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Children's Voice Article, March/April 2003

Executive Directions

by Shay Bilchik

Facing a collective budget shortfall of $40 billion, states may have to cut millions from programs that serve children and families. The federal government is likely to cut human service funding to shore up its $157 billion deficit. And many nonprofit agencies are seeing donations slow dramatically thanks to a lagging economy and a stock market that hasn't kept up with the performance we've come to expect.

We may have thought our jobs were difficult before, but when budget cuts force us to do more with less, and when the families we serve are the victims of layoffs and cutbacks, that's the true test of our resolve.

While many of you were reconfiguring your budgets and mapping out plans to accommodate the communities you serve, I spent weeks working with my own staff to make some difficult choices about CWLA's budget as well, putting every line item under tighter scrutiny. And although we went over many programs with a fine-tooth comb to see where we could save money, we reaffirmed our commitment to improve the many ways we serve our members during this difficult economic time. We also safeguarded that portion of our budget devoted to staff training and education, from classes on everything from desktop pub-lishing software to business communications and human resource management.

And we continue our ongoing internal efforts to promote learning and discussion within our own ranks. Each Wednesday, every CWLA staff member is invited to gather for a lunch-hour "Food for Thought" discussion to consider certain themes important to our work--recent topics have included the Indian Child Welfare Act, the transfer and waiver of juveniles to the adult criminal system, and exploring grant opportunities. Our monthly staff Program Policy Forums present complex issues important to the League, such as baby abandonment and safe haven legislation, and the impact of gun violence on our nation's youth. We've even reviewed and reconsidered our definition of "positive youth development" and our standards on residential care. By inviting our staff to review our positions and contribute their input, our policies are always evolving, and so are our employees.

The approach fits well with one of my longstanding goals as President and CEO of CWLA--fostering a learning organization. A term popularized by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline, a learning organization is "a place where people continually expand their capacity to create results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn."

Workers at learning organizations are always interested in examining and challenging sacred cows; hearing critical appraisals that might help them improve their work; and expanding the organization's capabilities rather than focusing on tried-and-true methods used in the past. Knowledge is constantly entering the learning organization, flowing up through the workforce, and laterally--as well as from the top down. But if CWLA is to be effective in its role as a national umbrella organization, it's incumbent upon us to help your agency and others thrive as learning organizations as well. In recent weeks, we've published the 2001 Salary Survey, focusing on the field of child welfare; our staff has continued working diligently on our national conference in March; and our consulting arm, the National Center for Field Consultation, has been busy with 200 projects--ranging from work related to the creation of a child mental health center in Oklahoma, to litigation in New Jersey and Georgia. And of course, there's the magazine in your hands right now. This issue of Children's Voice profiles family drug courts, takes a closer look at the fine line between client confidentiality and public disclosure, and explores the potential influence of diet on mental health problems in children.

Winston Churchill said, "I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught," words that capture the active, expansive possibilities we associate with learning, and the passive, often painful experiences we associate with being taught. Considering the economic climate in which we operate today, many of us are about to be taught quite a lot. But if we can continue to share our knowledge with one another, perhaps we can learn even more.

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