Alliance Will Try to Be “In” Washington Without Being “Of” Washington

At 9:08 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Alliance for Children and Families CEO Susan Dreyfus told the 500-plus at her national conference that the Alliance push for federal child welfare finance reform wouldn’t be some inside job.

“We’re not doing it the old fashioned way, where we go inside the Beltway and think we’re gonna move it inside out,” Dreyfus said. “We’re moving it from the outside in.”

At 9:18 a.m., she announced the Alliance would be moving its headquarters to Washington, D.C. Oh, and that it would do so with a new name: the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.

We write that not to lampoon Dreyfus, who is probably as politically savvy as anyone in the youth services field. But it highlights the difficult line that the Alliance will have to walk as it seeks to leverage the collective power of its members.

There are clear advantages to actually being seen in Washington. There are definitely downsides to being seen as “Washington.” The Alliance’s difficult mission – at least on child welfare finance – is to develop a single plan and get not only buy-in but support for it from its 480 members.

“We must do more to unleash the power of this network, but we cannot do it alone,” Dreyfus said on Tuesday. “The only way it’ll happen…is because of you, your help, your support of our vision.”

Before his untimely passing in 2011, Alliance for Children and Families CEO Peter Goldberg told longtime Chief Operating Officer John Schmidt that he thought the next CEO would operate out of one of the following cities: New York, or D.C.

A more committed shift of Alliance leadership will probably have to wait for Dreyfus’ successor someday; she will split time between D.C. and Milwaukee. The current Washington office leader, Senior Vice President of Public Policy Katherine Astrich, will be armed soon with additional public relations staff to assist a staff that has already grown markedly in the past five years.

All of this is unchartered territory for an organization that for decades seemed content to strengthen members, and mostly passed on speaking for them. In a conversation shortly before he died, Goldberg told Youth Services Insider that his preference was to help members advocate for themselves, not represent them with one voice.

But times have changed, and federal funding hasn’t. The Alliance has helped many of its members eschew residential-only models in favor of a broader continuum focused on community-based services and family preservation. Yet the federal dollars, in particular those flowing through Title IV-E, support only the removal of children from parents. Worse still, IV-E is tied to an archaic income test from 1996 that has limited its use by states over time.

Clearly, the Alliance has decided to push for reform that funds the broader array of things its members can do. Instead of helping members mount that fight, it is going to lead them in battle, and it just moved its headquarters to the front lines.

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly.

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