By Shay Bilchik,
President and CEO, CWLA
With this column I am bidding farewell to Children's Voice readers as I prepare to leave CWLA and steer my professional life in a new direction. I have enjoyed a remarkable tenure at CWLA and consider myself fortunate to have served in this prestigious and influential position over the future direction of the child and family serving field.
Following in the footsteps of the great child advocates who preceded me at CWLA was a daunting challenge, as was building on the work I had spent seven years putting in place prior at the U.S. Department of Justice. The result has been exhilarating highs and exasperating lows as we have experienced a number of triumphs as well as failures in our advocacy and in making children a higher national priority. A constant, however, has been the absolute pleasure of working with you in serving as a strong voice on behalf of the nation's most vulnerable children, youth, and families.
I am proud of the work of CWLA's extraordinarily gifted and committed staff. I've been fortunate to both lead and serve alongside them to maintain the League's role as the nation's premier advocacy organization for abused and neglected children. Although the last few years have been a very trying time in an increasingly difficult political and fiscal environment, I have proudly witnessed the resilience and resolute commitment that my staff, our membership, and the field have demonstrated to the children, youth, families, and communities we serve.
CWLA staff, Board members, and member agencies have traveled a path over the past six years that has seen the League through significant changes. With the adoption of our first strategic plan in 2000 and the refocusing of our work across a set of goals and strategies, we brought the League's mission to life in a new way. I believe this invigorated our work and presented CWLA in a fresh light to the field.
We also undertook modernizing the League's infrastructure, and creating personnel practices, policies, and operating systems that reflected our needs. We have much left to do in each of these areas, and must do so in a difficult economic environment, but I believe my time with the League has moved us through the initial changes necessary to modernize how we operate as an organization. The stage is now set for us to accomplish much more on behalf of our children.
In this regard, my tenure at CWLA has been both about transition and moving forward. Having made so many changes, including the infrastructure development noted above, along with a multisystems program focus with child welfare at its core, an increased number of ways to connect with our membership, and more targeted and creative advocacy approaches, CWLA is now ready for a new set of eyes and perspective to further energize our work and build even stronger momentum.
I leave greatly satisfied with the work we have done for children, youth, and families in the child welfare system; our open and forthright acknowledgment and commitment to reconciling our work related to Indian child welfare; our raising the bar and success in focusing the nation's attention on youth transitioning out of foster care; the innovation and leadership we have shown in creating a platform at CWLA for multisystems work, including where child welfare intersects with mental health, substance abuse, and juvenile justice; the development of a research-to-practice and evidence-based approach to our work; and our relentless commitment to every abused and neglected child in the United States, and their need for safety, well-being, and permanence in their lives.
I reflect with equal appreciation on the opportunities I have had to get to know and work alongside so many wonderful, talented, and committed individuals in our member agencies and the rest of the field. You are a source of inspiration to the rest of us. I have learned so much from so many of you and hope to maintain these relationships in the future.
Finally, I leave CWLA having enjoyed and benefited greatly from the chance to meet and work with our Board members who have demonstrated a deep commitment to this organization's mission and acted on that commitment in an exemplary fashion.
I also must thank George Swan for his leadership and support during his current term as Board Chair, as well as to search committee leaders Rick Fleming and Ray Carpenter, and the Board as a whole, for bringing me to CWLA and giving me the honor and privilege of serving as its President and CEO.
Crafting this last column is just one of the many goodbyes I've made as I leave the League. But in reality, I know my path will cross again with many of my former colleagues and friends in child welfare. As I shut one door, I will simply be opening another in my work toward making the world a safer, kinder place for children.
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