Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2008

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Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

What better way to begin a new year than to come together as a league of agencies and celebrate our profession during CWLA's National Conference, February 25-27? Many of you will have picked up this issue of Children's Voice while attending the conference. If so, we welcome you and thank you for attending. For those of you reading this from your home or office, we hope you will find the following articles both informative and enjoyable.

CWLA staff work hard to produce conferences and publications that best support and acknowledge the hard work of the child welfare workforce in creating better outcomes for our children. Now more than ever, we need these resources. Not only are the needs of today's families and their children increasingly complex, social work is facing the same staffing shortages afflicting nursing, teaching, and other professions.

One need only look to a March 2006 national study of licensed social workers by the National Association of Social Workers for proof. The study found that during the previous two years, more than three-fifths of social workers providing services to children and adolescents reported increases in paperwork (74%), severity of client problems (73%), caseload size (68%), and waiting lists for services (60%). The same report found that 21% of social workers working with children and adolescents reported vacancies in their agencies are common, and 21% reported vacancies are difficult to fill.

These challenges are something we collectively as a league must face head-on so our noble work on behalf of children is not jeopardized. What can we do to retain and recognize good employees with our limited resources? How do we make it clear to child welfare workers their work is critical, despite society's tendency to devalue people in the field?

Answering and tackling these questions and others around workforce development takes leadership. That's why creating new leadership initiatives, and building existing ones, will be a major focus of CWLA's work in the coming year. It's our response to an issue our members have told us is important to them.

The National Conference will be the catalyst to get things started. Many workshops will focus on strengthening the skills of current and emerging leaders, breaks between workshops will allow for networking among leaders from different regions, and our awards ceremonies will honor those individuals and agencies that have demonstrated exemplary leadership and serve as examples for us all.

After the conference, we want to see the momentum continue throughout the year and branch out across regions. Members will be asked to share best practices they've used to both find and keep good employees. We will also be forming more partnerships with other national organizations with similar concerns to leverage their connections and expertise.

And of course we will continue to share best practice examples here in Children's Voice. In this issue alone are several, including the article "Collaborating in the Classroom," which gives us an up-close look at how partnerships between state child welfare agencies and university systems are better preparing social workers for the field and keeping them there longer. "Promoting from the Ranks" shares what Parsons Child and Family Center in New York is doing to foster leadership among its own staff through a newly established leadership academy.

Many more great examples of what member agencies are doing exist; we simply don't have room to highlight them all in the magazine. Great work is coming out of our New England region, for example. CWLA New England Director Louise Richmond is working with her member agency CEO affinity group to explore the feasibility of launching region-wide training for emerging leaders. Ed Kelley, President and CEO of the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps in Boston, and Carlton Pendleton, President and CEO of Sweetser in Maine, are working closely with us on this initiative. Both have established successful internal training programs for their employees.

And we want to see even more examples of best practice emerge. If you are attending our National Conference, grab a member of CWLA's staff and tell us about your great work, or send an email to the editorial staff of this magazine at voice@cwla.org. Just keep in mind that while CWLA can help facilitate the sharing of best practice by providing tools, trainings, conferences, and publications, at the end of the day it is up to individual child welfare agencies and their leaders to acknowledge our workforce challenges and reach out to do something about it.


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