Racial Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Work

Be Strong Families recognizes that historical and systemic inequity, especially institutional racism, is the root cause of many problems we aim to solve.

Like many nonprofits, we acknowledge that it is impossible for us to fulfill our mission without creating an equitable and inclusive environment for our staff, partners, and people we serve. We go further by actively engaging in remunerated co-creation with vulnerable parents, youth, children, and extended family members for all Be Strong Families products and services.

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Since its inception in 2012, our organization has been implicitly committed to cultural competence, cultural humility, social justice, anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and to dismantling inequitable power dynamics in systems. We seek to model these commitments in the way we operate, in our programs, and services: we strive to have these commitments be actualized not just expressed.

All our activities are grounded in and reflect our Organizational Values which in turn reflect our deep commitment to social justice and the deconstruction of societal norms that hinder strong, economically secure, and productive families which we know are the foundation to thriving communities and an American society that lives it professed values of opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. Our EDI-related organizational values are:

  • Family: Our value of family begins with respect for and appreciation of others no matter how old, how young, where they come from, what they’ve experienced, where they are, how capable they are, how healthy they are, who they love. It extends to individual’s choices of who they call family – what intentional, meaningful relationships they form. Our value of family extends to community and to sisterhood and brotherhood.

  • Liberation: We value social, political, economic, racial, and ethnic, spiritual justice and we promote freedom and facilitate transformation grounded in our value of liberation.

  • Vitality: This means being strong, active, and filled with positive energy. Our value of vitality includes well-being of mind, body, spirit, and soul – and of individuals, families, communities, societies, and the earth.

  • Love: Empathy, kindness, and patience are hallmarks of our approach to achieving well-being, healing, and peace. Our value of love, starting with self-love, causes us to feel compassion and appreciation for everyone we encounter and allows us to have heart-to-heart connections and hold space for transformation.

Outward Facing EDI / Anti-racist Efforts:

Disrupt and Co-create:

Based on our values, the foundation of our organization is disrupting the provider-centered, human-centered system to better support families and communities in promoting the wellness of their members. We are known for Parent Cafés, which are embraced by program providers as a parent engagement strategy, and for us, they are also representative of the paradigm shift needed. Parent Cafés were developed collaboratively by parent leaders and professionals with expertise in experiential learning to strengthen families from the inside out with individual deep self-reflection and peer-to-peer learning as the mechanisms for positive family development and transformation. In Parent Cafés, every voice is valued equally, everyone is both an expert and a learner. As such, Parent Cafés offer providers and program participants an opportunity to experience equity in action as a basis for replicating this dynamic throughout their program.

While Parent Cafés were developed to assist families with strengthening themselves from the inside out and ensuring their homes are peaceful, safe havens for their children, Be Strong Families wanted to go beyond this to promote justice and equity and anti-racism in society. With an extensive, collaborative process, the A More Perfect Union Parent Café (AMPU) and #AMPlify campaign emerged. The premise of these is that we can build the society we want to live in by amplifying the positive and building bridges. This Café in a Box was designed to help parents use the Protective Factors to navigate the nexus between social justice and parenting. For more information on all of Be Strong Families’ Parent Cafés, click here.

Trainings, Workshops and Technical Assistance

Our services are bilingual in English and Spanish. In addition to Spanish, our Parent Café tools have been translated and adapted in Chinese, Arabic, French, Vietnamese, and Swahili. Our services are also designed to address root causes and are trauma-informed, strength-based, and family-centered. The training department’s services offered to child welfare audience always include elements that help to disrupt the power dynamics between parents, youth and social workers while offering practical tools to engage families and youth in a more meaningful and productive way. We also offer various trainings to caregivers, parents with child welfare involvement, and youth that help them navigate the child welfare systems and their relationships with one another. In addition, we offer professional development trainings to child welfare and family serving agencies that include more equitable supervisory practices such as reflective supervision, effective parent engagement and our training, Parent Engagement through a Lens of Equity.

Trainers’ Norms: Be Strong Families ensures that our quality assurance extends beyond how our trainers perform during trainings to how they understand and interact with participants. In 2018, Be Strong Families updated our trainer norms, which guide our reflections and assessments of trainers across the organization to include the category of cultural humility. We ask trainers and their supervisors to pay attention to recognizing the identities and lived experience of all participants, to use inclusive language, and to implement workshops in a manner that is sensitive to varying literacy levels and English language skills. In our evaluation process for our trainings and Parent Cafés, we follow a best practice for inclusivity of differing literacy levels by reading the evaluation questions orally while participants fill out the forms.

Curriculum Audits:  In 2021, BSF begin to audit our training curriculum to ensure that our language and visual aesthetic has an anti-racist and LGBTQIA+ lens. The audits and future audits have been and will continue to be completed by external consultants. We expect this process to be completed in 2023.

Key Collaborations:

  • Be Strong Families organized the Advancing Equity track for the national Together for Families Conference co-hosted by National Family Support Network, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Families Canada, and Be Strong Families. Be Strong Families’ CEO spoke on the closing plenary panel to dismantling white supremacy within the family support field and mobilizing mutual assistance as the future of family support. Our CPO spoke on Parent Engagement through a Lens of Equity on a different plenary. Be Strong Families recruited a conference key speaker, Linetta Gilbert, who spoke on Philanthropy through a Lens of Equity.  

  • We served on the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) Racial Equity Collaborative sponsored by Casey Family Programs as well as the Child Welfare Advisory Committee (CWAC) Racial Equity Practice committee.

  • Our staff support the Illinois Youth Advisory Board in their efforts to draft and submit two policy papers on equity for youth in care in the Illinois child welfare system. In addition, our partners at Loyola Law School will train youth on advocacy with an equity lens.

  • In July 2020, Be Strong Families endorsed the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) People of Color Caucus Manifesto Demanding the End of Exploitation of Black and Brown Women in Early Childhood Education, an effort to promote just compensation and provide professional development and leadership opportunities for Black and Brown women.

Daily Webinars

At the onset of the pandemic our leadership had the vision and foresight to create two midday daily webinar series (English and Spanish) as way for Be Strong Families to do what we do best: provide safe spaces for parents, providers, and our staff to discuss, share, and support one another as we faced the unknown. The webinar series, Staying Strong and Positive for Ourselves and Our Families, is offered by the community for the community and currently approximately 1/3 of webinars are offered by members of the community who have volunteered in response to email outreach. This models our commitment to EDI co-creation. The range of presenters is also diverse in race, ethnicity, age, gender, and background.

Webinar Examples

Many of the webinars push the status quo by included topics around structural racism in child welfare, mental health, and other disciplines. Examples include:

Spanish Webinar Examples

Below are examples of past webinars from this series in Spanish that have a EDI focus. Currently, the webinar project for the Spanish-speaking audience focuses on structuring two free webinars each week that include both an online conversation-based support group, followed by a webinar using a workshop format and presented by a psychologist or mental health professional on different topics, such as self-care or mental wellness. The goal is to strengthen and support the positive mental and emotional health of the Spanish-speaking families and providers who attend. For many Spanish speaking families, there are few accessible monolingual resource opportunities, therefore this series is welcome and needed within Spanish-speaking communities across the country. Reviewing our current audience, 70 percent of our Spanish webinar participants are parents and 30 percent are family-serving providers who in most cases are bilingual and parents as well.

Internal Practices

Appreciative Inquiry

A strengths-based, inclusive process for strategic planning grounded in Indigenous cultural practices was adopted by our Board of Directors as our primary process for evolving our organization.

Bylaws and Human Resource (HR) Policies

We based our original HR policies on those of our former fiscal agent – a prominent family-serving nonprofit organization in the Chicago area. Since 2012, we have been adapting and aligning these to reflect our values and commitments. One example of changes made is around Paid Time Off. We altered our bereavement policies to increase the number of days available following the death of an immediate family member from 3 to 5 and in doing so dropped the definition of immediate family member in favor of individuals being able to determine who they consider family. We initially had a very generous well-being / sick / personal day policy that was intended to allow individuals to observe whatever holidays they personally felt relevant. We recently increased the number of company holidays to include Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Veteran's Day, and Juneteenth.

Be Strong Families Staff and Board Composition

Be Strong Families values diversity across multiple parameters of diversity and at all levels of the organization, including our Staff, Board, and Speakers & Teacher’s Bureau.

In addition, we value lived experience as equally important to academic achievement and have since our inception strived to have representatives of the populations, we serve on our staff delivering services. We have made an ongoing effort to include parent leaders/ recipients of our services as voting members of our governance. This has been refined at least twice, most recently in 2020. There is a Board position for each Regional Parent Engagement Advisory (RPEA) and two members of the National Parent Café Leadership Team (NPCLT). Since 2019, our bylaws have stipulated that each Regional Parent Engagement Advisory (RPEA) group will have a voting representative to the Board of Directors. There is no limit to the number of possible RPEAs; we currently have two—making parent leader representatives 25 percent of our Board of Directors.

Staff Development

Before the pandemic, we had regular, in-person all-staff development days quarterly. We scheduled presenters and topics that contribute to building our capacity to model pro-multicultural and anti-racist examples include:

  • Denise Boston, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Walden University, and current Be Strong Families Board Member, trained staff on “Radical Acts of Community Care. A Mutual Learning Model”

  • Yoli Maya Yeh, a yoga therapist and educator, trained staff on the “New Paradigm Skills Set”

Since our inception we have facilitated safe and brave spaces for our staff to discuss and decompress national and global events. Here is a blog article that gives a more in-depth example of how of one of these safe and brave spaces and our commitment to staff well-being.

In 2020, we began an Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) process to assess our organizational and individual staff members’ intercultural competence—the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities. We were led through an initial assessment process by Dr. Ramon Pastrano of Impact Lives. Staff members’ cultural competence mindset was assessed on a continuum from denial through adaptation, and each received a counseling session, individual development plan, and follow-up session. Every staff member had a professional development plan related to these issues and our Chief Program Officer and Director of Development, Measurement and Learning lead our EDI efforts. In addition to monthly professional development EDI offerings, we hold Lunch & Learns are held bimonthly as a brave space to further explore anti-racist/EDI topics in small group conversations.

In 2022, we are continuing this process with a full-scale Equity Audit. The Equity Audit will serve to review our internal and external policies, practices, and programs that directly or indirectly impact our staff, partners, and programs in relation to race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, color, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, social disadvantage, or other socially and culturally significant factors.

This will be a valuable leadership tool that aims to, through a vetted third party, collect and analyze organizational data that will inform the process of removing existing barriers and implementing internal policies and programmatic approaches that promote full participation, access, and opportunity for all. We recognize that this is an ongoing process, and we commit to being continually engaged in the process of equity audit and analysis as Be Strong Families moves towards being the exemplary anti-racist and social justice-minded organization we strive for we continue to embody our mission and values through all that we do.

Be Strong Families acknowledges that our EDI and anti-racist efforts are an ongoing, long-term evolutionary process: we are committed to this journey in 2022 and beyond.

We plan to launch several new initiatives that have an EDI lens embedded into their programmatic outcomes. In addition, our internal staff development workshops will continue with the focus being to take our collective learning and growth to the next level. We are fully committed.