Within Our Reach

Utilizing Collective Impact to Reduce Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities 

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November 7, 2023

By: Sheila Boxley  

When the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities released its groundbreaking report in 2018, one of the key concepts that informed its recommendations was the need for multi-disciplinary support for families. In other words, keeping children safe is a job that child welfare systems and child protective services (CPS) cannot do alone. 

On the heels of the release of the Commission’s report, the U.S. Department of Justice funded a demonstration initiative to develop and test multidisciplinary strategies and responses to address fatalities or near-death injuries as a result of child abuse and neglect. Known as Child Safety Forward, the initiative has spent the subsequent four years developing strategies to support a public health approach to reducing abuse and neglect fatalities. 

The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Sacramento (CAPC) was one of five demonstration sites in the nation chosen for this grant. Systems partners across Sacramento County began the work with an understanding that child safety and well-being was not solely a “child welfare responsibility,” and recognized the need for all child- and family-serving agencies and organizations to partner together. While collaboration across systems in Sacramento County was already strong, the initiative furthered a sense of shared responsibility and accountability for child safety to fully implement a public health approach to prevent child maltreatment through systems change.  

Through the development of a Prevention Cabinet comprised of local system and community leaders, the Sacramento Child Safety Forward team leaned into  the collective impact approach, which is often utilized to support and engage multi-disciplinary players to work together to solve complex problems. 

What is collective impact? Practitioners define it as “a network of community members, organizations, and institutions that advance equity by learning together, aligning, and integrating their actions to achieve population and systems-level change.” It involves a structured process that integrates the following: a common agenda; shared measurement; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and a backbone team.  

Engaging community and centering equity are essential elements to the success of collective impact. The Sacramento team approached the work by elevating families into relationships of equal power in the development of a strategic plan with the goal of aligning with community needs.  

They achieved this by appointing Community Representatives to infuse the initiative with the stories, voices, and life experiences of those who have had contact with any child- and family- serving system or agency in Sacramento County. Seven community listening sessions, developed in partnership with the Community Representatives, provided additional community feedback. 

Shifting the way people think and understand the connection between prevention and child safety takes time. It requires moving decision makers and practitioners from focusing on how to work within the constraints of their current system to envisioning a new way for the system to operate. There were core elements of the Child Safety Forward design that helped accelerate some of the necessary transformations. These included: 

  • Creation of an operational structure to prioritize and facilitate collaborative co-creation of the plan and implementation. 
  • Centering community voice to create shared power. 
  • Leveraging and integrating countywide collaborative efforts to reduce duplication of efforts. 
  • Use of an external evaluator as a neutral partner for technical assistance to inform strategic decision-making. 

Child Safety Forward enabled Sacramento County to create a robust governing structure through its Prevention Cabinet for this work. This entity now consists of more than 30 cross-systems leaders from public systems, private nonprofits, and the community who have come together to co-create a strategic plan focused on systems change that promotes positive outcomes for children and families. 

The demonstration initiative has afforded Sacramento County the opportunity to participate in peer-to-peer learning and connect with subject-matter experts to support planning and implementation of a cross-systems strategic plan using a public health 21st century child welfare system approach. This has included the development of strategic ten-year plan to eliminate child abuse and neglect fatalities by 2030 that the team will be presenting to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. 

Child Safety Forward Sacramento’s Prevention Cabinet has become the advisory body and collaborative partner for other child safety initiatives in the county. Because the Prevention Cabinet has such a widespread reach across county agencies and organizations, the Prevention Cabinet has been selected as the governing body of the county’s efforts to implement the Family First Sacramento Comprehensive Prevention Plan.   

This approach to collective impact is uniting cross-sector and community leaders under a common cause and will ultimately help leaders engage and collaborate across systems that touch families with a common goal and collective responsibility for keeping children safe.  


Sheila Boxley is the President & CEO of the Child Abuse Prevention Center, a local and state organization which provides services, training, research, and advocacy and serves as the association for the 500 family resource centers in California. 

Disclaimer: This product was supported by cooperative agreement number 2019-V3-GX-K005, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.  

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