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Children's Voice Article, November 2001

Executive Directions

by Shay Bilchik

There's an eerie hush in my house lately. The din of music, telephones ringing, and teenagers gathered in my basement has ceased, and the floors are amazingly free of clutter. It's terrible.

At the end of August, my wife Susan and I drove to Bloomington to move our son Zach into Indiana University's freshman dorms, and then to Ann Arbor to drop off our daughter Melissa for her second year at the University of Michigan.

It was a tough trip for us as parents, and perhaps tougher still to come back to our too quiet house and get used to our new roles. For almost 20 years, we have been not only our children's caregivers but also their advocates. From infancy through their teen years, whether they needed us a lot or just a little, we were always in their corners, ensuring they had the opportunities, encouragement, and support they needed to thrive and succeed. And although we will always be their parents, our children must now become advocates for themselves. Our hope is simply that we put them in good stead to do so.

Our work in child welfare, however, reminds us that thousands of children in this country have no one in their corner. Who steps in when parents fail to advocate for their children, or when families need extra help?

In many cases, a teacher becomes a child's voice or the force that inspires, gives direction, and fosters talents. And because teachers are among the group of professionals required to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect, they must also advocate for the safety of their students. In "When Should Teachers Report Abuse," we provide educators with definitions, warning signs, and information about child abuse investigations to help them with this heavy responsibility.

After a report of abuse, children's advocacy centers (CACs) in communities nationwide continue to advocate for vulnerable children, ensuring they are served gently and judiciously by the system designed to protect them. Without an advocacy center or similar child-centered approach, children who have been abused may be shuttled from agency to agency to be interviewed and examined by CPS investigators, police, prosecutors, and medical personnel. Multiple interviews can further traumatize a child and weaken a court case, and the traditional system doesn't guarantee an abused child will receive needed mental health and counseling services.

In contrast, CACs focus on the child by offering all needed services in an unintimidating environment. And like any good advocate, CACs make sure children are heard and their needs served. An article inside explores these innovative models.

Many smaller communities, however, lack the resources and population density to support an advocacy center and many of the other services required to meet the needs of children and families. Driving from Maryland to Indiana to Michigan and back this summer reminded me of how vast and varied our country is.

Sadly, those of use who advocate for the welfare of children and families are often so focused on the concentration of needs in urban and suburban areas that the children in rural jurisdictions are treated as afterthoughts. We forget these communities deal with similar problems, have unique needs, and face greater challenges in providing services. Strong advocates for rural areas, like CWLA's National Advisory Committee on Rural Social Services, are working to publicize and address the needs of rural communities. Our cover story explores the issues involved in serving this population.

Although I'm adjusting, I still miss the noise and energy of a house filled with children, and I worry about Melissa and Zach as they navigate their large universities and the challenges of adulthood. I am comforted, though, by the knowledge that they have become formidable self-advocates and confident young adults. Both have also expressed an interest in becoming advocates for others and plan to pursue careers in human services.

But knowing they are flourishing doesn't keep me from anxiously awaiting their e-mails or from counting the days until they arrive home for Thanksgiving. I'm still a dad, and I still miss my kids.

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