Fighting for Social Justice: 40 Years of Innovation

This year marks an important one for CSSP as we celebrate 40 years of fighting for social justice. Looking back over these four decades, I find myself both amazed and proud that CSSP has come so far from our start as a modest policy center of the University of Chicago in Washington, D.C. to where we are now as an innovative, national non-profit with partners and projects across the nation. We’ve had many accomplishments and touched many lives over the years. 

It would take reams of paper – or more aptly, screens of text – to accurately cover our work in these last decades, but allow me to share briefly a bit of our history. 

Founded in 1978 by the visionary Tom Joe, with his co-creator Harold Richman, then Dean of the School of Social Services Administration at the University, CSSP worked with a variety of different stakeholders – from welfare rights organizations, labor unions, policymakers and state and local administrators – to combat poverty, fight for access to education for all children, address racial equity, and be a pioneer in using outcomes data to identify policy directions. Our work spans many different areas, always with a focus on changing the systems and situations that impact those most marginalized in our society, while also striving to open up opportunity.  We have worked for: 

  • Providing Children with a Good Start in Life: We have long focused on policies that increase the odds that all children are born healthy, developmentally on track by age three, enter school ready to learn and read well in third grade.
  • Successful Public Systems for Families: Working with gifted public sector leaders, we have helped improve the operation of child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health agencies. We’ve focused efforts to reduce disparate outcomes based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and immigrant and ability status. Through our work, we have created a new narrative of what’s possible for the young people impacted by these systems.
  • Building Strong Communities: CSSP’s earliest work taught us that the intersection of place, race, and poverty affects the lives of far too many children. Working with dozens of communities, we helped establish the field of place-based, result-focused work, testing ways to partner with residents and other community leaders to build and shape their own futures.
  • Creating Policy to Improve Results at Scale: CSSP’s efforts are ultimately aimed at influencing public policies that will eliminate barriers and close equity gaps so that all children, youth and families can thrive. We are committed to developing policy strategies that reflect and support the best of what we learn from the field.

Our past is our future. To achieve another 40 years of similar progress and achieve truly equitable outcomes for all children, youth, families and communities, we recommit ourselves to working towards the radical transformation of public systems, to new efforts that support communities, and to public policies that will institutionalize and support these changes. Equity will forever be a core focus of all that we do. From internal policies to the work that we produce, we believe that reducing poverty, dismantling racism, and addressing the other root causes of our nation’s huge gaps in opportunity and outcomes are the key to reducing disparities based on race, ethnicity, sovereignty, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, and socioeconomic status. 

As CSSP enters its fifth decade, we invite you to celebrate with us. Later this year, we will host a celebration in Washington, D.C., which you can learn more about here. In the meantime, join us on Twitter and Facebook as we share memories, triumphs, and lessons we’ve learned over our history.  Follow along using #CSSP40. 

It has been my great pleasure to lead CSSP for nearly 20 years; with a clear focus on what families and communities need to thrive, I look forward to working with our extraordinary board, staff, and many, many partners to continue to turn ideas into action and to make a difference.


Frank Farrow is the president at CSSP.