Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Lays Out New Plan for Policy Work

In August, Youth Services Insider reported on a leadership shakeup at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. The entire staff of the Washington, D.C., office was let go as the membership organization, which represents hundreds of family and youth services agencies around the country, sought to rebuild its Beltway presence.

Per a January webinar for its members, the Alliance’s new plan for the D.C. office is starting to take shape.

Ilana Levinson, senior director of government relations for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Photo courtesy of the Alliance.

“The changes we made in August brought concerns from some members who thought maybe we were exiting the public policy space,” said Chief Operating Officer Ron Clewer, on the webinar. “And nothing could be farther from the truth.”

To recap, the Alliance nominally calls D.C. its headquarters, though much of its executive leadership, including CEO Susan Dreyfus, are based in its Milwaukee office. D.C. was tabbed as the home office in 2014 with a single driving policy goal: a place at the table as federal child welfare finance reform was being hotly discussed.

This summer, its three-person Washington staff was dismissed. The Alliance announced it would rebuild around a structure that emphasized subject-matter expertise.

“This is actually a strategic move and investment to enhance and bolster the Alliance’s policy advocacy and strengthen the work of our members and our network for the children, adults and families we serve,” said Clewer, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change back in August. “The elimination of the existing policy positions was done to make way for the new directors of impact structure with subject matter experts overseeing various issue areas.”

In December, the Alliance announced it would start 2019 with Ilana Levinson as senior director of government relations, the top job for the D.C. office. Levinson came to the Alliance after a four-year run as senior director of public policy for YouthBuild USA, but also has five years of Capitol Hill experience under her belt in the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

On the webinar, Clewer and Levinson took members through the new approach to advocacy. It includes a mix of new hires and dedicating some existing leadership to the work of the policy shop.

The goal, Clewer said, is “building a bench strength of subject matter experts.”

“We will no longer say there’s a Milwaukee and D.C. office.” He continued. “Those spaces will exist, however we will be on one team. Previously there was a focus on policy work and a focus on membership work, and at the end of the day policy work is membership work.”

Susan Dreyfus, CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Photo courtesy of the Alliance.

The core public policy team will be led by Levinson in coordination with a number of new “directors of impact,” and some of those positions were already slotted and filled in 2018. Rehana Absar is director of impact for organizational excellence, and Undraye Howard is now the senior director of equity, diversity, inclusion and engagement.

The Alliance will also add a director of impact for population health and well-being, and for educational success and economic opportunity. Trudy Gregory, a veteran Alliance staff member, will serve as the lead operations associate.

The organization also plans to hire a mobilization associate that will answer directly to Levinson. Among the other Alliance staff who will work with the policy team:

  • Teri Covington, who directs the Within our Reach office. That office was established in 2017 to help advance the recommendations made by the federal Commission to Eliminate Child and Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. Alliance CEO Dreyfus served as a member of that commission.
  • Jennifer Jones, who heads the Change in Mind Institute, which was established in 2015 with a $2.2 million investment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Palix Foundation.
  • Emily Merritt, director of intergenerational initiatives, a division the Alliance established in 2014.
  • Hope Liu, who joined the organization last year as director of organizational learning.

One focus of the Alliance’s policy priorities will continue to be the Family First Prevention Services Act, which passed last year and includes new funding for family services and restrictions on funds for congregate care. Both sides of the bill carry significant impact for Alliance members, and Dreyfus has been vocal about her organization having a place at the table in how the rules and regulations are written around Family First.

The Alliance is also pushing a more esoteric (and critically important) agenda around how government supports and procures services from the thousands of community-based organizations (CBOs) in America.

“Strengthening the financial health of human services community-based organizations is not just a financial imperative, but a moral one as well,” said Alliance CEO Susan Dreyfus, in the release of the 2018 report, “A National Imperative.” “The health of CBOs contribute to the sector and its ability to help individuals and families achieve their full potential and contribute to society as a whole.”

Among the findings of the report:

  • One in eight CBOs are “insolvent,” meaning they carry more liabilities than assets.
  • Half operated at a loss, on average, over the past three years.
  • 40 percent lack operating liquidity, and nearly a third do not have enough cash on hand to survive for more than a month.



TOMORROW: Learn more about the federal rule change to provide legal representation to children and parents involved in the child welfare system in our exclusive webinarA New Era of Funding Family Justice, with Leslie Heimov and Vivek Sankaran on Feb. 21st. Hosted by John Kelly, Editor-in-Chief for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at