On Thursday, February 4, 2022, HHS held a session on their new Racial Equity initiative. Debra Johnson the Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs at HHS started the call by advocating for the nation to build a more just system that promotes fairness. She also outlines her agency’s commitment to advancing racial equity.
The next speaker was Ted Lee, the White House Senior Advisor on the American Rescue Plan Implementation Team. He highlighted the importance of equity as a goal. He mentioned the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minorities, the high level of housing insecurity, and more learning and job loss. He encouraged the need to remove systemic barriers, and an executive order on advancing racial equity. He gave more information on the American Rescue Plan and all its programs to promote equity such as Child Tax Credit and increasing funding for minority schools.
Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau reported on the impact of racism and poverty on the well-being of children and families and the action to address structural racism in policies and programs.
The zoom event included opportunities for key constituencies to weigh-in on the topic. Grace Muwine provided a parent perspective as she discussed her concern about the racial equity issue being brushed aside too often. She advocated for programs to be put in place for people of color to have more access to education and to increase Black community leaders.
After some initial opening comments, the group held a discussion. The first question asked, how are leaders in ACF working with families? Dr. Goldstein responded that the office developed an equity action plan. He believes that the best thing a leader can do is support such plans. He mentioned the ACF revised equity policy, the commitment to equity, and the use of language for contractors. There was also discussion on the importance of efforts to not leave out of such efforts the Indigenous community.
Another topic discussed was how each ACF program incorporating voices into the plan? Dr Bernadine Futrell, Director of the Office of Head Start stated that equity is the core of their program. It’s a social justice program born out of civil rights and moves forward to learn about history. The program also addresses poverty.
The discussion point was, what are the barriers in discussions about promoting equity? Much of the discussion focused on the challenge of history with some communities, especially Native American communities and that there was a need gain this trust.
The call ended with a hopeful video with parents hoping for their children to be free, safe, and excel in their dreams. They want their children to live in a society where they can become whatever they want in the future.
The HHS ACF Equity Action Plan February 2022, is addressed to providers and agencies across the ACF range of programs. It is both a call to action and offers up some approaches noting that ACF’s internal engagement strategies include conducting staff training, supporting Employee
Resource Groups; promoting employee well-being; assessing agency human resources practices, programs, policies, and procedures; strengthening equitable, accessible, and inclusive employment practices; expanding the role of the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Employment Opportunity (ODME); maintaining a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination, harassment or retaliation; strategic planning; and establishing an agency-wide Council on Diversity.