Ringing in the New Year with Hope

January 6, 2020
A group of happy children's in silhouette facing the sunrise.

By Elizabeth Darling, Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF)

For many, “Ringing in the New Year” inspires visions of fireworks, midnight toasts, parades and festive celebrations across the globe. Traditionally, the flip of the calendar from one year to the next is a time for resolutions, renewal, a time to reset and recalibrate, a time for hope...hope that something, someone, some circumstance will change for the better.

I once heard someone refer to the Department of Health and Human Services as the “do-good agency.” In bureaucratic terms, the Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), a division within the Administration on Children and Families (ACF) at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), oversees major federal programs that provide financial assistance for the effective delivery of human services, research and demonstration activities, and training, technical assistance and information dissemination.

This description might explain what we do, but it does little to address why we do it…why we are the “do-good agency.” I suggest that we are in the business of providing HOPE.

As the country welcomes the promise of another new year, I’d like to take a moment to highlight ACYF’s two Bureaus - the Children’s Bureau and the Family and Youth Services Bureau – each of which support states, tribes, faith-based and community organizations, academic institutions, and others who provide critical, time-sensitive services to help children, youth and families find safety, healing and hope in the midst of trauma.

The Children’s Bureau provides support and guidance to prevent child abuse and neglect, protect children when abuse or neglect has occurred and ensure that every child and youth has a permanent family or family connection. New emphasis on primary prevention points to the importance of addressing systemic or root causes of family disruption with a goal of reducing out-of-home placements, and keeping families safely together when possible.

The three programs in the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) include the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, which supports short-term shelter needs, maternity group homes, transitional living shelters, street outreach to homeless youth, and the National Runaway Safeline. The Family Violence Prevention and Services Program supports emergency shelters and supportive services for victims of domestic violence and their children, and funds the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The third program is Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention that supports state and local programs which empower youth to make healthy decisions, optimizing opportunities for a successful transition to adulthood.

We know at ACF – regardless of the federal acronym – that lives are changed one person, one family at a time and that can only happen through relationships at the neighborhood level. Government serves a purpose, but government cannot replace that one-on-one connection that can provide hope and healing in the life of a child, a struggling youth, or a parent who is overwhelmed by loss, violence, homelessness, addiction, or a myriad of other challenges.

We understand that government policies often create unintentional barriers to “doing good.” ACF is addressing some of these barriers by partnering across programs within HHS and with other federal agencies. Over the course of 2020, this blog will feature some of these efforts.

As is often said in the field of emergency management, all disasters are local, and the time to exchange business cards is not after the disaster. With this philosophy in mind, my hope is that communities hear the clarion call to move toward a whole child, a whole family approach. Many communities have already begun this intentional shift in service delivery by building multi-disciplinary, community-based, trauma-informed, systems of care that include primary, behavioral, and mental health care providers, substance abuse treatment, faith and community-based organizations, educational systems, government services, philanthropic entities, and all who are in the business of “doing good.”

We look forward to highlighting state and local efforts to re-envision service delivery through systems change as together we move closer to “doing good,” not just doing good enough.