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About Bridges to Better

Bridges to Better engages leaders in multiple sectors to improve systems and expand the role of communities to achieve better outcomes for children and families.

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What is Bridges to Better?

Bridges to Better is an approach to improving outcomes for children and families impacted by domestic violence who are in the child welfare system, or are at risk of involvement with child welfare. Bridges to Better was developed by Futures Without Violence in partnership with national organizations (logos below), with guidance from a national advisory committee.

The approach is guided by six principles:

  • Collaborate
  • Recognize interconnected safety and well-being of adult and child survivors
  • Partner with survivors
  • Respond to unique challenges and build on unique strengths
  • Advance racial and gender equity
  • Promote healing and well-being

Two innovative practice and policy frameworks, Pathways to Healing and Pathways to Accountability, recommend building protective factors for families impacted by domestic violence, and adopting new ways of working with abusive partners. 

More transformative change is needed to build systems that truly center the needs of adult and child survivors. Bridges to Better is an approach – not a model – that requires professionals to collaborate across agencies and sectors to determine how to apply the principles and frameworks in local practice and policy, and how to make the mental and relational shifts that will sustain it.

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Groundwork Kits

Get a curated exploration of Bridges to Better through our Groundwork Kits for specific audiences.

What was the QIC-DVCW?

The Quality Improvement Center on Domestic Violence in Child Welfare (QIC-DVCW) was a collaborative, 5-year effort to build capacity and evidence for how child welfare agencies work with community partners to serve families experiencing domestic violence. 

The QIC-DVCW was funded by the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The project was led by Futures Without Violence (FUTURES) in partnership with the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Latinos United for Peace and Equity (a national project of Caminar Latino), the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, and the Center for Health & Safety Culture at Montana State University.

The results of the QIC-DVCW led us to Bridges to Better.

What is the history?

Almost 40 years ago, activist, researcher, and author Susan Schechter asked the question “If we provided advocacy for mothers of abused children, could we prevent unnecessary foster care?” Early results showed that the answer was yes in over 45% of the families served. The results generated a national movement, state by state, of advocates in the domestic violence field working alongside child welfare systems to provide advocacy for survivors and consultation to workers on their cases. Advocacy work in the 1990s emphasized the development of accountability strategies for the “batterer”, “abuser”, or “offending parent. From the start, the QIC-DVCW avoided using these labels and instead focused on behaviors and impact, using the phrase “person using violence and coercion” (The QIC-DVCW adopted this phrase, and the language of relational accountability, based on pioneering work of many people around the country, mostly practitioners of color working in programs that serve people using violence.).

In the early 2000s, as national interest mounted and the numbers of domestic violence advocates working in the child welfare system grew, the U.S. Department. of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice together funded six sites to test policy recommendations from “the Greenbook” developed by a national group of thought leaders. This first “roadmap” for child welfare, domestic violence programs, and juvenile courts was designed to improve responses to families experiencing domestic violence.

With almost 25 years in the rear view window since the Greenbook, national demand has grown for sustainable and transformative change in child welfare to provide real help to survivors. The QIC-DVCW took up this challenge to apply lessons from this history, leverage 21st century science, and develop new and innovative approaches to domestic violence.

What are we doing about it?

What did the QIC-DVCW do?

In 2017, we conducted a national news media survey to learn about public perception of survivors of domestic violence who were involved in the child welfare system. News coverage emphasized only certain types of abuse cases, and child welfare systems were portrayed as struggling or even failing. Images about child welfare were often of people accused of abusing children, often children of color – while government officials, child welfare professionals, and criminal justice representatives in the news were mainly white. Coverage rarely highlighted broader social conditions that contribute to child abuse and family violence. Substantive discussions of child welfare and domestic violence rarely appeared together in U.S. news.

To understand the current opportunities and challenges of working with families involved in child welfare while experiencing domestic violence, 17 listening sessions with 140 participants were conducted with 1) families who were impacted by domestic violence and involved in the system, 2) child welfare administrators, courts, and community based organizations, and 3) tribal leaders. Areas of need identified included a change in mindsets about survivors as parents, increased training and supervision, and enhanced assessment tools, policies, practices, and programs. Additional challenges were noted around fragmentation of services and obstacles to consistent and authentic collaboration. Participants emphasized the need for trauma-sensitive and culturally-responsive services for both survivors and those who use violence. 

From this research and a review of lessons over 25 years, we developed a theory of change and an intervention we called the adult & child survivor-centered approach. Our evaluation team at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare designed and administered a cost study, an implementation study, and an outcomes study using data from survivors, people who use violence, caseworkers and supervisors in child welfare, community partners, courts, and child welfare administrative data sets. 

Implementation

The adult & child survivor-centered approach was created to align policy, practice, programming, and organizational culture across agencies to improve outcomes for families. 

Collaborative, cross-agency teams led by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and the Allegheny County (PA) Office of Children, Youth and Families implemented the approach in their jurisdictions. The QIC-DVCW trained staff across agencies, provided monthly coaching for supervisors of child welfare and partnering agencies for 2+ years, and provided technical assistance to judges and to implementation teams. Funding was provided to the sites for infrastructure and programming.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to upend business as usual in early 2020, innovation emerged as battering intervention and fatherhood programs increased direct work to support emotional regulation, child welfare workers began more systematic family wellness check-ins, advocates left their offices and went into communities, and virtual court hearings saw an uptick in family participation.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we saw improvements in several areas of practice across sites, and in safety and permanency outcomes for children at the site level. Read our Executive Summary which outlines results of QIC-DVCW research and related actionable insights. 

Looking Forward

Bridges to Better offers the groundwork for states and communities to improve outcomes for families impacted by domestic violence. In order to support this innovation and systems change work, Promising Futures, a project of FUTURES, will continue to seek new partners and funding; provide technical assistance and training to the field; and host the Bridges to Better resources and tools as part of the Promising Futures website. Join our network or request TTA.

Partners

Center for Health and Safety Culture logo
Center for the Study of Social Policy logo
University of Kansas School of Social Welfare logo
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges logo
Latinos United for Peace and Equity logo

Special thank you to Justine Swindell for the illustrations.