Starting in January of 2018, a team of CDSS staff has participated in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) Capitol Cohort, an intensive training program on racial equity in government. The Capitol Cohort is a first of its kind initiative bringing racial equity concepts and policy tools to over 170 employees across a dozen state departments and agencies.
Why focus on race? CDSS’s mission calls on us to serve, aid and protect needy and vulnerable children and adults. To do that effectively, we must understand the root causes of their poverty and social vulnerability, and examine unequal distribution of wealth and power. Despite progress in addressing explicit discrimination, inequities along racial lines continue to be deep, pervasive, and persistent.
As a department providing food, shelter, safety and security, employment and job supports and training, we are uniquely well-positioned to reduce these inequities through our programs and practices. By thoughtfully addressing the ways that racial injustice contributes to poverty and vulnerability for millions of Californians, and the ways our own programs and services can be mitigating, or not, we do more to successfully achieve our mission.
The team of CDSS participants – known as the Racial Equity Working Group and composed of representatives from eight of CDSS’s ten divisions – has launched four subcommittees and drafted a Racial Equity Action Plan for the Department. The plan brings the tools the Working Group has learned to the work of CDSS to ensure that families, children and seniors across white, African American, Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, Latino, and immigrant communities have the protection and support they need to thrive.
CDSS’s Racial Equity Action Plan includes the following goals and actions to build upon our existing efforts:
• Communications and Training: This subcommittee seeks to ensure that CDSS employees understand and are committed to achieving racial equity, gathering input through an employee racial equity survey and developing a training program on racial equity and inclusion for CDSS staff.
• Language Access: This subcommittee works to guarantee that language will not be a barrier to full participation in CDSS programs. Planned actions include review of CDSS’s interpretation and translation practices, evaluation of our community partnerships, and recommendation of a language access framework to be applied to programs and activities department-wide.
• Workforce Equity: This subcommittee’s goal is for CDSS to employ a diverse workforce at all levels that is reflective of the population we serve and afford staff equal upward mobility and career growth opportunities. They will collaborate with relevant CDSS branches and internal stakeholders to actualize the Department’s commitment to hiring a diverse workforce and ensure all existing staff are educated and have resources on upward mobility options and civil service laws and rules.
• Data: This subcommittee seeks to ensure that CDSS utilizes agency-wide data to meaningfully inform strategies for advancing racial equity, including improving awareness by collection and analysis of racial equity survey data, and developing data usage and education across the department.
Bio: Maureen Keffer is a policy specialist in the Civil Rights Unit (CRU) at the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). The CRU effective access and nondiscrimination for all applicants and recipients of benefits and services provided by CDSS and county welfare departments, including cash aid, food stamps, and child welfare. She develops civil rights regulations and policy guidance and provides training and technical assistance to counties to strengthen civil rights protections for some of the state’s most vulnerable populations. She also plays a lead role in the Department’s efforts to incorporate racial equity principles and practices into policy decisions and operations.