By Shay Bilchik,
President and CEO, CWLA
CWLA's annual conference always amazes me. Child welfare professionals from across the country combine their brainpower and years of experience under one roof in Washington, DC. Over three days, we freely exchange ideas, advice, and research, ultimately improving our daily work with children and families.
As I write this, CWLA's staff is knee-deep in preparations for our 2006 National Conference, Securing Brighter Futures, in late February. A glance at the conference program tells me this year will be as productive as the last in terms of the transfer of knowledge. Just a sampling of the workshop titles speak to how we, as child welfare professionals, are always striving to do better: "Girls Leadership and Development Program: A Model for Success with Girls," "A Successful Model to Integrate Substance Abuse and Child Welfare Services," and "Leadership Excellence: The Key to Success in Child Welfare."
CWLA uses many vehicles, in addition to conferences, to inform the field about good child welfare practice. This issue of Children's Voice, for example, highlights local leaders and programs nationwide that are building our knowledge in the field.
In, "Just a Click Away," we see how agencies and organizations are embracing the Internet as yet another tool to help us do our work better. The Web makes it possible for child welfare workers to easily share information and, most importantly, help us reach more children and youth through online programs.
In "Child Welfare Leaders Take on the Meth Epidemic," the second of a two-part series on how methamphetamine abuse is affecting child welfare, we learn how state child welfare leaders are coping with the effects of this latest drug epidemic. As meth abuse has spread, child welfare workers have drawn on experience and practice coping with substance abuse issues that have stricken the country over the last several decades, while also receiving a crash course in issues unique to meth abuse and its effects on families.
In "Private Professionals, Public Sector," we delve into how some youth-serving agencies are exploring new ways to lead by hiring professionals with little experience in the youth services field, but a wealth of knowledge in business and financial practices. Some disagree whether these professionals can effectively transition into and lead an organization in a field unfamiliar to them, but our article presents several success stories, leaving it to the reader to decide.
Finally, in "When Children Need a Home in a Hurry," we speak with emergency-care providers about the pros and cons of emergency shelter care versus emergency foster family care for children removed from their homes and needing immediate care. This issue also sparks debate, but it's one that very much needs research so we can continue to improve how we serve children and youth in crisis situations.
As both the contents of this magazine, as well as our crowded annual conference schedule demonstrates, improving the child welfare system is an ongoing process. But it's not enough: We must also address the underlying reasons why so many still enter the child welfare system. These reasons include mental illness, substance abuse, family dysfunction, educational failure, poverty, and the hopelessness and stressors that accompany them. This is why so much of our national conference, this year and every year, is dedicated to making sure that policymakers hear the voices of abused and neglected children.
Now, more than ever, it's critically important that we address the policy decisions at both the local and federal levels. As I write this, Congress is poised to slash close to $600 million in federal supports that assist grandparents and other relatives care for children. Medicaid services, child care, child support enforcement, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are other vital programs in peril.
CWLA's members and staff exert tremendous energy to fight for policy improvements, but reinforcements are needed. Every CWLA member and friend of children must make it part of their mission to inform their legislators and local leaders about the effectiveness of their programs for children and families.
Otherwise, each time this nation makes hard choices about federal spending, the needs of children will be ignored. Then we will find ourselves in the business of patching rather than healing wounds destined to perpetually fester, and this is not what CWLA is about. CWLA has made a commitment to its membership, the broader field, and to each child who has been abused and neglected to support excellence in practice and to promote policies that attack our societal ills.
It is in the face of the huge challenges we are now tackling that I make this clarion call for us to redouble our commitment and efforts to affect both the practice and policies that will best serve our most vulnerable children, youth, and families
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