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Children's Voice Article, September 2001

Executive Directions

by Shay Bilchik

Weighing risk versus returns is one of the hardest parts of making an investment. Whether selecting funds for a 401(k) or creating a nest egg, the choices range from the relative security of bonds and treasuries to the risky promise of futures and hedge funds. Unfortunately, most investments come with a degree of risk. But while the stock market will surge and ebb and the economy will cycle through booms and recessions, an investment in our children's futures will always produce spectacular returns.

And we now know better than ever how to be smart investors. Decades of research, analyzing outcomes, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the services we provide to children and families have taught us what works and how best to serve our nation's most vulnerable citizens. Naturally, there is always more research to be done, and new programs and practices to explore, but we have the knowledge right now to invest our money well and reap the benefits for years to come.

In the coming weeks, Congress will make decisions about investing billions of federal dollars. Their choices are plentiful, but no other investment is smarter or offers the potential of better returns than putting funding into the programs we know work to make our children's lives better and their futures brighter.

This special issue of Children's Voice examines several areas of CWLA's national legislative agenda-priority legislation that the League and others are advocating as sound investments in children and families.

Bold new legislation, the Act to Leave No Child Behind, offers states the option to seek new federal help for a broad range of preventive, protective, crisis, independent living, and permanency services (including kinship guardianship) for children and parents to ensure timely decisions are made regarding safety and permanence.

The Social Services Block Grant Restoration Act would restore funding to the hundreds of important programs that rely on Title XX, including child day care, parenting skills training, independent living services for youth transitioning out of foster care, and services to people with disabilities. Without this funding, children and families go without the integrated support services they desperately need.

The Younger Americans Act would give our often-neglected youth a productive way to fill their afterschool hours. Research has shown conclusively that idle, unsupervised time increases an adolescent's risk of poor school performance, juvenile delinquency, and risk-taking behavior, whereas strong, community-based after school programs can promote social competence and academic achievement and help youth find their talents and strengths. The Younger Americans Act would allocate funding to community organizations to provide the kinds of programs that make a positive difference in the lives of young people.

Those in the social services field know all too well that substance abuse is the number one problem among families entering the child welfare system. More than 8 million children in this country live with substance abusing parents. But we also know more than ever about effective treatment and how to help families end the destructive pattern of abuse. The demand for these services is great, yet only a fraction of those in need are getting help. The Child Protection/Alcohol and Drug Partnership Act would provide additional treatment resources through grants to state child welfare and alcohol and drug agencies.

Even the strongest programs, however, can't make a difference without enough qualified staff. The current workforce crisis in child welfare means it is harder then ever to find people to staff residential group care centers, provide substance abuse treatment, investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, or run afterschool centers. The need for talented, committed workers who will take on the care of children as a career is dire. The Child Protection Services Improvement Act would begin to address the workforce crisis by providing higher wages, ongoing training and supervision, improved benefits and student loan forgiveness to reduce turnover and vacancy rates in the child welfare field.

In the world of high finance, investments always come with risk, but when it comes to the nation's children and families, the only risk comes with choosing not to invest in them. Congress has the opportunity to fund what research shows us are the best programs and services we can offer our children. They simply deserve no less.

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