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In 2009, the Federal Children’s Bureau awarded the State of Hawai‘i Department of Human Services (DHS), along with 12 other national sites, a three-year grant under the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. The purpose of the grant was to further the intention of the law and to conduct studies to determine the efficacy of family engagement. (By family engagement we mean reconnecting immediate and extended family to their kin in foster care, and including them in the decision making process related to the placement and care of the children.) The Hawai‘i DHS contracted with EPIC ‘Ohana, Inc. (EPIC) to implement the study and provide the services. This manual is born from our experience implementing the grant and from EPIC’s history of advocating for family engagement within Child Welfare practices.
We chose to write about the intention of this work. Why are the changes we try to bring about important? What are the values that fuel our efforts and how do we embody them? What wisdom from our host Native Hawaiian culture informs our practice and inspires our work?
Child Welfare Services around the country are going through a paradigm shift. A top-down, hierarchical approach is being replaced with a collaborative process that involves all stakeholders, including families, sitting at the decision-making table. As a values driven agency, this manual is our attempt to support the foundation of that shift by articulating the ground we stand on. It’s a ground influenced by the Maori of New Zealand, the enduring spirit of the Hawaiian culture, and the intimacy of island life where nearly every adult is called “auntie” or “uncle” by the young. It’s a ground influenced by the Hawaiian tradition of pono or goodness/uprightness which requires shared respect and responsibility. And, finally, it’s a ground influenced by many national innovators who have developed and continue to pursue best practices implementation within the Child Welfare System.
We hope you find these pages beneficial. We also hope our story and values spark your thoughts about the wisdom of your local culture, and the ground you stand on as your program grows and develops to fit the needs of your community. Much of what we say may be familiar and in alignment with your existing values, some may be new or said in a new way. At EPIC we’ve found having our values inform our work steers what we do and how we interact with people. It’s also our values that keep us in balance during rocky times and restores our passion when we feel spent. If this manual can help inspire that same steadiness and nourishment within you, the reader, we will be very happy indeed.