colorado and beyond, it is critical that we amplify the voices and ideas of those most directly impacted. And there is no shortage of energy from our Council members, who are truly leaders in this charge. All members, each for their own individual reasons, joined because they share a purpose of improving the lives of all children and families, especially those most marginalized.
Over the next few months, Council members will be learning, exploring, listening, and questioning the changes coming to child welfare through the implementation of Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) legislation. FFPSA offers us all a real opportunity for meaningful and thoughtful change.
If we stretch our definition of expertise and create spaces where youth and families are viewed as experts, we can build a better, smarter, more responsive system for families – by families. I encourage you to join me in listening to and elevating these voices of expertise.
Author: Claire Morrow, County Partner Manager