Cautious Optimism Prevails at TANF Conference

I have the honor of attending the Research Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (#RECS2018) this week – a conference that brings together researchers, policy wonks, practitioners and leaders in human services to present information, data, opinion, debate and geek out on the latest strategies to help propel people out of poverty. We weren’t an hour into the first plenary before sparks began to fly – and lucky for us, this is a group that enjoys the discussion.
Clarence H. Carter, Director of the Office of Family Assistance at the Administration for Children and Families (a division of the federal Department of Health & Human Services) challenged the body gathered to rise to meet his vision to “transform the [human services] system from a system of public supports to a society of overcoming” by “believing people can overcome barriers and then creating the enabling conditions so that they can.” A bold and broad statement that rallied the group of academics, implementers and policymakers alike.
Many Goodwill organizations serve communities who receive human services at all stages of life and can relate to Director Carter’s concern. The question is, how do we work independently and in coalition to achieve such a vision?
While everyone at the conference is working to help children and families, there are very different beliefs on the best ways to get that done. Some speakers see program waivers as a solution – to allow states to tailor federal resources to their communities’ needs. Some believe more research is required in order to understand what works for whom and use the best science and evidence to create model programs. Most people agree that integrating services is crucial – to enable those served to navigate systems without creating undue hardship. A number of speakers focused on the need to measure the “right” things (e.g., a participant’s ability to engage in work and life to provide for themselves and their family) as opposed to the “easy” things (e.g., job placement and speed of service delivery). In the end, even throughout passionate debate, all agreed that the goal is to change lives.
In the current climate, whether or not we listen to each other is often controlled by how we frame the discussion. As a network of more than 160 independent organizations in communities large and small, rural and urban, conservative and liberal across North America, Goodwill is familiar with differences. We can’t hope to propose solutions to poverty until we understand these differences as an asset rather than an excuse to tune to another channel. To paraphrase Director Carter, we have a mutual responsibility to help create a society in which all people can thrive, and to be honest, that’s why I get up every morning and engage in this pursuit. If you have thoughts, concerns, stories of your own to tell about how Goodwill or any public funding resources helped you along the way, please share it with your lawmaker and stay engaged: follow our team at @GoodwillCapHill on Twitter and subscribe to our legislative action center. You are the essence of what we do.