With New Plan, CWDA Deepens Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Blog post

As I stepped into the role of CWDA’s Executive Director in January 2021, our state and our county human services agencies were grappling with several interrelated crises.  One was the devastation, fear and human loss of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our county staff were on the front lines, meeting a surge of need and witnessing the devastating impact of the virus on communities long excluded from the basic foundations of health – quality housing, nutrition, preventive care and more. 

At the same time, communities of color continued to experience the trauma and violence of Black Americans being killed by the police, among them George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain. Immigrants, their families, and the advocates serving them were still reeling from four years of divisive, at times terror-inducing, federal policymaking.  Anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes spiked throughout the country.  Members of the LGBTQ+ community saw a rise in anti-gay and anti-trans legislation in many states. 

Just when communities needed our services the most, we recognized that many have lost trust in institutions that have, too often, failed and even hurt them.   

It was clear that, like many other public and private organizations, it was time to examine our role in practicing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and moving these values forward within CWDA, with our member counties, and in our role as statewide advocates for clients of county programs. 

Counties help millions of Californians access important public benefit programs, while also serving as the last line of defense for children and adults who have been abused and neglected. Yet, despite efforts to ensure access, our programs and services have been built atop many underlying inequalities in our society, and they have rules and requirements that reflect outworn values – including structural racism, classism, ageism, sexism, heteronormativity, and so on. 

After a year working with our staff, human services directors across the state, and experts from the Unconscious Bias Project, CWDA is renewing our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with our DEI Strategic Plan. It outlines actions we will take to effectuate change against systemic and institutional inequities, and to support inclusion and equity within our organization, the counties we serve, and in collaboration with our partners and clients.  Collectively, we can impact millions of Californians. It is our hope that this plan will serve as a compass and guiding document that lives, breathes, and evolves with CWDA and Californians’ needs over the years.  

As an organization, CWDA seeks to be at the forefront of progress in California and the nation when it comes to putting forth policy and practice changes that provide a more equitable path forward for our communities. 

With our DEI Strategic plan, we challenged ourselves to think more broadly about how we leverage CWDA’s privilege, position and leadership. An ambitious road map for the next three-to-five years, this plan offers CWDA staff and members a view of what our leadership path can look like, including both immediate internal steps and ongoing projects we will undertake alongside our members and partner organizations to continue moving forward.

Those steps include:

  • Identifying and developing the necessary resources to support more inclusive recruitment practices as well as leadership and succession plans centered on diversity.  
  • Creating a DEI Committee in our organization to ensure diverse ideas and opinions are constantly integrated into CWDA’s larger goals, policy discussions and decisions.
  • Centering equity in our policy, program and budget proposals. 
  • Highlighting county staff and client stories about the benefit of DEI competence in relation to safety net services.
  • Establishing a CWDA DEI Officer role to oversee this work.

Engaging our county partners is an especially important part of our DEI work. County human services agencies are uniquely positioned to lead the way in terms of increasing racial and cultural diversity, reducing disparities in services and programs, and improving equity. And, of course, county human services staff across all our programs interact directly with members of the public who seek assistance and access benefits and services. Listening to their feedback on their interactions with county-run services will be critical in helping counties to implement more inclusive, welcoming policies.

CWDA understands that centuries of inequality – both in society and in governmental processes – cannot be eradicated quickly, if ever. But our staff and members are deeply committed to do our part to make a positive change where we can. And we remain committed to ensuring our assistance services are available completely and without obstructions to anyone and everyone who needs them.