Children's Voice November/
December 2008

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Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This famous first line from Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most quoted lines in literature, and I think it most correctly describes the situation in which we in the child welfare world find ourselves today. On one hand, we are facing an economic crisis that will challenge our ability to continue to serve thousands of children and families whose needs will increase as they struggle to make ends meet. On the other hand, the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 was recently signed into law--one of the most significant bills to address the needs of the 500,000 children in foster care in two decades--and President-elect Barack Obama and his administration offer great hope for the future. The fact that these things are happening at the same time provides one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for those of us who want to truly change how we deliver services to children, youth, and families.

As a news junkie, most nights you can find me sitting at my desk working with CNN or MSNBC on in the background. Recently, in response to the question of who would want to be president during such turbulent times, noted author and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin talked about the opportunity that these times provide for real leadership and positive transformation. My take-away from this exchange is that it is the less-quoted last line from A Tale of Two Cities--"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done"--that should be our rallying call during these challenging times. Our leadership challenge is to come out of this having significantly improved outcomes for our children, youth, and families.

We have an opportunity to build on the foundation of the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This new legislation is only the initial building block for true transformation of how services are organized and delivered. CWLA has already begun preparing for implementation of this law by involving members in the process. As members, you have a significant role to play in crafting concrete steps in your area to maximize the opportunities the legislation offers, such as collaboration between public and private agencies.

In response to the turnover in the federal leadership of this country, CWLA is making sure that President-elect Obama is fully informed of the significance of this act and of all of the key issues pertaining to our mission. Immediately after his victory, we sent a transition document with recommendations to his team. We will also enlist his leadership, and that of the new Congress, in the call for the White House Conference.

We will be facing tremendous challenges and great opportunities in the months ahead. Like many of you, I have been around long enough to have seen a number of economic downturns and other challenges. What I have taken from these difficult periods is the need to keep a positive attitude and look for opportunities to take advantage of the situation. It is critical to be focused and strategic about the decisions we make to respond to the challenges.

In this edition of Children's Voice, you will read about collaboration, responding to challenges, and leveraging your board. In difficult times too many organizations revert to "watch making" rather than "clock building," cutting things like marketing, resource development, and membership dues. To serve children and families best, we all need to make sure that we are not penny-wise and pound-foolish.

CWLA will continue to do what we do best by pulling together the tremendous knowledge and experience within our member network with a special focus on helping members and the people you serve survive and thrive in the new economy. We will provide opportunities for members to learn from each other, network, and commiserate. We will do even more to ensure that the interests of the children and families you serve are represented at the national level as one voice and to demonstrate that it is not just about the need for organizations to make it through an economic crisis, it is about improving life circumstances for children, youth, and families. It is this vision that has brought together close to 700 public and private organizations in 50 states.

CWLA is the trustee of this vision but it is your membership, your active engagement, and your leadership that will allow the child welfare system, children, and families to thrive during this very difficult time. At the end of the day this is a leadership challenge, and real leadership comes from all of us. I am convinced that together we will realize the opportunity to make sure children, youth, and families do better than they have ever done before.

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