United Family Advocates is a bipartisan coalition of child and family advocates who seek policy solutions to create a more compassionate and just child welfare system focused on supporting rather than separating families. We bring together advocates from across the political spectrum who have divergent views on many issues, but are united by our commitment to a future in which children and families find safety and support from community investment rather than government intervention.
We are driven by an understanding that family separation is an extraordinary trauma that the child welfare system inflicts all too often. Although devastating stories of child abuse make headlines, these stories do not represent typical child welfare cases, nor do they represent typical reasons for family separation. Again and again, we see families separated for issues that are called neglect but are really poverty. Our top priority is ending the confusion of poverty and neglect. We worked with Rep. Gwen Moore to propose the Family Poverty is Not Child Neglect Act (HR 6233 of 2019), which prevents agencies from separating families for conditions relating to poverty, instead requiring that families be provided material assistance to stay together. This language was incorporated into the pending Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (HR 485 of 2021).
In addition, we seek to reform child protection investigation policies and practices that cause trauma to children and families and to provide fair checks and balances for decisions that have life-long consequences for children. We seek to reform mandated reporting practices that flood hotlines with false and frivolous reports, starting with replacing anonymous with confidential hotline reporting. We are also working to stop hidden foster care, family separations that are mislabeled as "voluntary," in which agencies compel the separation of parents and children without affording families access to judicial oversight. We seek to reform child abuse registries that operate as employment and licensing blacklists, doubling down on the economic hardship of families and children living in poverty. Finally, we call for an overhaul of the Adoption and Safe Families Act to prevent unnecessary family separation and end harmful presumptions that deprive children of lifelong connections to their own families.
OUR CORE VALUES
Children Belong with Family. Family separation is a traumatic experience that causes lifelong consequences for children, parents, and communities. It is an intervention that must be used extremely sparingly and only when no feasible alternatives exist to protect children from immediate harm if they remain with their parents or caregivers. The creation of feasible alternatives to family separation, and support for children’s lifelong familial relationships when separation becomes essential, are moral imperatives.
Common Ground. As we work toward lasting change in entrenched systems that harm children and families, we value open dialogue and cooperation across the political spectrum. We strive to embody respect, understanding and appreciation for the values, diverse experiences, and commitments of our members, partners, and allies even if we disagree. We value the relationships that we are building through our work.
Communities Should Design their Own Solutions. Child welfare systems offer services that fail to match the identified needs of children, families and communities. Services have too often been designed to meet the needs and resources of service providers, not the needs and resources of communities. This has led to a devastating number of families separated for poverty when concrete, material support could have kept them together. We urge investment that invites communities to design their own solutions to the real priority needs of children and families.
Listening and Valuing the Experiences of Those Directly Impacted. The child welfare system must hear, elevate, and amplify the voices of those with direct personal experience with its interventions. Parents and children who have experienced child welfare intervention understand its impact most powerfully. As advocates for families, some with lived experience and many not, we recognize the imperative to listen to and heed many voices of directly affected parents and children as we do this work.
Recognizing Disproportional Impact and Reducing Harm. As we recognize the harm family separation causes, we work to reduce such harm, understanding that the child welfare system has imposed disproportionate, severe and enduring harms of the child welfare system to poor, minority, and marginalized families, with harms falling especially hard on Black and Indigenous communities. We commit to using our resources and experience as advocates to support the voices, experiences, and leadership of all families and communities harmed by the abuses of the child welfare system.
The Child Welfare System Is More Appropriately Understood as the Family Regulation System. Because the system routinely fails to advance child wellbeing, and frequently undermines child wellbeing by focusing its resources on traumatic, harmful interventions, we believe that the term “family regulation system,” better describes the system that we work to change. Nevertheless, because this understanding is not yet broadly understood, we continue to use the term child welfare on this website as we look forward to a time when more policymakers across the political spectrum understand the system as we do.
united family advocates steering committee
Michael Bowman, President, ALEC Action
Andrew Brown, Associate Vice President of Policy, Texas Public Policy Foundation
Kathleen Creamer, Managing Attorney, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Will Estrada, President, Parental Rights.org &Parental Rights Foundation
Darice Good, Law Office of Darice Good
Christine Gottlieb, Adjunct Professor of Clinical Law,and Co-Director, Family Defense Clinic, New York University School of Law
Martin Guggenheim, Emeritus Professor, New York University School of Law
April Lee, Director of Client Voice, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
James Mason, Vice President of Litigation and Development, Home School Legal Defense Association
Nora McCarthy, founder, NYC Family Policy Project
Maggie McKneely, Federal Relations Liaison, Home SchoolLegal Defense Association
David Meyers, COO, Dependency Legal Services
Michael Ramey, Executive Director, ParentalRights.Org
Anjana Samant, Senior Staff Attorney, Women’s RightsProject, ACLU
Johana Scot, Executive Director, Parent Guidance Center,Inc.
Amelia Watson, Managing Attorney, Washington State Officeof Public Defense
Richard Wexler, Executive Director, National Coalitionfor Child Protection Reform
Ruth Ann White, Executive Director, National Center forHousing and Child Welfare