Join us for our last episode in our 3-part miniseries with Corey Best on racial justice in child welfare. In this episode, Janine Beaudry brings Corey B. Best and Vermont Family Services Division, Deputy Commissioner Aryka Radke together to dream about, and discuss, the just child and family support system we want to build, along with a few specific thoughts about some of the ways we might get there.
Cory B. Best is, foremost, a dedicated father. Originally from Washington DC, Corey now resides in Florida where he began consulting with organizations to leverage adaptive leadership and systems building to promote authentic family engagement, racial justice, and protective factors for those impacted by the child welfare system.
In 2020 Corey founded Mining For Gold, an organization seeking to shape new thinking within complex systems with the goal of rebuilding child and family serving systems that are responsive to sharing power among constituents with a laser focus on preventing and dismantling all forms of racism. With consistent goals, the VT-CWTP contracted with Mining For Gold in 2022.
Aryka Radke, JD was appointed Deputy Commissioner Deputy Commissioner of the Family Services Division of Vermont’s Department for Children and Families in February, 2021. Since then, she’s been leading Family Services through some of the most challenging times in recent history. Aryka is originally from Chicago, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago Law School. Most recently she served as the Vice Chief Administrative Law Judge in Arizona. Much of Aryka’s work, as an attorney and as a judge, has focused on the rights of the most vulnerable, and she continues that trend in her current role.
Janine Beaudry, MSW has been working to support the safety and wellbeing of children and families for over 25 years. Previously a Family Services worker, then a Family Services supervisor, Janine is currently a Training & Coaching Team Lead with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership.
Show Notes and Resources:
For more information about Mining For Gold, you can find their website at: https://miningforgoldcommunity.com/.
Cassie Gillespie (00:02):
Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and you’re listening to The Social Work Lens, a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership, and the State of Vermont. Today, we are bringing you the last episode in our three part miniseries with Corey Best on Racial Justice and Child Welfare. And although this is the last episode of this mini-series, keep Your Eye out this summer for our next mini-series, focusing on youth voice. And while we’re at it, if you missed episode one or two of this mini-series with Corey, now would be a great time to go back and listen to it. In today’s episode, Janine Beaudry brings Corey Best and Aryka Radke, Vermont Family Services Division Deputy Commissioner, together to dream about and discuss the just child and family support system. We want to build along with a few specific thoughts about the ways we might get there. Enjoy.
Janine Beaudry (00:57):
Hi everyone. Thanks again for tuning in to today’s conversation. I’m very excited to welcome Corey B. Best community curator and founder of Mining for Gold back to our show to talk about nurturing freedom dreams, imagining the child and family support system we want to build. Thanks so much for joining us again today, Corey.
Corey B. Best (01:16):
Thank you for having me.
Janine Beaudry (01:18):
Also, joining today’s conversation is Aryka Radke, Deputy Commissioner of the Family Services Division of Vermont’s Department for Children and Families. Aryka is originally from Chicago, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago Law School. Most recently, she served as the Vice Chief Administrative Law Judge in Arizona. Much of Aryka’s work as an attorney and as a judge has focused on the rights of the most vulnerable, and she continues that trend in her current role. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Aryka Radke (01:52):
Thank you, Janine. I’m really happy to be here.
Janine Beaudry (01:54):
Aryka, you were appointed deputy Commissioner in February, 2021. Since then, you’ve been leading family services through some of the most challenging times in recent history. In this conversation, instead of focusing on addressing those challenges, I’d love to focus our attention on the contours and conditions of our ideal child and family support system. Corey, in your work with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership, you’ve asked us to describe our quote unquote furthest imagination of future success as we work towards racial justice, liberation and belonging. What is the significance of imagination in building a just child and family support system?
Corey B. Best (02:37):
Well, that’s a really big question, Janine. I’d first like, if at all possible to revisit the, the want to build in the, the title and, and have us practice imagining what we should build. And when we think about what we should build I believe that we are encouraged to really examine ways of dreaming and moving forward to thinking about the experiences and the impact that our system has had on families and how that ripple effect affects us all dependent upon our va, our vantage point. So to, to give an example and to also weave in some of what we know from strengthening families. So there’s a, there’s a struggle of sorts, and I know we’re moving into what we need to build or what we should build, but there’s a struggle. And unfortunately, the child protection system has been given a huge responsibility to solve, said struggle on their own.
Corey B. Best (03:45):
And you have a lot of different perspectives from the legal dependency court system to education, to nonprofit systems who for lack of a better way of putting, just watch a system sometime implode from the inside. Wow. We blame leadership. We blame the kids and families. We blame deplorable conditions. We blame it on race. All of these things are convoluted and must be sort of examined in a way to understand where we are currently. The dreaming and imagination comes in when we can look at why and challenge our assumptions around why has our system been created and for what purpose, and is that purpose serving us for what we want to become and what we should build. Now, the imagination for me in black body is that I pull from abolitionist movements. So abolition doesn’t mean to blow up the system and to leave everyone in anarchy in chaos and forget the safety of children and families.
Corey B. Best (05:01):
That’s not what it is. It’s really saying, you know, what are those parts about our ecosystem that needs to be eradicated? What are the parts about our ecosystem that needs a little bit of love, that need community and people to come together and not just spectate and see a problem, but actively involve themselves in help into one understand and also help to solve it, or at least mitigate some of the harm that’s being caused. I believe that when I think about abolitionists from abolishing slavery as an example, you know, those, those movements required us to, to think about a future where people, right, specifically black bodied people no longer lived in fear, right? And so that’s where the nurturing freedom dreams come in. And to get back to the point about systems left to do this alone, I think it’s irresponsible for us as citizens to to watch a system sort of struggle while they’re trying to keep staff alive, free those from proverbial captivity today, right?
Corey B. Best (06:24):
And also nurture freedom dreams. That’s too much responsibility for one individual institution. So I believe that in the conversation of what we should build the public private families and community members need to be a part of understanding the problem and also a part of nurturing freedom dreams. Because what we plant today will grow tomorrow. And if we continue to utilize the design of our current system to imagine a future state, I’m not sure what that future state may look like if we’re not bold enough and courageous enough to have necessary discourse about the messiness of designing something that’s beautiful for all.
Janine Beaudry (07:13):
Mm-Hmm. So what I hear there is taking a really good look at what we currently have and how it was constructed and for what, and having that really good close understanding of it. Then pivoting to bring in everyone community wide to the process of looking at what is here, how is it built for what purpose, and what would we prefer to build, and what needs to happen for that rebuild or, you know, eradication and new build. Actually, it sounds a little more like what you were, what you were saying. Does that sound about right? Absolutely. Yeah. Wow. That’s a lot. And, and I love the focus on the the community, every single kind of entity being a part of that, because yeah, you’re right. It’s way too much to try to have one organization be focused on doing that all at once.
Aryka Radke (08:12):
You know, I couldn’t agree more with both of you. I mean, just in terms of, you said a lot, Corey, but first off, if we’re thinking about dreaming of what the child welfare system would look like, you’re right. It makes sense to not start from a, an unsteady or a shaky foundation. So we sort of need to look at what we’re working with now and then bring in all those community partners, people with lived experience, because not only is it too much for one organization to hold, all of these other entities do have an important role to play. They have skin in the game, so to speak. So it’s important for all of us to move forward with creating something new and the term you know, abolishing you, that made me laugh in, in terms of, you’re not saying it’s throw away everything and just have everybody running amuck before we build something else. It’s in terms of looking at those specific areas where we know there’s racism or disparate impact and addressing those aggressively while we’re still constructing a new dream, a new vision to move forward. At least that’s how I look at it.
Corey B. Best (09:22):
Absolutely. I, I, I couldn’t agree more. Right? It’s, it’s really a beautiful thing when the, the system that I believe from my perspective because I have a vantage point similarly to a leader such as yourself. Aryka, has a vantage point. Education has a vantage point, and, and often we’re seeing things from our own worldview because there’s been a frame given to, to us, right? And when I think about abolition, I, I have a vision of something that’s healing, something that’s beautiful, something that’s nurturing for, for all of us. And if we can think about, Janine and Aryka, to the question what is our furthest imagination, right? Our furthest imagination of a system that we should build. I think we also give ourselves allow ourselves opportunities to say what it is and what must we do to really get to that, right? And I know that for the listeners, we haven’t defined that. And I think it’s important to note is because it’s two, three vantage points here, and we don’t have the necessary parties in this conversation. So to aspire to a future state requires some level of vision and a philosophy about what that might mean. And for me, philosophy means to, to challenge my existing thinking, right? To challenge my existing thinking to, to move us to a different place.
Aryka Radke (11:05):
That’s exactly it. When you, I was hearing you say furthest imagination, to me that meant thinking outside of whatever box I’m used to being in, because I’m in this role and I know this information about child welfare, it’s almost like just sitting back and you’re, you’re imagining you’re dreaming and you’re letting your mind be free just of those constraints that don’t necessarily have to be there if we’re talking about building something new and beautiful to help all of the children and families that come into contact with DCF.
Janine Beaudry (11:39):
Yeah. And one of the things that I’m hearing really strongly is we can have the beginning of that conversation and very important participants in that conversation are, are absent, right? To be able to actually get to the place of what is the furthest imagination? We can’t in our little box get to the end point of that furthest imagination. There needs to be some inclusion of the folks that are most impacted by this system that we’re talking about restructuring or creating a new Yeah? Is that what I’m hearing?
Corey B. Best (12:13):
That that is what, what I believe we’re, we’re both saying, and I’ll just add because a part of what, what my, where my frame limits me is I’m also taught to fear positive discourse. So when I think about, when I think about what should be right, so I, Corey will say that you should get rid of mandated reporting. You should stop removing for Johnny Heaven, a dirty T-shirt, right? You should adhere to the constitutionality of family integrity, which says to, to law, to quote the law. We absolutely actually should not be removing a child before a parent is deemed unfit if we upheld the law. But that’s Corey saying that we should, and then there are all these other vantage points that said, we should only focus on the child. We should continue to terminate rights. If parents are unfit, we should use stranger care as the default.
Corey B. Best (13:22):
Right? And, and this discourse piece is in important, because I want the listeners to understand that in abolishing or eradicating the system, it won’t require across the board agreement, it’s gonna require us to be courageous enough to disagree, right? And when we can level disagreement, I think that gets us to a place to really understand that we do have a common purpose and a common goal. It’s getting through that muck that’s sometimes most challenging for us. So I would encourage individuals to understand that the, the furthest imagination of a future state is also having the ability to get through extreme disagreement so that we can right together, get to that state.
Janine Beaudry (14:12):
And thank you for that. So this obviously raises a whole lot of imagination, even in my own mind, Aryka, a few months ago you and Corey had a chance to talk one-on-one. You’ve had more opportunity today. More recently, Corey was able to join you along with other leaders in family services and the Child Welfare Training Partnership in a conversation about advancing racial justice work in Vermont’s child welfare system. So putting kind of those conversations together with today’s conversation, what dreams have those and similar conversations helped inspire for our child and family support system here?
Aryka Radke (14:49):
You know, when we had those meetings with Corey, they were great. Everyone, people’s minds were blown. It, we had excellent conversations even after you left because people were really engaged and wanted to talk and, you know, bandy about ideas. And it really did give me an opportunity just to, to think about the question that you, you’re asking Janine, in terms of what would the dream be for the child welfare system here in Vermont? And I know that one thing for me, it’s, we know we are in a state that is primarily white, and we have other communities of color coming in, particularly new Americans. And that there have been disparate impacts, particularly with youth going into secure settings. There have been issues with youth being placed with families that when they’ve been removed from the home, placed with foster families that may be of a different ethnicity.
Aryka Radke (15:51):
And I’ve heard you know, concerns that when the youth are reunited with their parents, that they feel that their ethnicity, their culture has been eradicated. So these are concerns along with several other concerns. So for me my dream would be for a child welfare system here in Vermont where we start over one dismantling all of the internal racism that’s already baked into the system. One, getting rid of that and starting with a system where we have our social workers, our or family services workers, they’ve been educated in terms of, you know, DEI issues, and they’re on the lookout for bias and are aggressive and assertive with rooting that out of our system so that we can really tamp down on issues of disparate impact for youth of color, so that all the children that come into our system have the same fair advantages, hopefully to be safe, secure, and have permanency. So that would be my one dream. That is, it’s really important to me because here I am a black person in Vermont and I’m leading this organization. And if we have outcomes that are unfair, it’s, it just, it actually personally makes me just really uneasy. So that, that’s, that’s part of the dream that I would have,
Corey B. Best (17:18):
You know, I, I, I really appreciate that. And, and if I, if I may add Janine, you mentioned impact, right? And understanding the impact that our system and our designs have on people. Some of the dreams that I have begun to, to nurture and envision not that I have written data to, to state this fact, but based on what’s baked in our system, Aryka, based on what I know about this generation, that of social workers I feel wholeheartedly that there is a desire to understand that this is, quote unquote thereafter. Times every generation has an after times civil rights movement reconstruction. We are now in an after times that we’re trying to grapple with. I say that because our system has not only impacted families in a negative way because families have, specifically, you mentioned new American families. Black, brown, white families who are experiencing poverty.
Corey B. Best (18:37):
Those demographics of people have an objective relationship with the child protection system, right? An objective relationship that says, overwhelmingly, the system is not designed to ensure my safety, my wellbeing and mitigate any of my traumas. If we have a system that is unintentionally or intentionally causing harm to the people that it’s obligated to serve, can we just for a moment, silence ourselves and imagine the oppressive nature of staff and social workers. So our, our workforce is also being impacted by this particular design. And it goes back to a conversation that we had Janine with my white colleague, right? How do I get angry, resist what the system has made me become, right? I, I didn’t come into this work to do this, and yet, and still I’m craving, how do I aggressively approach and understand biases? How do I get over the things and dismantle some of the stuff that’s within me?
Corey B. Best (19:56):
And so those are some of the dreams that I have been nurturing and, and really noodling on because I, I work with a lot of systems, and I’m hearing that cry from the social work ecosystem that we, we want to do what we said we came to do, basically where I’m from, it’s, let’s get what we came, came here to get mm-hmm.
Janine Beaudry (20:20):
Corey B. Best (20:20):
Right? <Laugh>. And, and what social workers came to get is to ensure that they play a huge role in the uplift of people that they come in contact with, not to diminish or cause negative, unnecessary harm to the people that they work with. And that’s a part of what I believe we would nurture in this future desired state.
Janine Beaudry (20:45):
Yeah, it, it, one of the things that I’m thinking of as I hear both of you speak, is the idea of moral injury, right? So we have a workforce and we have foster and kin caregivers and adoptive caregivers. I can’t imagine <laugh> that any, but the tiniest sliver of anybody has a thought to being an oppressor and getting into child welfare, right? So those of us who have gotten into this kind of advocation are more than likely here because we want to be helpful to families, to children and because we want to preserve families and support families and yet we’re in this system doing this work and can see how it is divisive and see how it’s oppressive and see how it’s harmful. And in some ways it’s easy to get stuck in that that place of hopelessness of how could I possibly, in my position, in my sphere of influence, do something to change the impacts of the system that I’m a part of?
Janine Beaudry (21:52):
And how can I feel good about myself as a human being and as a practitioner when I know I’m part of a system that is causing harm. So I wonder, I know that this is putting you both on the spot, but any thoughts that you have in terms of that furthest imagination for the workforce, for individuals who are you know, professionals, but also individuals who are foster, kin, adoptive caregivers, and a way that they can look at the current state of affairs and join in creating that kind of furthest imagination of what this could become?
Aryka Radke (22:30):
You know, for me, I think it’s about having those brave conversations. I know that some of our family services workers have been looking into having conversations with families about race, because initially some people were uncomfortable. They didn’t feel like they should even ask individuals, well, what race do you identify with? And they might try to eyeball the race and, and because they felt nervous or didn’t know how that would go over. And I think part of it is learning how to have discussions that need to be had, had. And I think they will find that people, when you’re open and honest and say, well, look, you know, we’ve got this racial issue here. You know, I’m white, you’re whatever I want to discuss with you, X, Y, and Z. When people are transparent and open and have that vulnerability, I think you find that the response is better than what you could have imagined.
Aryka Radke (23:24):
So I, I think part of it is beginning to have conversations around race is one thing that can help family services workers. And that’s something you can be, you can practice, you can have lessons on. It’s not like you need to come at it cold. And I think another thing is for foster parents to seek out training. And I think that’s training that we should find and make available in terms of different cultures and being sensitive and affirming so that when you do have a child of a different culture, you’re making sure that you are engendering their culture and not simply caring for them and not recognizing that they may come from a different space just to make sure that they feel they’re welcomed exactly as they are as a whole.
Corey B. Best (24:12):
You know, I I, I really appreciate this question. I, and Montana and Janine, when we, when we met, and Montana had a conversation with a colleague, and he was reme remembering something that he learned in his work with an indigenous tribal community there. And so he first said that, you know, when I went into the community in, as a white man, the, the leader of the community said, if you are here to help me, you need to turn around and, and leave, right? If you are here because your liberation is tied to mine, then I can teach you a few things. And so when I ask the, the workforce, you know, what, what made you want to become a child protective investigator? I get all sorts of responses, right? To, to save and rescue children, to help families, to support families as they build their protective factors and the list goes on.
Corey B. Best (25:20):
So I think that as we’re nurturing freedom dreams, we also have to create conditions within an institution to nurture how we understand why we even got into this work in the first place, right? And how we might be able to take the messages that we’ve been given about what CPS is designed to do, and help us sort of understand how we navigate the waters, right? When it comes to, to race and brave conversations. I think the workforce should be reminded a few things, what race and racism is and what it is not that we’re all somehow impacted. And that cost has been great, right? To us all, and it impacts different demographics differently. What I believe that foster parents and caregivers should understand in, in the future state is their role as well. So, what we do know, and this is a conversation that is not very popular, of course, but we, we incentivize foster parents in a way.
Corey B. Best (26:40):
And I’ll give an example. In Florida years ago I, I googled, and there was a billboard that used to run in the eighties, and it said, you don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent. We tell parents, however, that they have to be perfect in 15, 18 months, right? So, so the messages are, are quite different to be a foster parent than it is for parents to have the ability to be human in all their humanness, to make mistakes without having those mistakes rubbed in, right? Instead of rubbed out. And I think that foster parents with the power that they have, play a unique role in, in advocating for a system that is just in pure for all.
Janine Beaudry (27:32):
So, a couple of things have been kind of ruminating in my mind as I’m listening to both of you. And, and it’s so connected. So what I’m hearing is that there’s kind of inherent in that I’m coming into this profession to help. I would like to be a foster or kin caregiver to save a child, or, right? That there is inherent in that a separation. There’s inherent in that, some superiority, inferiority, right? And, you know, yesterday, Corey, you were working with my program. And so as I was hearing you, Aryka, I was remembering the proximity plus, right? And accountable relationship plus vulnerability, right? Like being open to really connecting to a human being in a conversation as an equal equals belonging. So taking out that separation between this person speaking in this role and this person who’s in a different role, and making sure that we are on equal footing, working towards the same end goal, right? Like, so as a worker in the system, as a family member, as a youth, as a foster kin caregiver, we can be focused on all of us joining together towards the same end goal. And that’s belonging, right? That takes away that separation.
Aryka Radke (28:54):
Woo. I know. I really love that. And the, the example you gave it just how it turned everything on its head from somebody thinking they’re coming in to be a savior to the, the other individual claiming back their agency and saying, no, here, here we are together. If we’re moving on a journey, we’re going to go, you know, hand in hand. Not you dragging me along, and I don’t know what’s going on. So I, I think that’s so powerful. And, and like you said, Janine, and it’s, it goes across from family services worker to parent, to foster parent to child leadership, to our, our teams. Everyone can learn from everybody.
Corey B. Best (29:34):
Yeah. It, it, it, it moves us. So, so just getting chills, imagining that as the reality, right? And yesterday, Janine, we talked about moving from just passion. So we have a passion for saving kids, a passion for helping parents, and taking that passion and imagining how do we move from passion to compassion, right? And when we move to compassion, I’m no longer the spectator. I’m actively with you, right? I’m walking beside you, alongside you. My experiences may be different, but I truly believe that what’s positive for you is also positive for me. Right?
Janine Beaudry (30:25):
And from that perspective, I can’t walk into that conversation thinking, I’ve got the answers that I can give to you, right? Think about cultural context conversations, thinking about case planning conversations. It’s impossible for me to step into a conversation with anybody and think that I know the answer to X, y, and Z that needs to happen between now and 15 months from now, so that you and your family have what you need to be able to thrive. Which, if I’m able to kind of take away that separation is exactly what I want, right? That’s definitely my end goal as a human being working with other humans, is to support the end goal of, of children, youth, and families thriving. That’s what we’re here for, right? But you’ve gotta have that conversation open to people being able to tell you their story of what they need, what they know, right?
Corey B. Best (31:21):
Yeah. And, you know, I’m glad you, you, you took us there because we focus a lot on outcomes in our, in our system very little on the impact. And so we, we, we’ve acknowledged here anecdotally that we have a totality of impact that might be a lot different than how I see myself in this system. And so what I would encourage folk to really think about and have the ability and bravery to do is to listen to families, is to listen to individuals that are inside of an institution that’s resisting, right? To listen to the social workers that’s saying, you know, I don’t want to be driven by this oppressive system. We have to do something differently because I feel compassion for my families. And I want them to feel as if they have, as you mentioned, the agency that’s gonna require those multiple perspectives to really understand that families know their own experiences differently than we think we know their experiences. And how might we take that, that excavation of qualitative data from the perspective of families, and put that on the table as what do we need to, to learn, explore, act, and discover so that we can design what we should as a result of that inquiry, right? And this is a lot deeper than just a focus group, a town hall a survey monkey, right? <Laugh>, this,
Speaker 5 (33:01):
This requires us
Corey B. Best (33:04):
To get in community with people and establish the relationships that you mentioned.
Aryka Radke (33:11):
And I think it’s important to note that in getting in community with people, that’s gonna take some of us to put some of the ego aside because you’re assuming, well, I have my list of, you know, I’ve reviewed the, the case plan goals, and I have my ideas of how you can get there, one, two, and three, and you’re gonna have to step aside and make sure you’re listening to the family who may have other suggestions for everybody still to get to that same goal. And that may be harder for some people than others, because I think sometimes people get comfortable in their role of authority and, you know, don’t wanna give it up sometimes.
Janine Beaudry (33:49):
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah. I mean, I think that that gets right back to the tolerance for being in disagreement that you were talking about a little earlier, Corey, right? Like, if we’re actually committed to getting from here to there, we have got to open ourselves up to uncomfortable conversations with a healthy dose of disagreement and knowing that we have to be working together despite that to get to where we wanna go. Right? So Aryka, I, I know that there is a parent advocacy group, and there have been quite a bit of recent conversations around the registry review process.
Aryka Radke (34:27):
Janine Beaudry (34:27):
And that kinda stuff. So it’s not comfortable, right? We’re certainly not at a place where where, where there’s, oh, we all agree, and this is lovely. We’re, we’re skipping through the daisies. I’m curious if you have some thoughts that you’d like to share on how that relationship is progressing, how those conversations are progressing at this point?
Aryka Radke (34:47):
Yes. You know, it’s interesting that you say that because that whole registry process, and we’ve got a, a report out there that’s been pretty critical of our work. And the main person that I look to, to discuss these issues, who’s been deeply involved in that process, is someone that’s very open to criticism and is very eager to collaborate. And it was just the perfect person for me to work with, because that automatically took down a shield of defensiveness. So that when we started having conversations, and then I could talk to the, the authors of that report, I, I had a, a perspective of, yes, there are things we work we need to work on, and however, there are also things in the report that we disagree upon, and let’s work on these areas where we feel we have some area of agreement and those areas where we disagree, I, I have to hold firm. And that, that’s been our approach, and the conversations are ongoing. And I do think that it’s always better when we can come to the legislature with areas of agreement. So I, I’m hoping that we can make some good progress, but it did not, it didn’t start off that way with me. I’m, I’m glad I talked to somebody that was able to peel away my initial defensiveness, because nobody likes to be criticized.
Janine Beaudry (36:07):
No, I mean, it’s, it talk about something that gets in the way of belonging, fear.
Aryka Radke (36:11):
Janine Beaudry (36:12):
Right? And especially when the stakes are high, we are human bodies, and our human bodies are still back in, right? The Jurassic Park running away from the sabertooth tiger.
Aryka Radke (36:23):
Janine Beaudry (36:23):
And what comes up for us is defense, right? We wanna keep ourselves safe, and it’s really important to be in touch with that very human body response and then be like, okay, that’s, thank you for trying to keep me safe. I’m gonna set you aside so that I can actually be present here for this conversation.
Aryka Radke (36:40):
<Laugh>. Exactly. And hear, because it’s like you have to, nobody’s perfect. No system is perfect. So you do need to be able to hear about those areas where there, there needs to be some improvement and yeah, the, what’s it fight or flight, and I like to fight, so <laugh>
Janine Beaudry (36:57):
Me too. Me too. <Laugh> actually, all three. I’ll freeze, I’ll fight. I’ll flight, I’ll take off. No worries. Any one of those options. So this actually connects super well to Corey, a lot of the work that you’ve done you’ve partnered with state and federal organizations to build more just child and family support systems. And one example is the work that you’ve done in Broward County, Florida. So I know that connecting with everyone involved, community, families, those who are most impacted by this system that we’re really trying to recreate that’s a huge part of the work that you’ve done. What are some of the lessons learned through Broward County’s racial justice work that could help us imagine a more just child and family support system in Vermont?
Corey B. Best (37:44):
Yeah, absolutely. To, to give a little bit of context to, to, to the Broward work it, it did start with having community conversations that started off about like services and programs, right? And, and I say that with a little snarkiness because I know that services and programs are effective, many of them are, but there’s still adjacent system that has the same ideology that we currently have. And what we do is we measure the number of programs and services to say that this is how successful a parent would be. I’m not knocking the programs, I just think that we skip over the relational pieces of that before understanding what might be most effective for a parent. Now, the Broward work began there in community, asking deep, hard questions once we got over the services component of the conversations, and we began to look at accountability and what that meant from a community’s perspective were to answer a set of questions where do you believe the workforce is holding themselves accountable to building authentic relationships with you through investigation?
Corey B. Best (39:03):
And since Florida’s privatized through case management, and we ask similar questions of a group of frontline workers, a group of middle managers, and a group of leaders in Broward County, that went something like, where does accountability show up in your systems? How are you addressing racism within your systems? And what characteristics do you want to see in the most effective worker? What are those characteristics? Right? So we looked at accountability, not from a punitive perspective, but how we might be able to create holding spaces for individuals to grapple with racial biases. And we saw some remarkable turnaround through a coaching modality that we utilize with investigators. Some things that came up was, you know, I didn’t really know that I had this ideology, but now that I have been schooled, right, or unschooled, I kind of know that when I go into black community that I automatically thinks certain things.
Corey B. Best (40:14):
And I’ll tell you a couple of examples in these two zip codes, some of our investigators would automatically throw a car seat in the backseat when they went out before they even met a family, right? That’s telling, right? But to it’s telling, it’s not a surprise. But I want people to understand who might say, oh, no, I would never do that. The beauty is that that worker in that group was able to say that to another soul in public and realize that that might be why that child was removed, because there was contempt prior to investigation, contempt prior to investigation. So what the broad work really showed over course of several years was baseline data In 2018, November, 2018, we constructed what’s called the authentic family engagement and strengthening approach. This is a training only, we’re in the process of building a formal curriculum around that as well. Hint, hint for Vermont one day. But <laugh>
Aryka Radke (41:24):
Corey B. Best (41:28):
But I’ll just give the, the, the 1, 2, 3 of, of what happened. We noticed that in two primary zip codes, we were having removal episodes of up to 25 black and brown children per month, 2018, two communities, right? Two communities, I mean, two zip codes. We implemented the coaching modality, train the workforce on protective factors the racialized America. And we had this follow through of a, a coaching modality. Then January, 2019 was the begin date. By October, 2019, the same unit of investigators in a nine, almost ten month period had went from 20 to 25 per month in November to only 17 removals in a nine and a half month period. Remarkable. And.
Aryka Radke (42:33):
New Speaker (42:34):
I’m gonna tell you that it wasn’t because communities change, Aryka, it wasn’t because we invested differently. This was the community that still had high crime, high HIV, high rates of tanif, right?
Corey B. Best (42:51):
So, so the conditions in the community remained the same. What what changed was the view from the worker, right? The worker started to view the families as human. That was the change. Now, the lessons are all positive from that approach. But the biggest lesson of all, and I’m still in Broward doing race equity work with some of these same leaders. The the biggest lesson is that we didn’t stay the course. We didn’t stay the course. So fear, so I, I’m in Florida, if any of you are watching the news, I’m, I live there, right? <Laugh>. And so fear of what we can’t say, fear of what we can’t do, fear of how we can’t train. And so what, what happens when we have these grandiose ideas? And, and I’ll put that word to my approach in Broward, it was a big idea.
Corey B. Best (43:54):
It was a huge idea. I believe that we can measure family engagement. I believe that we can use information from trauma informed principles and measure relationships if we asked ourselves a different set of questions. And we did that. But what we weren’t prepared for was the fact that it, it cannot be a one and done 18 months compared to 400 plus years of racialized America. That ain’t gonna cut it. It has to be something that’s deeply embedded, ongoing, consistent, persistent, and with intentionality. That’s the biggest lesson. I believe that there are some geniuses in our ecosystem that have similar ideas, and that may have seen the, the impact of, we think we got it after a year. We think we got it after 18 months. And even if the governor says, we can’t talk about racism, we’ll still carry it on. They tried.
Corey B. Best (45:00):
I got, I, I have to give the workforce credit. They really tried. And then leadership, the challenges, the environment, it wasn’t a consistent and intentional part of the work any longer. So the way that we were accustomed to practice with our families, specifically our black and brown families, knowing how challenging our worldview is when it comes to their particular challenges, not understanding the context of racism and the environmental context, and some things are new and old. All of this is confusing when we don’t create opportunities in space for that. So that’s the biggest lesson, Aryka, is that we gotta get what we came for, right? And so nurturing freedom dreams will require us to, to stay the course. And I think that that’s really the biggest lesson. The, the, the curriculum itself. That aside, I don’t believe that it was a, a Mining for Gold thing. That was the magic there. I believe that the workforce wanted to do something different. And at the time, they were allowed and granted permission to do what they wanted to do. And then the system of ideas and worldviews showed up and put the kibosh on that.
Janine Beaudry (46:30):
So it sounds like a necessary ingredient is intention that’s sustained and resourcing that’s sustained to make sure that the intention can stay alive within the system that is currently still put together the way the system is, right? Because that system is gonna kill it unless there is resource, unless there is that intention and, and sustained intention, attention, and resourcing over time to make sure that we can within the current system overcome to the extent that we’re able to as human beings, the impacts that it’s having.
Corey B. Best (47:09):
Janine Beaudry (47:10):
Corey B. Best (47:10):
Yeah. And, and you know, Aryka, I see you, you’re coming in. I, I, I just say one last thing, and I’m curious what you have to say about all of that, and intentionality, A part of understanding where we are is that the, the Broward work stopped. It’s not a surprise. That’s how the system is designed. So the outcomes, we see good people it’s not due to a broken system, right? It, it’s by design. And so nurturing freedom, dreams, and imagination requires us to say that every good thing that we do, opposite of that, of that design, is something that’ll get us closer to that desired state, right?
Aryka Radke (47:52):
That is just so interesting. I mean, I’m amazed at the, the data and how you’re able to measure such an, you know, success. And then I’m so saddened to hear that the <laugh>, you know, the powers that be came back in and, and pushed everything down. And, and I see what you’re saying. It’s almost like the, the curriculum needs a, a regular booster shot to keep everybody focused on the ultimate goal. And then, though you’re still fighting with important powers that be, that may not allow you to actually administer that shot. So I don’t, I don’t quite know how that, where you go with that, at least in, you know, Broward County, hopefully other places you can do that type of work and have it continue and persist so that it’s so embedded that even if something changes in, in the outside political world, that it can continue, right?
Corey B. Best (48:50):
That’s the goal right there, right? What do we plant today that will continue to grow, and how do we allow workforce, community members, leaders at all levels to, to water that seed?
Aryka Radke (49:03):
Because then it’s bigger than a political shift in the winds.
Corey B. Best (49:08):
Absolutely. And you know, I, I will also say that one of the, the other lessons from, from that work and, and other bodies of work that’s similar, is that when it becomes consistent, we no longer see it as a new thing. We start to experience it as this justice centered approach is the way we do our thing.
Aryka Radke (49:35):
Corey B. Best (49:35):
Right? It’s not another thing. So it’s less about training. Those boosters are amazing, right? Because those boosters are serviceable to inoculating. Inoculating racist ideas and ideology.
Janine Beaudry (49:51):
I’m hearing something, and maybe it’s simply just sitting here as a white woman thinking like, Hmm, how do I, how do I conceptualize what I’m hearing? And, and it comes to me kind of like racial justice as a second language for myself in this body, right? It’s like, not something I was necessarily born to see, not necessarily something I was born to understand, to hear, to experience. I can kind of hear it now. I can kind of see it now, I can sort of understand it now. I have a little bit of words that I’m able to speak without fluency, and if I were to step out of that immersion, then I’m gonna go right back to the language that I’ve had my whole life. I gotta stick with being immersed. And that takes intention. And the longer I’m able to do that, the more fluent I become. Right? And when that fluency is, is, is centered, then I’m able to continue with that language and speaking it, and, and, you know, and having those conversations in a way that you’re actually able to hear and, and transmit what you’re intending to over time. And yeah, once you have that fluency and, and you’re really focused on maintaining it, then the winds of change is, it’s not gonna change that, right?
Aryka Radke (51:09):
Janine Beaudry (51:10):
You’re, you still, you have that on the inside of you.
Corey B. Best (51:12):
Yeah. You know, I, just speaking about the, the fluency here Mining for Gold, we’ve worked with several child welfare workers, social workers, investigators, and we’ve sort of come up with this definition for, for justice. And this, this might help because, you know, I I, I’m noticing the room. Aryka and I are both in black body as we’re talking to each other. Some of this is shorthand, some of this is shorthand. We, we, we know what we’re saying, right? And so <laugh>
Aryka Radke (51:42):
Corey B. Best (51:48):
Right, right. It’s not. And so I, I, I, I do wanna acknowledge that and, and don’t take this as an opportunity for me to be teaching white bodies, but I, I do know that that is a real dynamic, right? We don’t have to explain all the idiosyncrasies and define all the things when we’re having this conversation, right? <Laugh>, we live it, we know
Corey B. Best (52:06):
It, our people know it. And, and so we can also add some light to it, but, but for justice, you know, for folk if they want to imagine this for, for themselves we define justice as an acknowledgement of one’s humanness, proactively pursuing healing systemic harm, while repairing fractured relationships. One, fractured relationships with ourselves, and also fractured relationships from the past. Equity of voice and personhood, moving with the recognition and awareness so that people are seen and able to contribute to the positive social impact. Justice is supporting one another to build trust, empathy through holding ourselves accountable and not declaring anti-racism, but embodying our best selves.
Aryka Radke (53:02):
And yeah. If we’re all trying to embody our best selves, we can’t help but get to that dream state, right?
Corey B. Best (53:10):
Janine Beaudry (53:11):
Absolutely. And tell me that’s faith right there. What I just heard is faith. Right?
Corey B. Best (53:16):
Janine Beaudry (53:17):
Right? You’re like, okay, I just need to be and be with and allow everyone, their full humanity, and to show up with that. And you can’t help get to that, that freedom dream. That’s faith. Wow. Okay. <Laugh>, we’ve covered a lot of ground here today. I’m wondering if, if either of you have any parting thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners or to each other before we close?
Corey B. Best (53:50):
You know, I’ll I’ll see if I can do this with, with both. One, I just wanna acknowledge publicly, right? You know, Aryka, I can, I can embrace and empathize with what I know to be a struggle for, for you in a state that’s 94% white, right? And as a, as a black woman leader in, in this arena, right? I, I just admire your commitment, your tenacity in the face of all things that don’t have to be explained, right? And for me, for me, that’s, that’s really a demonstration of what one person can do to live in their full humanness. So I just wanted to, to really acknowledge that and for people to, to walk away with understanding what values mean to you. And you should never be in negotiation with doing what’s right. That should never be a negotiation.
Aryka Radke (55:11):
Wow, Corey, I just I’m so touched, and I really appreciate what you said. It is definitely one of the hardest jobs I’ve done, and it’s a job I absolutely love. But you like you said, without saying it, you understand a lot of, a lot of my challenges. And it’s just been so wonderful to hear you speak. I love the way you put ideas together, and you’re so, it, it, it’s, there isn’t a whole bunch of extra, it’s like, you can get to the point, which is what I need, because my days are so tight. I love that. And I’m just happy that you invited me, Janine, to do this. And in terms of everyone else listening, I, we all have our marching orders. If we have a vision of what we want our furthest dream to be for the system, for the children and the families that are involved in child welfare, or that could be, and I just invite everybody to, you know, put their thinking caps on and, and, and start to dream big and wide.
Janine Beaudry (56:16):
And to show up, right? Keep showing up every single day. Mm-Hmm.
Aryka Radke (56:20):
Janine Beaudry (56:20):
So, right. Thank you.
Aryka Radke (56:21):
Janine Beaudry (56:21):
So much. I cannot tell you how full my heart is having been part of this conversation and how humbling it has been to sit and, and listen to you both and be a part of this conversation today. I know that I’m gonna walk out of here a changed person, and, and hopefully if we’re all doing the right thing, that’s every day as an experience we’re having, right? Walk out of all of these connections as a changed human being. So thank you so much to for allowing me to be a part of that and for allowing all of our listeners to be a part of this conversation that you’ve shared with us today. And hopefully we will have more in terms of the, you know, steps 1, 2, 3 to follow this conversation fairly soon. All right, <laugh>, thank you both so much.
Aryka Radke (57:11):
Cassie Gillespie (57:15):
The Social Work Lens is produced by the University of Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership, and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop, and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house administrative production assistant, Emma Baird. For The Social Work Lens, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.