Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Lays Off D.C. Office, Resets Policy Approach

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a membership organization that includes hundreds of child welfare and juvenile justice providers, has laid off the three-person staff at its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and intends to rebuild that office with a larger team.

The Alliance cut ties with Carla Plaza, director of public policy and government relations; Marlo Nash, senior vice president of public policy; and Jennifer Ralston, associate director of policy.

Replacing them will be a larger policy team that is led by a senior director of government relations, according to Chief Operating Officer Ron Clewer.

“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,” Clewer said, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change. “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.”

Those issue areas will include educational success, economic opportunity, well-being, and safety and security, according to Clewer.

The Alliance traditionally kept a modest presence in the Beltway, preferring a strategy of building advocacy skills amongst its membership to representing them as a whole on the Hill.

That changed in 2014, when CEO Susan Dreyfus announced that it would establish a national headquarters in Washington, though she and most of the leadership team would remain in Milwaukee. There was a single policy goal that drove the decision: reform of the way that federal money flows into state and local child welfare systems.

“We will be leading, once and for all, to get child welfare finance reform done in this country,” Dreyfus said, at the 2014 announcement. “There has been a quiet erosion of federal money since 1996.”

At the time, the Alliance was pushing a joint proposal on finance reform with the National Organization of State Associations for Children (NOSAC) and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA). The plan would have taken three of the largest federal child welfare streams and widened the allowable uses for all of them.

But all three organizations dropped the plan in 2016 and supported the Family First Prevention Services Act, which became law in February of this year. The law, which mostly takes effect in October of 2019, overhauls Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the federal foster care entitlement, to fund more efforts at addressing maltreatment without the use of foster care, and to limit federal funds for placements in congregate care settings.

Ron Clewer, Alliance COO: “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.” Photo by Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

While the Alliance publicly pushed for the Family First Act, there was dissension among some of its members about the bill’s limitations on congregate care. Among the Alliance members who pushed against that tentpole of Family First was the Nebraska-based Boys Town, whose executive director, Father Steven Boes, sits on the Alliance’s board of directors.

Recently laid off Nash told The Chronicle in March that the Alliance was “very interested” in engaging with the Department of Health and Human Services on the rulemaking progress related to Family First. Of particular interest, she said, was the development of plans to measure success under the act’s foster care prevention services.

“The Alliance is a proponent of moving away from regulative transactional partnerships, to ones that focus on outcomes and results,” Nash said. “We would have loved to see a clear message about what are the outcomes the federal government wants to purchase? It has not [been] made crystal clear … we’re going to want to be at the table to say, state by state, what are those outcomes we want to drive toward together?”

The new plan for the D.C. office appears to be the establishment of a central hub for a policy team that might operate from different parts of the country. The home office will include at least the senior director of government relations, an operations analyst, and two additional staff.

Three current members of the Alliance staff will serve as subject matter experts:

  • Rehana Absar, director of organizational excellence
  • Jennifer Jones, head of the organization’s Change in Mind Institute
  • Undraye Howard, director of equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement.

The organization will likely bring in an additional five people to serve as subject matter experts.

“Some of those positions may be filled by people throughout the nation, but none the less, their home office will be D.C. and their work will address policy advocacy,” Clewer said.

Clewer also said that the Alliance has invited Plaza, Nash and Ralston to “to consider these new positions as well.”

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that the new head of the D.C. office will be a senior director of government relations, not a senior vice president of government relations.

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