RWJF's new Family Advisory Committee is enhancing the authenticity, impact, and power of all our efforts.
This is the third and final post in a series describing how RWJF and our partners are working to center the voices of families. The first and second installments explore how our partners at Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative lift up parents and caregivers and the impact achieved when their expertise leads the solutions and systems changes that work for families.
Parents and caregivers work hard to give their children every opportunity to be healthy and to thrive. Unfortunately, current and historic inequities in our systems create barriers for some children and families. Ensuring parents are heard and valued by the systems intended to support them can help eliminate those barriers, so all children can be as successful as possible and thrive.
To create transformational change that lifts all children and families, we must center their voices in the policies, decisions, and systems that affect their lives. As a parent, I understand very well the value of doing so. That’s why I’m working with my colleagues at RWJF to integrate the perspectives of parents and caregivers into many aspects of our organization’s work—from internal operating procedures to funding decisions.
A Commitment to Parent and Caregiver Leadership
RWJF is committed to building leadership capacity among parents and caregivers—especially among women and people of color who disproportionately carry the weight of providing care—so they can mobilize and organize for change. That’s why we are working with grantee partners that also prioritize the input and leadership of parents and caregivers, including Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative (ECFC).
Ascend and ECFC are creating new seats at the table for parents and caregivers, lifting them into leadership positions in new systems of power. Parents like Drayton Jackson are applying solutions that they helped shape. A former Ascend parent advisor, he now serves as vice-chair of the Steering Committee for Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s Poverty Reduction Workgroup. And ECFC’s skilled community organizing partners have achieved policy wins for affordable childcare and paid leave in cities and states around the country.
Establishing a Family Advisory Committee at RWJF
RWJF has prioritized listening to and working closely with representatives of the families we work to uplift by building more inclusive narratives that reflect what families truly look like today. Our partners are proving that when we start by asking what is best for children and families, we disrupt the status quo and shift power over time. But it is not enough to only fund groups focused on centering parents and caregivers. We are also integrating the voices of parent and caregiver leaders into the fabric of our Healthy Children and Families strategic portfolio.
To lean into one of the Foundation’s health equity principles rooted in integrating the perspectives of families, we established the Family Advisory Committee (FAC)—a collective of 12 parents and caregiver leaders from across the country with unique and diverse backgrounds, races and ethnicities, and family dynamics. We were connected with these family leaders through our partner, Advocacy and Communications Solutions (ACS) and recommendations from organizations within our network. ACS has been an invaluable partner to RWJF, supporting implementation of this initiative including facilitation, coordination, and sharing learnings. Through the FAC, we are gathering the wisdom of families to create and share narratives that advance economic inclusion and the wellbeing of all families, especially those who are most affected by America’s legacy of structurally racist policies and practices.
The FAC’s impact is already evident. It supported the Foundation with feedback on grantmaking and programming focused on providing all children and families with the resources and support they need to thrive. One way they did this is by helping us to develop selection criteria to fund policy-focused grantees to support environments and systems aimed at making children and families a priority. The FAC was also the first group to implement the Foundation’s caregiver guidelines aimed to create stronger family-supportive policies. The Committee convenes virtually once each quarter, and each member receives an honorarium. The leadership of FAC members has also been amplified externally. A few members of the Committee have participated in the Every Family Forward conversation series and several intend to share their personal stories in a related storytelling project.
For many parents and caregivers, it takes extensive planning and organization of personal and professional responsibilities to commit to this type of work. Among them, members of the FAC care for more than 24 children, ranging from as young as infancy to 19 years of age—some with mental, physical, or developmental disabilities that necessitate care beyond the traditional expectation for most parents and caregivers. As a husband and father of four children, including one with special needs, I understand and honor the lengths our Committee members go to to share their time and expertise.
Making All Spaces Meet
This work is very personal to me. In 2019, my wife decided to leave her full-time university position to care for our children. During the pandemic, our home transformed into a daycare, classroom, and remote office overnight. Raising our family became a puzzle that needed solving; nap times, lunches, school work, and Zoom meetings became jigsaw pieces we carefully pieced together to make things work. When my wife got sick with COVID and had to quarantine in our home, during difficult weeks, I lost the piece that made my family’s puzzle whole.
Every family is unique, from the way they look to the way they love. And every family is an important piece that needs to be included in our system of care. Like a puzzle, no system can be complete without all of its parts.
The Missing Piece
Dwayne Curry shares a powerful spoken word performance about how family voice is the missing puzzle piece to creating a world with systems that allow children and families to thrive.
Creating transformational change that works for all families requires an ongoing commitment to listen to diverse perspectives and create the space and opportunity for the voices of parents and caregivers to really be heard. Working with the FAC helps us better understand how to authentically engage and partner with parents and caregivers across our programming and philanthropic work. We are striving to ensure that the stories of America’s families are captured and told, so we no longer rely on unrealistic narratives. Rather, we seek to emphasize the nearly universal aspiration of families to provide their children with the best possible opportunities to thrive.
To learn more about how RWJF is prioritizing and responding to parent and caregiver voice, visit our Valuing Caregivers and Families webpage, and learn more about the Family Advisory Committee members in a forthcoming storytelling project.