Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

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Sidebar

Several of the articles in this issue of Children's Voice highlight the necessary changes in how CWLA members and others address the needs of our nation's most vulnerable children, families, and communities. At the core of these changes is the need for child welfare (the broadest definition) to embrace and be embraced by communities, with shared accountability for the success of all children and families. The child welfare organizations that have been able to develop strong partnerships with communities and to tap into their assets have the greatest opportunity for sustainability. The communities become their full partners in advocating for the services and support that children and families need.

Although specific to adoption, the initiative described in "Raising the Bar on Permanency: Finding and Building 'Claiming Communities' for Children" is about the fundamental shift required for child welfare as a whole. With dwindling dollars available through the child welfare system, we have to become even more skilled at leveraging the resources and expertise that exists in families, communities, and other service systems in order for our work to reach its full potential. The Mott Haven Academy Charter School exemplifies how the powerful resources of the educational system can be directed toward children in the child welfare system. In leveraging the resources and expertise in the community, the child welfare system must also be willing to share its experience with others. There are very likely a number of charter schools, boys' and girls' clubs, other youth development organizations, and community-based faith organizations that could benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the child welfare system.

The system has, of course, struggled to be viewed as a partner for children, families and communities. Rather than being celebrated as first responders, we are often seen as "the enemy." It is no wonder, in this context, that the media often feels free to "pile on" in a way that it would never do for a fireman or police officer attempting to keep a family or community safe. The trust between the news media and the child welfare system that Daniel Heimpel calls for in his article needs to exist among the child welfare system, the children and families it serves, and the communities in which these families live. True partnership between child welfare and the larger community will change how the system is viewed by the media, and will provide access to a whole new level of assets that can help advance improved outcomes for vulnerable children.

As we talk about the need to build trust and partnerships between child welfare and the broader community, it is also important to note the importance of accountability. Shared accountability is one of the building blocks of trust between child welfare and communities; it is also needed for child welfare agencies to increase the level of resources that they receive from individual donors. Mark Hierholzer, interviewed for the "One on One" column, discusses the prime importance of child-serving organizations that focus on philanthropy.

I agree with Mark. Philanthropic dollars will give agencies opportunities for an even higher level of innovation. It is a strategy that can be implemented most easily by the private sector, but is also achievable when public sector organizations are willing to set up the special infrastructure required. This focus will require a different type of accountability, as individual donors will want to know exactly how their donations will benefit children and families. It is also true that individuals willing to make donations will become strong advocates for the agencies that they fund. The increased trust, knowledge, and advocacy of community members, combined with the same from donors, will make child welfare a force to be reckoned with.


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