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Executive Directions, May 2001

Children's Voice Magazine

Creating Connected Communities was the theme around which hundreds of advocates and practitioners and administrators from child and family serving agencies gathered for CWLA's National Conference in Washington, DC, March 7-9. This theme, however, was not just the guiding force for this successful event, but is, in practice, the only way to succeed in improving the lives of vulnerable children and their families.

Simply put, programs not supported by and anchored in the community will falter. Strong programs and policies alone don't work- no matter how well designed or funded they are. Ultimately, every effort succeeds or fails at the community level.

Our national conference workshops, presenters, and award recipients provided example after example of the need to connect communities and the success stories that strong communities can generate.

In one workshop, staff from CWLA, the National Children's Alliance, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police gathered with representatives from both child welfare and law enforcement to discuss the partnerships among their agencies that help ensure child abuse reports are properly investigated and children are kept safe.

In another workshop, Mobile, Alabama, District Attorney John Tyson and Long Island, New York, Ambulance Medical Technician Timothy Jaccard described how they have created innovative networks to deal with the problem of abandoned babies in their communities- creating positive solutions to a troubling issue.

During the closing luncheon, William L. Albritton took the stage to accept the J. Burt Annin Award for Community Service. Dr. Albritton was lauded for his service to children affected by HIV/AIDS, and his efforts to teach, inform, and establish productive dialogues with the family members, teachers, judges, and other providers who form the communities around infected children to ensure they receive the best all-around services.

During the conference, attendees were able to view excerpts of the Academy Award-nominated documentary film Legacy. The film follows several members of a family trapped in urban poverty in Chicago's Henry Horner Homes, one of the oldest and most dangerous public housing projects in the nation. The story of the Collins family begins with the painful loss of 14-year-old Terrell Collins to street violence and ends five years later with members of the Collins family making changes they never thought possible. Driven by their own determination, each found the help they needed from community resources- mentors, job training programs, substance abuse treatment, low-income housing loans, and giving teachers, employers, and fellow citizens- to move from welfare to work, attend college, purchase a home, and recover from addiction.

This issue of Children's Voice features articles showing again the importance of community, whether it be the community of educators, caregivers, psychologists, and activists who must work together to help a child with disabilities excel in school or the communities in Massachusetts that opened their homes to a group of Sudanese refugees. This issue's lead article provides an example of what happens when communities fail to identify needs and meet demands for services- leaving millions of children with unmet mental health care needs. And our essay contest winners show us youth perspectives on what comprises a successful community.

The examples abound and the evidence is clear- programs that are multisystemic and community-based achieve greater success, and communities offering myriad services are better able to support and strengthen families.

The film Legacy concludes with this charge: "We challenge you to explore the art of the possible... and create solutions in your community."

As we reflect back on the conference and look forward to our abundant work for the coming year, I encourage you to take this challenge to heart. Explore the power your community holds to come together for children and families, offer needed services, and create solutions.

Shay Bilchik

Executive Director
Child Welfare League of America

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