By Shay Bilchik,
President and CEO, CWLA
"The difference between what we know and what we do is lethal." Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher shared this quote, though it is not his own, at a recent meeting I attended with other organization and government leaders working on behalf of children and families.
The quote caught my attention because few others are more applicable to the child welfare field. In our line of work, what we know about the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable children and families, and taking the steps to act on that knowledge, are often absolutely critical to their survival.
So what do we know about improving the lives of the children and families in the child welfare system? Now more than ever we have an abundance of data at our disposal. We know more about where we are failing our most vulnerable citizens. We know about our successes and challenges in the child welfare system through the state Child and Family Service Reviews and Program Improvement Plans. And through an increasingly strong base of research and evaluation, we have tremendous knowledge about what works to best prevent harm, and heal it when it has occurred.
What are we doing with this knowledge? CWLA, our member agencies, and other children's advocates are using it to reduce the numbers of children in the child welfare system and tackle the societal ills that are putting them there. The issues explored in this Children's Voice provide a few examples of these efforts.
On page 12, we learn about some states' efforts to prevent gay and lesbian people from adopting, and the organizations taking stands against such biased proposed laws. On page 22, you will read about Shaken Baby Syndrome, how easily it can occur, and what some organizations and parents of child victims are doing to educate the public. And on page 32, you will find an excerpt from The New Miracle Workers: Overcoming Contemporary Challenges in Child Welfare Work, written by Kathryn Brohl and published by CWLA Press, which explains the causes of workplace burnout in child welfare, and shares what can be done to prevent it.
The question of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to adopt is particularly illustrative of how the difference between what we know and what we do can be harmful to children.
In 1977, Florida became the first state--and has remained the only state--to ban all gay people from adopting. The ban happened in response to an antigay crusade led by Anita Bryant, who was a singer and spokesperson for the Florida orange juice industry. Relying on harmful stereotypes about gay people, Bryant helped convince the legislature the ban was needed to protect children.
At the time, little research was available about gay parenting to debunk the myths and stereotypes on which Bryant based her campaign. Since the Florida law went into effect three decades ago, however, research has shown gay people are just as capable of being good parents as are heterosexual or "straight" people, and that their children are just as likely to be healthy and well-adjusted. Not a single reputable study has found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents have been harmed because of their parents' sexual orientation.
If we don't act on this knowledge, the results will be detrimental--with thousands of children being deprived of willing and able parents. This is why CWLA and other major child health and welfare organizations have taken a strong and unequivocal stand on this issue.
But we can't advocate alone--not on this issue or on the host of others that challenge what we do every day. We need consistent, visionary leadership, both at the local and national levels.
Visionary leaders have an understanding of what is needed to address a societal ill, or of a goal they want to lead the country in achieving. They chart a realistic course for achieving it, then make it a reality by leading others in what becomes a shared vision.
These kinds of leaders are needed in every sector of society--people who will take what they know and use it as a catalyst for positive change and outcomes. They can be legislators, parents of child victims, teachers, pediatricians, judges, law enforcement officers, mentors, social workers, or any other individual--including you and me--who has the power to influence the life of a child.
So as you read this issue and go about your work in serving children, and in living other areas of your life, think about how you can narrow the gap between what we know and what we do to better protect and nurture our children's future. We can all make a difference in a child's life.
On behalf of CWLA, I thank every one of you for the support you give us as we undertake this work each and every day.
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