Children's Voice Article, July/August, 2005
Hubert Humphrey once said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life-the sick, the needy, and the handicapped."
At CWLA's National Conference last spring, a guest speaker used this eloquent quote from our former vice president. It was an appropriate passage, considering the audience. Social workers, case managers, counselors, probation officers, and others in the social services field are on the front lines every day, protecting and caring for our most vulnerable. Without their energy, passion, and daily commitment, the needs of far too many young people would go unnoticed and likely unserved.
During the conference, CWLA and the Freddie Mac Foundation honored a number of individuals from across the country for their exceptional work on behalf of children and their pursuit of professional growth at the same time. The winners of the Freddie Mac Foundation's David S. Liederman Scholarships included Laqwana Alexander, who has seen the child welfare system both as a young person in foster care and juvenile detention, and as a residential care professional. While working for Children's Village in New York, she earned a master's degree in social work, with an emphasis on administration. She plans to develop programs that decrease the return of children to foster care.
Another scholarship recipient, Melissa McGuire, works with young male sexual offenders at Gibault Inc. in Indiana. She earned her undergraduate degree while working full time for the agency and volunteering with several community projects. She is also a trainer and parent educator who will soon be establishing a new group home program. Alexander and McGuire are just two examples of the exemplary talent in the field. Their accomplishments and those of other award recipients could fill the pages of this magazine.
The great things happening in the child welfare field are inspiring, but there are continued challenges, including low pay, heavy workloads, high staff turnover, and limited resources. We must continually remind our nation's lawmakers and leaders that the accomplishments of those who serve children parallel the noble work performed by other first responders, including police officers and firefighters. Every community works hard to pay for adequate equipment and training for our police and fire departments. In a similar vein, we must dedicate adequate resources to enhance and improve the work performed by our child welfare workforce, the first responders for those who are in the dawn of life and those who are in the shadows of life.
Luckily, strong advocates in Congress are trying to provide those supports. For example, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) has sponsored the Child Protection Services Workforce Improvement Act, which would authorize $100 million annually for grants to state child welfare agencies and tribal governments to improve working conditions, including increasing wages, hiring more staff, and improving the training of workers and supervisors.
This and other pending legislation are encouraging and essential for those working on the front lines of child welfare. Every day, our nation's vulnerable exhibit increasingly complex problems, requiring a skilled workforce to tackle them. The issues covered in this Voice are evidence.
In the article "Challenging Behavior," we read how growing numbers of preschool children need targeted intervention to control problem behavior. In "Food Mood: Feeding Problem Behaviors," we learn how an astute and properly trained child welfare worker can identify something as simple as a child's diet as the culprit behind aggressive behavior. The need for cultural sensitivity in the child welfare field is emphasized in "Joining Hands Across a Cultural Divide," about the United States' growing Hmong refugee population and their unique needs. And in "Creative Solutions," we read how child practitioners can use the creative arts to help children build self-esteem and express emotions.
There are many ways the child welfare workforce can affect a child's life. Some of them are large, such as taking steps to ensure a child has a safe, loving home, or committing to earning a master's degree in social work to better serve children in the future. On the other hand, many of the things we do for children are small, and we may even forget about them. But just having a meaningful conversation with a child about her future, or comforting a child when he's distressed, is not likely to be forgotten by that child. To quote former New York public schools teacher and administrator Lorraine Monroe--we have the power to be the "unforgettable interruptions" in children's lives. Let us make sure we do everything possible to be that unforgettable interruption and to pass the moral test that Hubert Humphrey framed--as a government, as a society, and as individuals.
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