It’s difficult to be the “new kid” in town. When I first started with Voices for Children in February, not only was I brand new to Nebraska, but I was also new to the policy advocacy arena. Granted, I came in with child welfare experience—both as a former case manager and as attorney ad litem legal intern—but I have to admit that I did not know what to expect from my first conference.
Fortunately it was hosted by SPARC.
The State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) is a national resource center formed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative to promote comprehensive child welfare reform. Through SPARC, advocates from across the country are given technical assistance to push for legislative and policy changes focused on preventing child maltreatment, promoting family stability, and when necessary, helping children achieve permanency in out of home care.
Early Monday morning, I headed out of Omaha to Washington D.C. for the day-long convening of the SPARC Peer Learning Network and had the opportunity to meet with advocates from several states who shared their knowledge and experience about advocating on specific child welfare reform initiatives. It was interesting, rewarding (and dare I say FUN?) “nerding-out” about child welfare policy reform with a room full of people who were doing the same.
After the introductions and icebreakers, we discussed communication strategies and challenges, and each participant shared something unique about what’s working in child welfare advocacy in his or her home state. While partners discussed how the court and other traditional stakeholders are becoming more invested in child welfare reform in their states, I was able to highlight the contribution of Project Everlast, an initiative led by former foster youth who advocate for current and future youth in care. After the breakout sessions, we all came back together and decided on next steps for the SPARC community as a whole. I am happy to say that I left the conference with more ideas that when I’d arrived.
Did I mention I flew back to Omaha Tuesday night?
Thanks to SPARC, not only do I have access to national resources, technical assistance and 17 other state partners with whom I can share ideas and discuss strategies, I can serve as a resource for the Peer Learning Network as well.