The Family Success “movement” started percolating in 2003, when a group of colleagues from the world of human services came together to envision a better, bolder and more proactive support system for New Jersey’s families and communities.
At the time, New Jersey – and the nation – were reeling from the tragic and avoidable death of Faheem Williams, a 7-year-old boy from Newark who died from abuse and neglect at the hands of his caretakers. Faheem and his two brothers – a 7-year-old twin and 4-year-old – had been known all too well to the Division of Youth and Family Services. Despite investigations of multiple reports of child abuse, the state had closed his case.
Faheem had fallen through the cracks of a broken system.
While others looked for ways to reform the system that had failed Faheem, this group of colleagues planned to re-imagine and build a better system.
Reshaping attitudes, thinking, policies, funding and practices could transform the current, broken system, and build a future where families were proactively provided with what they need to succeed.
We came to realize that comprehensive and sustained investments in infant, child, youth and family well-being are more effective and more cost-effective than massive government spending to address problems after they have occurred. The “status quo” was eroding family success instead of enabling it. New Jersey needed to DIVEST from DISTRESS, and INVEST in SUCCESS.
An early supporter of the movement was New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. While serving on Newark’s City Council, he developed a vision that every infant, child, youth and family in Newark would have as good or better a life than those living anywhere else in the state of N.J. A blueprint for transformation was developed and when Senator Booker became Mayor of Newark in 2006, the Family Success movement was born.
From there, the movement continued gaining momentum: In 2013, Tom Blatner and Jeanne Warnock officially founded the Family Success Institute (FSI) as an independent non-profit organization to pursue both transformational changes in state policy as well as funding to support local family success work. Holistic community-based service networks can now be found in the Promise Neighborhoods in Newark and Camden, in over 40 Family Success Centers across the state and in community-based service networks emerging in Passaic, Monmouth and Middlesex, to name a few.
FSI has continued to serve as a catalyst for change. In 2019 we published an analysis of New Jersey’s FY 2018 budget, with plans to analyze additional budgets as well. The FSI Learning Community, a statewide collaborative of community leaders, continues to rapidly expand and today boasts more than 100 members. The Learning Community has aided FSI in crafting key pieces of legislation which would guarantee basic rights for children and families.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues it caused threw New Jersey families into turmoil, FSI’s work became more critical. As the effects of the pandemic linger, we continue our work to build a better system for all so the catastrophe caused by the effects of the pandemic never happens again.