Children's Voice May/June 2008

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Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

May was National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize and applaud the thousands of people who serve as foster parents and resource parents. They are joined by hundreds of agencies that champion their efforts in providing the best support possible for the children in their care.

The job of caring for the more than 500,000 children in the foster care system is challenging, both for foster parents and child welfare agencies, especially when children come from families affected by outside forces such as substance abuse, AIDS, mental health issues, and other issues that impact families. The article "From Foster Care to Fostering Care," in this issue of the Voice, is a real-life example of one man's struggle to grow up within the foster care system amid some of these issues. The article is an excerpt from a speech given by Reverend Darrell Armstrong during CWLA's 2007 National Conference. In that speech, Rev. Armstrong told us how he spent 13 years in foster care until eventually his social worker, Roberta Hawkins, whom he calls his "angel," guided him through to adulthood, where he has become a productive citizen, leader, husband, and father.

At CWLA, we work to support our members' efforts in making success stories like Rev. Armstrong's come true. CWLA is committed to continuing to work with members to identify best and promising practices to more quickly reunify children in foster care when possible, reduce the disproportionate representation of children of color in the foster care system, ensure children in the system have access to mental health and health services, and prevent young people from aging out of the system. If they do, we want them to be prepared for life.

There are numerous examples of our commitment to this work, and, in the spirit of National Foster Care Month, I will offer just a few here.

On the public policy front, we are working with Congress to pass legislation to establish federal support for kinship care, expand children's health care coverage, reform child welfare financing, and support a future White House Conference on Children and Youth.

As a publisher and provider of research and consultation services, we are developing the resources you need, such as the PRIDE curriculum (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education), to build a stronger foster care system and network of well-trained foster parents. PRIDE is an innovative model for developing and supporting foster families and adoptive families, and CWLA has conducted training on the curriculum in several states, Canada, Belarus, Lithuania, and Serbia.

In our work to find promising foster care practice, we have turned to former foster care youth themselves for input. Members of the National Foster Youth Advisory Council (NFYAC)--an initiative implemented by CWLA and funded by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative--share information about their own experience in foster care and work on solutions to the challenges facing youth transitioning out of care. NFYAC has produced position statements and recommendations for the field on permanency issues, education, health, housing, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning issues as they relate to youth in foster care (read these statements).

And in our work to partner with other like-minded organizations, we were once again one of the co-sponsoring organizations of this year's National Foster Care Month commemoration. This is an important time of the year when we can remind the nation about the needs of so many children in search of a loving, safe home. It is also a time when we can remind ourselves about how much of an impact we can make on the life of a vulnerable child. As Rev. Armstrong advises us, don't "ever underestimate how you can touch one child's life by the work that you are doing."

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