Children's Voice Mar/Apr 2008

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Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

My guess is that most of us have carefully crafted mission statements that in some way challenge us to ensure the safety, permanence, and well-being of children. Our commitment to improving children's lives has become universal, but the specific outcomes we are after are less clear and more complicated. For this reason, CWLA has spent much of the past year engaging our members and funders in finding more clarity around the outcomes we want to achieve as a League and as a child welfare system.

To articulate outcomes, we first need absolute clarity about our mission and about whom we serve. This clarity and a clear articulation of our desired outcomes for the child welfare system and ultimately for the people served by that system have helped us develop specific goals and strategic priorities for our work over the next decade.

Our intent is that by the time CWLA celebrates its 100th birthday in 2020, the child welfare system will be even stronger and the lives of many more children will have indeed changed for the better. This vision includes every child and youth having a lifelong familial connection, the child welfare system serving fewer children, and the children they do serve receiving the best and most appropriate care so they leave the system prepared for life.

We will encourage and support a child welfare system that is:
  • organized to achieve these outcomes for children and youth through a continuum of care that is responsive to the developmental needs of the child or youth and includes the voice of the child, youth, and their family;

  • holistic;

  • integrated within and across other child-, youth-, and family-serving systems; and

  • sensitive to race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.
Our highest priority is reflected in unearthing the cause-and-effect relationships between systemic actions and outcomes for children and youth.

In our clarified, reconfirmed mission, CWLA has committed to making children and youth who have been abused or neglected, or who are at risk of abuse and neglect, a national priority that is translated into improved policy and practice, increased resources, and ultimately better outcomes for children, youth, and families. Although our primary focus will continue to be on the child welfare system, we also recognize we need to play a partnership or advocacy role in challenging other systems to do better for all kids, because other systems are either failing to achieve outcomes for our children, or our children are challenging other systems, including the education system, mental health system, and juvenile justice system. At the core of our work we are leveraging our history and the power and credibility of an active, engaged membership body.

While CWLA is pledging to take responsibility for being more strategic and focused, part of our leadership role is challenging all of you, our member agencies and other child advocates, to embrace this responsibility as well. Our success is dependent on your active involvement in our work.

Joining together to promote a White House Conference on Children and Families is one easy way to get involved. CWLA launched the initiative last fall as one of our first projects toward achieving solid outcomes for the children within our system. Many of you helped us promote the idea to congressional leaders on Advocacy Day during our National Conference in February. We need to continue urging Congress to authorize and financially support the conference. You can also rally your board of directors and local community leaders to support the initiative and, in the meantime, regularly visit CWLA online for updates on the conference planning and preparation.

Participating in CWLA's regional and national meetings or on a program advisory committee are other ways to stay actively involved and help the League identify issues to tackle. We will take some of these issues to the White House Conference and use others to help focus our work. Breaking out of our silos and exchanging ideas and information is critical during this process of developing and implementing our strategic direction.

We are a data- and information-rich field, as is evident in each issue of Children's Voice, where we bring the latest news and trends in child welfare to these pages. In this issue, for instance, we share the insightful outcomes of a CWLA member survey on the types of postadoption services they provide birth parents, in the article "Survey Says: Birth Parents Are Important." We also write about some of the intriguing new findings on infant brain development in "Making the Case for Infant Mental Health," and how child advocates are using that information to convince lawmakers early childhood development initiatives are worth funding. Both of these articles demonstrate how powerful data and information can be to strengthening our work.

In future Voice issues, we will continue to share valuable information for the field and, in particular, keep you up-to-date on CWLA's progress toward better serving its public and nonprofit members and the key issues we will be focusing on to improve the child welfare system. We will be aligning these issues with all aspects of our organization, including our publications, public policy, training, and consulting work, so that everyone feels ownership in our goals and confident we are all working toward concrete change for the children we serve.


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