Archives June 2020

Photo of Ty Williams, Project Coordinator for the Community Education Group

People Worth Knowing: Ty Williams

Photo of Ty Williams, Project Coordinator for the Community Education Group
Ty Williams
Project Coordinator
Community Education Group

This week’s #PeopleWorthKnowing interview features CEG’s own Ty Williams.

Ty has been with CEG since March 2020, and serves as our Project Coordinator for our People Worth Knowing video series, and will be spearheading CEG’s forthcoming Trans Health series.

Ty will also serve as the Host and Moderator for CEG’s first ever YouTube Live event, Learning Our Roots: A Journey Through Transmasculinity, on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 at 6:00 PM Eastern

In addition to his work at CEG, Ty also serves as the Director of Operations at FLUX and on the Leadership Council at Black Transmen, Inc., and is also a brother of the Alpha Omega Kappa Incorporated fraternity, a fraternity for Transmasculine and Transmen.

Ty’s first blog post – Trans People Are Black People, Too – debuted, last week, over at CEG’s Community Perspectives blog, where he will be regularly featured as one of our bloggers.

Ty is a Trans* rights activist, motivational speaker, advocacy educator, organizer, chef, and violist.

You can follow Ty on his Facebook Page and Instagram by clicking on their respective icons.

Learning Our Roots – A Facebook Live Event – Tonight @ 6:00 PM EST

Join Host, Ty Williams (Project Coordinator, CEG) as he moderates CEG’s first ever YouTube Live event:

Learning Our Roots: A Journey Through Black Transmasculinity

Ty will be joined by four of the most respected voices in the Black Transmasculine community as they discuss one of the most pressing issues facing Black Transmasculine men:

“To whom do Black Transmaculine men turn, when looking for guidance and leadership?”

Joining Ty are the following panelists:


Jevon Martin
Founder & Executive Director
Princess Janae Place

Jevon Martin, Founder and Executive Director of the Princess Janae Place.

For over 20 years Jevon Martin has been a mentor, educator, advocate and a house father in the Ballroom Community. Jevon started his transition in 2000 at Callen Lorde in NYC. One of his strong focuses is being homelessness within the TLGBQI+ population.

Jevon presently serves as the Founder & CEO of Princess Janae Place, which he founded in 2015. Princess Janae Place is a referral organization for TLGBQI+ services with emphasis on the trans homeless population. Those services include medical, legal, mental health and recreational services.

He’s a proud brother of the 1st Transmen fraternity Theta Beta Chi where he has helped build brotherhood among Black Transmen in New York City, and around the country. He has advocated in the fight to change legislation for Marriage Equality & GENDA in New York.


Reverend Louis Mitchell
Operations Director
Ingersoll Gender Center

The Reverend Louis Mitchell, Operations Director at the Ingersoll Gender Center.

Rev. Louis Mitchell is a pioneering “intentional man”. Known around the country and abroad as an elder, advocate, trainer, teacher, student, minister, parent and friend. He is a proud father to his daughter, Kahlo, and co-parent with her mother, Krysia L. Villon.

Rev. Mitchell is a co-founder, former Executive Director and current Board member of Transfaith. He brings his own learned experiences, a broad range of resources, theories and studies, to offer a fresh, “on the ground”, open-hearted, holistic strategy to the work of individual and community healing, intersectional diversity planning and commitment to personal and community agency and solvency. He is a confirmed believer in the restorative power of truth telling in the voices of those whose stories are often told about them rather than with them. Engaging and witty, he brings his whole self to each endeavor and appreciates the opportunity to guide and witness growth and wholeness!


Kylar Broadus, Esquire
Founder & Executive Director
Trans People of Color Coalition

Kylar Broadus, Esquire, Founder & Executive Director of the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC).

Kylar W. Broadus is a Black trans man who has been a pioneer in the movement as an attorney, long-time activist, public speaker, author, and professor.

Broadus is known worldwide for his avant-garde work in the LGBT and Trans movements. He was just awarded the Trans Trailblazer Award by the LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles and issued a Proclamation by the City Attorney’s Office of Los Angeles on March 28, 2019.

In 2018 the Gentlemen’s Foundation of Atlanta, he was awarded the 2018 Gentleman of Excellence Award. Mastercard, in 2018, featured Broadus for Pride Month. He was recognized by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office of King’s County in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018, for his contributions to the legal field. In 2017 Liberty Mutual honored him at the GLAAD Awards for his 30 years contribution to the movement. Also, in 2017, he was awarded a Certificate of Legal Excellence by the City of New York, County of Kings, District Attorney’s Office.  The Advocate recognized Broadus as one of “25 Legal Advocates Fighting for Trans Rights.”

He is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), run by Brenden Watts.  Broadus was honored to stand with President Obama while signing the Executive Order adding protections for millions of workers in 2014. In 2012, he was the first trans person to testify before the United States Senate for employment protection.

Kylar serves on lots of boards and is a servant leader. He works with many causes beyond the LGBTQ community and believes in human and civil rights for all human beings.


Carter Brown, Founder & Executive Director of Black Transmen, Inc.

Carter Brown is the Founder and National Director of Black Transmen, Inc. the first national nonprofit organization founded for the empowerment, advocacy, and equality for black transmen. Brown, of Dallas, Texas studied Psychology and Journalism at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas.

Brown was compelled to help birth and build the organization, Black Transmen Inc. from the support and information he saw lacking in his own trans experience, versus that of other ethnicities and of the LGBT community. It is a known and statistical fact that societal challenges for an African American male exist. It is also well known that negative stereotypes of Black men have overhang stagnantly for generations. Brown wants to make his contribution to ending the cycle and diminishing the stereotypes by exposing the world to another face of the Black man.

Carter Brown is dedicated to making change in the lives of the many men of his likeness, black transmen. By helping to build stronger men, it will inevitably build stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger society.

Brown’s most recent accomplishments include celebrating the 8th year of the only National Black Trans Advocacy conference and also testifying before U.S. Congress in support of the Equality Act, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for transgender people.


Check out our promotional images, below, and please tune in on June 30th

The Fight for Our Collective Liberation

Alphonso David
President
Human Rights Campaign
(Photo Credit: Kevin Wolf/AP Images)

Guest Blog By: Alphonso David
(Reprinted with permission from The Root)

When black people and our allies take to the streets tonight in protest—as we have on previous nights past and as we will on nights to come—we will be calling for justice. Justice for our community means justice for George Floyd. Justice for our community means justice for Breonna Taylor. And justice for our community means justice for Brianna “BB” Hill, because when we declare Black Lives Matter, we also mean Black Trans Lives Matter.

You are not alone if you do not know the name Brianna “BB” Hill, but you should. She was a black transgender woman killed months before George Floyd’s horrific murder sent thousands into the street in righteous protest.

A community leader in Kansas City, where BB lived, said of BB, “When BB was in the room, there was no mistake.” She was a beloved member of the Dior Family in the local ballroom scene, “a firecracker,” and a passionate fan of Kansas City football. And like so many black transgender women trying to survive in a system structured against them at every turn, BB grappled with homelessness and poverty.

On May 24, 2019, two Kansas City police officers assaulted BB. In a video recorded by a concerned bystander, Officer Matthew Brummett slams her face to the sidewalk before dropping his knee onto her neck and right shoulder as she cries out in pain. In spite of the video, it took a year for charges to be brought against the officers.

But for BB, it was too late. On October 26, 2019, BB was shot and killed. She was one of at least 26 transgender and gender nonconforming people killed in the United States in 2019, the majority of whom were Black transgender women.

Since 2013, when the Human Rights Campaign began tracking this data, we have seen at least 172 transgender and gender nonconforming people violently killed in the United States. Seventy-three percent of these individuals were black. Since March 28 of this year alone, we have seen seven violent deaths of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States, constituting the second-highest spike the Human Rights Campaign has ever tracked. This horrific spike in violence is disturbing and particularly so, given that they all occurred during a period of quarantine and curfew. Just last week, Tony McDade, a black transgender man in Florida, was shot by the police.

These numbers are more than just statistics. Behind these numbers are real people who left behind loved ones and dreams for the future. Tragically, there are more deaths we don’t know because these deaths are all too often unreported due to a variety of factors, including inaccuracy and indifference by law enforcement, the media and the victim’s family.

In this moment of reckoning, as so many across the nation are demanding an end to white supremacy and the toxic complicity and indifference it feeds off of, we must remember that when we declare Black Lives Matter, we also mean Black Trans Lives. No person going forward can be indifferent to the cost of our racist systems on the black minds and bodies that are brutalized or the black lives that are shattered every day. And this challenge to confront indifference includes, by necessity, our black transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming siblings.

It is a shameful fact that for too long the LGBTQ movement has not done enough to protect, empower and listen to the transgender community—particularly those who are black and brown. Last year, a few weeks after I joined the Human Rights Campaign and before COVID-19 shut down much of the country, I embarked on a listening tour to hear directly from community leaders. Trans leaders of color told me of the violence, harassment, discrimination and utter indifference they faced. They told me how they had been treated as disposable by those who were supposed to be protecting their interests. These advocates made it clear that both our movement and our nation had failed them.

This heartbreaking reality is compounded by the fact that our movement simply would not exist as we know it without transgender and gender non-conforming women of color. It was Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and countless others who refused to bow before police brutality and oppression at Stonewall and changed our nation forever in the process.

The fight for liberation has always required all of us. Bayard Rustin, a close collaborator of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the March on Washington and was a key figure in the civil rights movement. Pauli Murray, a black gender-nonconforming legal and spiritual leader, laid the intellectual groundwork that brought us that much closer to gender justice. The Black Lives Matter movement was established by leaders like Alicia Garza and Charlene Carruthers whose transformative leadership was founded in a black, queer, feminist praxis. And in this moment of crisis, there has been so much healing and hope brought by the leadership of two transgender black leaders in Minneapolis—City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and City Council member Phillipe Cunningham. Jenkins and Cunningham were the first and remain the only openly transgender black leaders serving elected public offices in the U.S.

The fight for liberation must go on with all of us together. As we mourn George and BB and Breonna and and Tony and Ahmaud and Nina and all the black victims of violence known and unknown, we carry them with us. We may come to the struggle from different backgrounds and carry different experiences with us—but our fight for liberation is one and the same. We are the beloved community we need. Their lives mattered. Black Trans Lives Matter. And we must never give up or be divided on these truths.

Alphonso David is president of the Human Rights Campaign. Alphonso is an accomplished and nationally recognized LGBTQ civil rights lawyer and advocate. He’s the first civil rights lawyer, the first black man and first person of color to serve as president of HRC in the organization’s 40-year history.

You can find out more about the Human Rights Campaign by clicking on their logo, above, or on the following social media icons.

Disclaimer: Blog posts on CEG’s Community Perspectives blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Education Group, its grantors, its corporate sponsors, or its organizational partners, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby each author serves to promote open, honest discussion about issues specific to their personal expertise, lived experience, and perspective. Please note that some of the content on Community Perspectives may be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed by the author.

Photo of protestors celebrating the life of Tony McDade

Trans People Are Black People, Too

Photo of Ty Williams, Project Coordinator for the Community Education Group
Ty Williams
Project Coordinator
Community Education Group

By: Ty Williams

“Tony McDade could have been me,” is all I keep thinking.

I still have not processed exactly what is happening in America, in 2020. For the last two weeks, I’ve watched a country that is supposed to be so free – so liberal – continually make excuses for hate, condone bigoted behavior, and allow police to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

Just like the rest of the world, I watched the fucked up video of a coward kneeling on an unarmed BLACK MAN.  No bystanders could legally help George Floyd, and the officers that should have intervened just watched. It reminded me, again, that I could have been George.

So, George was murdered on May 25th, 2020, and the world starts to riot.

Tony McDade was murdered two days after, on May 27th, 2020, was misgendered as “black woman,” and yet, nothing.

Even after gaining national recognition from our former President, who acknowledged Tony’s death, I still hear only two names: Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Let’s be clear: Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders are not less important than Tony’s.

Just like Eric Garner…

Just like Oscar Grant…

Just like so many other Black individuals killed by the police.

I feel as though, when it comes to murders of LGBTQ individuals, we are often left out of the conversation.

Does the movement that is upon us, now – Black Lives Matter – require us to sacrifice our LGBTQ identities in order to support the greater call?

Why is it that the only two names you hear are George and Breonna?

I can tell you why: they are Cisgender individuals.

Even though we hate to admit it, even as black people, we pick and choose which black folx we want to support and care about.

We don’t want to talk about cultural bias, because, if we do, then we’re airing our dirty laundry.

Newsflash:

Our dirty laundry has been aired.

We have to do better.

You can’t scream, “Black lives matter,” and not mention that it was founded by members of the LGBTQ community.

But, that’s for another day.  Generational curses are real, and we, as black folx, have to do better at holding ourselves accountable.

We all should be saying, “George Floyd,” after being called to “Say His Name!”

We should all be saying. “Tony McDade,” after being called to “Say His Name!”

It is this lack of recognition that has made me very conflicted to go out and protest.

Here’s why:

What we do know from the Facebook video is that Tony was involved in an altercation, the day before his death. He stated that, when he saw the guys, again, he was going to, “…get them.”

See, there’s an old saying in the hood: “You live by the streets; you die by the streets.”

What many don’t know is that I spoke with Tony, a week before the Facebook incident – a week before Tony’s death.  He told me his story about how he’d just gotten out of prison, back in January. He was reaching out on how to transition. Little did I know, that would be the first and last conversation I would have with Tony.

May 29th, 2020 is a day that will largely remain a mystery, and it’s something of a blur:

Media outlets reported that there was a police shooting involving a woman. The woman was a suspect in a stabbing. It took two days to realize that the woman was not a woman, but my brother, Tony McDade.

The first thing that came to my mind was, “If the media had him gendered properly, as male, would we have known it was Tony, sooner?”

Then it’s the next question: “Was he shot, because he was a suspect and a Black man, or because he gave police a reason?”

See, I know that, even if you do everything right, you still can be shot for being a Black man in America.

After I found out it was Tony, it just sparked something in me. Like…I’ve been advocating for transmen, for a few years now. I always a Black man, first; Trans, second!  Toni just confirmed what I always felt – just like Black Cis-men, Black Transmen fall victim to the same systematic oppression bullshit.

The first thing the media did was bring up Tony’s police record, just as they do with so-called “thugs” (AKA – “Black men”).  They will bring up anything negative to negate the fact that an office decided to discharge their weapon with no warning.  Florida law, of course, protects officers involved in shootings from having their names released.

I know that, when I walk I out my door, every day, the world sees a Black man, first. So, I know I could be cashing a so-called bad check, and yelling out, “I’m trans!  I can’t breathe!” damn sure isn’t going save me.

I also feel that it’s my responsibility to make sure my brother’s name is remembered and when people yell, “Black Lives Matter,” they remember Tony McDade.

Remember, Trans people are Black too.

Tony’s murder sparked so many feelings and emotions.

Feelings of knowing that I lost someone I feel as though I let down; a person who was crying out for help, but just couldn’t reach in time. The thought that I could’ve been Tony keeps popping in my head.  I know how and what it feels like to be judged.

It wasn’t until the last couple of years of my transition that I learned how to navigate as a black man. I hate how systems have placed restrictions on us.  If I say how I feel, I have to be careful because I have male privilege, but don’t be smarter than the white man.  If I don’t speak up, I’m selling out and all these other things.

I mean, where did all these rules come from?  I’m just trying to make it back home.

I don’t want to negate the fact that another life was lost, and another black man is gone too soon.

 I can’t help but to think about again the similarities Black Transmen have with Black cis men. Yet, we are all yelling, “Black Lives Matter.”

The only compromise I could come to was to have moment of silence and protest in Tony’s name on June 6th, 2020 – the date of Tony’s funeral.

It wasn’t until I was out on the B in Washington, DC, on Black Lives Matter Plaza, where I had time to pause, look around, and see all the beautiful people coming together – all races, ages, and etc.

Not one vendor or Cis person mentioned Tony McDade. It just amazes me.

I don’t know if I’m more taken aback because Tony is a Transman, or because Tony wasn’t even considered a factor because of his background and for being Trans.

Why am stuck?  It shouldn’t be so hard to write and say how I feel, and yet…this is .

As I continue to process how I have to navigate being safe in America, I find out that my brother, Tony McDade, is gunned down by the damn police.

My fear has become reality:

A Black Transman has been killed by the police and no one gives a damn.

I said what I said.

Ty Williams is the Project Coordinator for the Community Education Group. You can follow him on his Facebook Page and Instagram by clicking on their respective icons.

CEG is a national organization that offers local programs and policy solutions.

We serving diverse populations, prioritizing indigenous populations and populations in need

CEG’s work includes Direct Service programs, Policy work, and Capacity Building

Disclaimer: Blog posts on CEG’s Community Perspectives blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Education Group, its grantors, its corporate sponsors, or its organizational partners, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby each author serves to promote open, honest discussion about issues specific to their personal expertise, lived experience, and perspective. Please note that some of the content on Community Perspectives may be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed by the author.

So, I’ve Been Thinking… Special Video Edition – June 2020

A. Toni Young
Founder & Executive Director
Community Education Group

(Below is a transcription of this month’s special video edition of Toni’s, “So, I’ve Been Thinking…” segment in CEG’s monthly newsletter)

So, I’ve been thinking…

I’ve been thinking that systemic change is not going to be easy.

I was talking to a friend of mine, the other day – and my mentor – and he asked if I could’ve imagined this, six months ago. And, I frankly said, “No.”

I mean, who could’ve imagined a global pandemic, more than 40 million Americans unemployed, and the death – the murder – of a black man captured by a teenage girl on the street corner to be the start of a revolution? And I call it a revolution – and I say it’s a revolution – because, it’s revolutionary thought.

You know, there’s a lot of social media out there about what’s going on with the protests – what people are asking for – but, there was one young woman who both summed up what I was thinking, as well as articulated what I believe in my heart. And what she said was, at the end of her talk – at the end of her education to us – what she said is, “What people ought to be grateful for is that black people want equity; not revenge.”

And it stopped me in my tracks, when she said it, because that’s what I think we want:

We want equity;

We want to be treated equal to anyone else;

We want opportunity;

We want to not be shot, because of the color of our skin;

We want to have access to healthcare, and not die at a great proportion to other populations from a global pandemic;

We want access to education that is right and equal;

We want access to anything;

We want the right to vote, and not in gerrymandered districts.

And I think what it also got me thinking about is the fact that I’ve work in southeast D.C., I’ve work in Appalachia, I’ve worked across the world, in some cases, but I want us to always come back to this:

Systemic change is not just the elimination of police brutality and black people getting shot in the streets. That seems to basic…so basic of a right:

To not be shot;

To not worry that the police are going to follow me across the Oakland Bridge;

To not worry that, if I’m in D.C. in my car, that I’m going to get pulled over, and then, when they realize that I’m female, not male, I get let go.

So, what I’ve been thinking about is, are we ready for systemic change, and are we ready for systemic change for the corporations that we deal with, the institutions that we deal with – those can be HIV corporations, LGBT, regular commercial organizations and institutions – but, are we ready to continue this fight all the way?

I believe we are.

I believe that some people may believe that this is just a fight to end police brutality, but that’s not what the streets are saying.

So, I’ve been thinking that it’s also important that we do more to be supportive and kind to one another.

And the “one another” is to black people:

To hold fragile the blackness that we share;

To see it as a fragile thing;

To understand that privilege is not just a thing of white people; that privilege – race, class, and privilege – privilege is something that some of us black people have, too, and what do we do with it? How do we use it? Do we use it to lift up our brothers and sisters? And that all – not a select group; not just “those.”

That we’ve made a commitment to help all black people.

That we’ve made a commitment – in my case – to help all black people, all poor people. The suffering.

That I can no longer be in a position where I put people down. Throw shade, if you will.

Those things that we often do to one another can be more harmful.

So, I’ve really been thinking it’s also an important time for me to stand up and say, “No!” Because, I think all of us have probably had experiences, had traumas, experienced racism, or classism, and had little place to turn.

But, I think now is the time where we, and I, have to stand up and say, “No! It’s not okay. It’s not okay to treat me, mine, us, we, that way,” whoever that us and we may be.

Thanks.

CEG is a national organization that offers local programs and policy solutions.

We serving diverse populations, prioritizing indigenous populations and populations in need

CEG’s work includes Direct Service programs, Policy work, and Capacity Building

Photo of Tori Cooper, Founder and Executive Director of Advocates for Better Care Atlanta

People Worth Knowing: Tori Cooper

Tori Cooper
Founder & Executive Director
Advocates for Better Care Atlanta

This week’s #PeopleWorthKnowing interview features Tori Cooper, Founder and Executive Director of Advocates for Better Care Atlanta (ABCA).

ABCA seeks to further her mission of education, empowerment and opportunities for marginalized people. Since its inception, she has self-financed this agency which prioritizes transgender women and men as well as people living with HIV. 

In addition to founding ABCA, Ms. Cooper also serves as the Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Ms. Cooper holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Services. Tori is a staunch advocate for the Trans and HIV communities and travels across the country providing education to providers, clinicians, consumers, students and communities of every size and scope.

She is currently matriculating towards her Master of Arts degree in Public Health. Tori believes that empowerment, education, and opportunity are three important factors in success.

Cooper has received numerous awards for her work and is a published author, most recently appearing in print and video. Her work is featured in a new documentary titled, “Silent Epidemic” where she talks about the trans community and HIV in the South.

She created the Hour of Power which is an empowerment group that meets twice monthly for the trans, gender nonconforming communities and allies. The HoP recently celebrated its second anniversary.

She is also an ordained Deacon at Tabernacle Baptist Church under the pastorate of Bishop Dennis A. Meredith. Tori has received numerous awards and honors for her work, but she measures true success when the people she serves achieve viral suppression, when they master new life skills and achieve health and financial equity.

You can make a donation to Advocates for Better Care Atlanta through Cash App. Donations can be sent using the following Cash App tag:

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It Takes a Village

Photo of Katrina Harmon, Executive Director, West Virginia Child Care Association
Katrina Harmon
Executive Director
West Virginia Child Care Association

Guest Blog By: Katrina Harmon, Executive Director, West Virginia Child Care Association

As the African proverb so wisely states, ‘It takes a village.’  In my role as Executive Director of the WV Child Care Association (WVCCA), I’ve repeatedly witnessed the truth in this statement as I represent a village of providers serving West Virginia’s foster care youth.

In addition to providing a wide continuum of care that includes therapeutic foster care placement, adoption services, behavioral health, family-based treatment, independent and transitional living support, positive behavior support, substance abuse prevention, treatment, recovery and many, many more services, this village of providers is a voice for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, emotional and behavioral challenges, substance abuse and/or delinquency.

WVCCA’s mission is to advocate for children and families by influencing public policy, sharing member knowledge and resources, and embracing partnerships.  To grow and nurture the proverbial village, the services and partnerships within our individual communities must continually be evaluated, modified and expanded based on the needs.

Known for our perseverance and resourcefulness, West Virginians are always willing to lend a hand to their neighbors and take care of ‘their own.’   So, in West Virginia, our “villagesseem to encompass so many more contributors, and for good reason.

While the roots of addiction issues have historically run deep in Appalachia, no one was prepared for the millions of prescription pills that flooded the state between 2008 to 2017 (Eyre, 2016). From there came a transition from opioids to heroin to fentanyl, and in some regions of the state, methamphetamine. Those drugs are stronger; more lethal. Unsurprisingly, deaths from overdoses rose higher in West Virginia than in any other state (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 2017).

No one was prepared for the myriad issues that came with the flood of drug use. The crisis has taken a toll on industry, education, and the overall family structure; it contributes to violence, crime, housing, and homelessness in every city and small community across the state. While each community has experienced the crisis slightly differently, none has been left unaffected.

In May 2018, the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) reportedthat West Virginia ranked as the state with the most child removals in the U.S. 83% of open child abuse/neglect cases involved drugs (Samples, 2018).  According to the State Inpatient Databases, rates for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in WV increased 284% from 2009 to 2014.  Overall, 14.3% of all WV infants were born substance exposed and 5% were diagnosed with NAS (Samples).

When comparing 2014 with 2017, there was a 46% increase in the number of youths in the custody of the state (Samples).  During that same time period, the State reported a 22% increase in accepted abuse/neglect referrals and a 34% increase in open CPS cases (Samples).  63% of the children entering care were aged 10 and younger, and 43% of the children were placed in kinship/relative placements.

Simultaneously, the State averaged a 23% vacancy rate for Child Protection Service (CPS) positions and adoptions had increased 113% since 2006 – the highest in the nation (Samples).  Growth nationally for adoptions was trending at only 6% with PA, OH, and MD seeing declines ranging from 5-28% (Children’s Bureau, n.d.).

With record numbers of children and families requiring CPS interventions due to the drug crises, and the resulting skyrocket of expenditures, the State Department began to form strategic initiatives that included efforts to:

  1. improve the coordination of wrap around and other services for children and parents to mitigate number of children that need taken into state custody;
  2. improve clinical oversight in order to move children into most appropriate care in least restrictive setting;
  3. ensure that medical records follow a child wherever they receive services.

Additionally, in 2019, the WV State Legislature further enacted the procurement of a dedicated Managed Care Organization (MCO) in an effort to better coordinate the health care needs of the State’s foster care population (Relating to Foster Care, 2019). 

In November 2019, Aetna Better Health of West Virginia was selected to achieve the goals of streamlining the administration of health services, tailoring services to meet the needs of enrolled populations, coordinating care for members, and working to transition members from out-of-state care to community-based treatment in West Virginia. 

Simultaneously, on the federal level, West Virginia plans to become one of the first states in the country to adopt the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.

FFPSA redirects federal funds to provide services to keep children safely with their families and out of foster care, and when foster care is needed allows federal reimbursement for care in family-based settings and certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring special treatment.  Covered services will include mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment, in-home parent skill-based programs, parent education, individual and family counseling in the home.

FFPSA further allows federal Title IV-E funds to be utilized for residential programs that serve parents with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs), their children, and allows additional investments to keep children safely with families (and kin) that lead to permanency and/or reunification, such as Kinship Navigator programs.

The Family First Prevention Act will change the way child welfare agencies work with families.  No longer will the federal government incentivize out-of-home placements by paying Title IV-E only after children are removed. The prevention services act will allow states to claim funds for providing in-home services parenting education, mental health and substance abuse services to at risk families in an effort to keep families together.

If states continue to remove children at the current rates, there will never be enough residential or foster care beds to meet the need.  Through serving more families at home, before crisis states are reached, the hope is to reduce the trauma to families and children that removal causes (Family First Act, n.d.).

During the 2020 WV Legislative Session, well-intentioned legislators once again worked to fix systems that have been broken by the drug crises, and the state’s child welfare system was once again in their focus.  The passage of the “Foster Parent Bill of Rights,” promised an additional $16.9 million to increase reimbursement rates for foster families and, for the first time, raise those rates for kinship families to be an equivalent amount.  The broad-ranging bill enumerated certain rights for foster families and foster children while also providing greater detail for the duties of guardians ad litem, who officially speak on behalf of children (HB 4092, 2020).

There’s been a lot of work done in a very short period.  Service providers, bureaucrats, legislators and many, many other stakeholders have stepped up to make change and care for one of West Virginia’s most vulnerable population – our kids.  But just fixing state systems won’t get us out of these scary times; we need to work on fixing communities and fixing the individual families within our communities. 

While the crisis continues to reveal itself in very real, tangible ways, our neighborhoods continue to develop real, tangible solutions, and they are impactful.  Local churches are initiating foster care open houses, backpack programs are springing up for food insecure students; local businesses are sponsoring after-school tutoring; local United Way programs are allocating funds towards after-school programs so kids have a safe place to hang out; teachers are opening their homes to students who need emergency placement; police officers are volunteering at summer camps for at-risk kids, because they see the needs of these kids when answering emergency calls at their homes; grandparents on limited, fixed incomes are trying to determine how to keep their grandchildren fed while learning the new technologies required for the children in their care to academically succeed; and countless parents are offering up spare bedrooms or couches to their children’s friends who have been displaced.

It really ‘takes a village.’ 

As government funding is released and disseminated, it is imperative that we ensure our front-line community stakeholders and providers get the resources they need to meaningfully respond to the specific challenges and opportunities within their area.  While successful programs can be replicated, it’s important to remember no two communities are molded exactly the same. Research shows that the people most directly affected by systemic barriers and inequities are the best positioned to drive change in their own neighborhoods.

To all those involved in making change, your acts of kindness don’t just give kids hope, they keep the spirit of your ‘village’ alive. Maybe one day, rather than telling the state’s story of the drug crisis through death rates and dying communities, we will finally be able to tell it through the acts of good people who, despite all the odds and negative statistics and stories, saved their neighborhoods with each and every small act working together to raise ‘the village.’

You can learn more about the West Virginia Child Care Association by visiting their website by clicking on their logo, below, or by Liking their Facebook page by clicking the icon below the logo.

Logo for the West Virginia Child Care Association

References

Children’s Bureau. (n.d.). Adoption Data. Washington, DC: United States Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children & Families: Children’s Bureau: Child Welfare Outcomes Report Data. Retrieved from: https://cwoutcomes.acf.hhs.gov/cwodatasite/adopted/index

Eyre, E. (2016a, December 17). Drug firms poured 780M painkillers into WV amid rise of overdoses. Charleston, WV: Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-health/20161217/drug-firms-poured-780m-painkillers-into-wv-amid-rise-of-overdoses

Family First Act. (n.d.). Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First Act: About the Law. Retrieved from: https://familyfirstact.org/about-law

House Bill 4092. (2019). https://legiscan.com/WV/text/HB4092/id/2171356/West_Virginia-2020-HB4092-Enrolled.html

Relating to Foster Care, WV Code, Chapter 44. (2019). https://legiscan.com/WV/text/HB2010/id/1958217/West_Virginia-2019-HB2010-Enrolled.html

Samples, J. (2018, May). West Virginia’s Child Welfare Crisis A Path Forward. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources: Bureau for Public Health. Retrieved from: http://wvahc.org/wp-content/uploads/Prez-on-Child-Welfare-1.pdf

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. (2017, August 17). WEST VIRGINIA DRUG OVERDOSE DEATHS HISTORICAL OVERVIEW 2001-2015. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources: Bureau for Public Health: Office of Epidemiology and Prevention: Outbreaks. Retrieved from: https://dhhr.wv.gov/oeps/disease/ob/documents/opioid/wv-drug-overdoses-2001_2015.pdf

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