Children's Voice May/June 2009

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Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

I am proud that CWLA, under the leadership of Casey Family Programs, is one of the national public and private organizations working to raise awareness about foster care and to recognize the extraordinary people who help children by serving as foster parents, relative caregivers, mentors, advocates, and social workers. While we celebrated these people during National Foster Care Month this May, we also celebrated Mother's Day.

Mother's Day has always been bittersweet for me. I lost my mother as a college student, and the recognition of how my mother changed my life with both her life and her death is always particularly strong in May. This year was especially sweet, as I helped my daughter celebrate her first Mother's Day. In looking at the history of the National Foster Care Month campaign, which started in 1988, I was surprised that the significance of it being the same time of year that we recognize mothers was not mentioned.

Pairing foster care awareness with the celebration of mothers is significant, however. We all understand how important it is to have the love and support of our parents. The fact that there are close to half a million children in out-of-home care-many with little or no exposure to the unconditional love of a parent or caregiver-should be a call to action for all of us. Not everyone can serve as a foster parent, relative caregiver, mentor, advocate, or social worker, but everyone can take responsibility for changing the life of a young person in foster care. Even those of us who are reading Children's Voice can find ways to do more. As people involved in the child welfare system, we play a critical professional role in helping children in foster care. But as individuals who are very aware of the needs of these children, we could probably do more from a personal perspective. We need to be ambassadors for these children-whether by encouraging civic and religious organizations we are associated with to help, or by spending an extra minute talking to a child about what is going on in his or her personal life.

We especially need to focus on youth aging out of care, as too many of them end up homeless, underemployed, or in jail. I am concerned that the current economic environment will make it even more difficult for youth aging out of foster care to live up to their full potential. At CWLA's national conference in February, we launched our first annual recognition of colleges and universities that help former foster care children manage the transition into college. The 2009 winner, California State University-Fullerton, earned the inaugural Fostering Educational Success Award for its Guardian Scholars program. You can see two of the foster youth helped by this program on page 34. The intent of the award is to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage more colleges and universities to develop similar programs. If you are working in other ways with colleges and universities, I hope you will let us know.*

With this time of year reminding us of the importance of caring adults in our own lives and the need to make positive change in the lives of young people in foster care, I hope you will join me in making a personal commitment to this important cause. Thank you for the professional commitment that you have already made to our country's most vulnerable children and families. The work you do makes a difference every day.

* To suggest a school for the Fostering Educational Success Award, or to nominate other child advocates for recognition at our 2010 national conference, visit www.cwla.org/awards.

To comment on this story, e-mail voice@cwla.org.


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