Children's Voice Sep/Oct 2009

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Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

The necessity of permanence as an undergirding principle in child welfare is undisputable. Every piece of research, economics, and humanity say that making sure that children have long-term and meaningful connections to a caring adult is a goal that should drive all of us. Everyone that I have talked to in this field, from board chairs to CEOs to line workers to advocates, has expressed their commitment to making sure that every child has a connection to at least one adult dedicated to making the child healthy, happy, and able to reach his or her full potential.

The child welfare system has been struggling for years with the challenge of understanding and implementing policy and practice changes that support permanency. Important funders and partners in the field, like Casey Family Programs, the Children's Bureau, and many states and private providers, are implementing innovative ways to support permanency for children. Unfortunately, lack of money, inflexibility in funding streams, lack of communication, and mistrust has meant that for far too long the focus on permanence has been a source of division within the child welfare system and between child welfare and other systems. Instead of the commitment to permanency being a galvanizing force to bring the system together, it has forced us apart.

The articles in this issue of Children's Voice show that there are all types of settings in which permanency must be considered. "Responding to Girls' Needs" on page 30 shows that differences in gender (as is true for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors) means that we have to do things differently for different children in order to achieve permanency. "'No One Makes It On Their Own'" on page 10 shows that former foster youth in college need to be supported year-round by mentors and peers in order to succeed. The excerpt from James Gritter's book, Hospitious Adoption, on page 16 shows us new ways of looking at adoption to best support permanent connections with a child's adoptive and birth families. Finally, "Losing Financial Footing" on page 22 is, of course, a reminder of the challenges we all face in achieving permanency for our children.

The reality is that we need a variety of options for our children and families. Of course the ideal situation is for our children to be with their natural parents, but the ultimate objective is for these children to be in safe, secure, lifelong relationships with caring adults. This struggle for permanence is not unique to the child welfare field, and we should not fight this battle alone. Service systems like early childhood development, health, mentoring, and others also have a commitment to optimal child development.

One of the reasons that our call for the White House Conference is such a high priority for CWLA is that we believe that convening discussions across this country will reinforce our commitment to permanency for children in the child welfare system. In so many ways, the fact that a child is in the child welfare system is episodic. There are tens of thousands of children in this country who at any given time may be lacking stability, safety, and well-being. Our collective commitment as professionals and as a society is that all children-including those in the child welfare system-are happy, healthy, and able to reach their full potential.

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