End Notes

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Dispatch From Abroad

After years of rhetoric and conflicts that stalled reforms, recent leadership changes at the top of British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Family Development are an indication major child welfare transformation is underway. Just days after their appointments in March of this year, Children and Familiy Minister Mary McNeil and Deputy Minister Stephen Brown moved quickly to resolve the long-lasting rivalry between the Children's Ministry and the representative's office. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth, often clashed with the previous minister, Mary Polak, and her deputy Lesley du Toit. For years, Polak and her deputy ignored or outright rejected Turpel-Lafond's reports and recommendations. In response, Turpel-Lafond accused them of dragging their feet on needed improvements to the child welfare system.

Mary McNeil. Photo courtesy of www.gov.bc.ca.

McNeil and Brown ended the years of ongoing conflict when they signed a new accord with Turpel-Lafond's office. In another major policy move, McNeil and Brown honored Turpel-Lafond's recommendation to reestablish the role of director of child welfare.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. Photo courtesy of www.bccpac.bc.ca.

In the months ahead, McNeil and Brown will begin rolling out the action plans to create a stronger, more integrated child welfare system. Among the key priorities is creating good jobs and building a more open and accessible government that listens and responds to the people it serves. The ministry will also undergo comprehensive practice changes that include replacing obsolete technology with an Integrated Case Manage-ment System that will improve the ability to manage and share information.

Health Beat

BREATHE California of Los Angeles County (BREATHE LA) was recently awarded funding for a new initiative that aims to address the high incidence of children's respiratory health issues in the port city of Long Beach, California. The initiative is being funded through a grant from the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners's Mitigation Grant Program, a $5 million funding project designed to reduce port-related air pollution in the Long Beach community and the associated health risks--particularly those impacting children.

According to the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma Report Card, 21.9% of the area's children are reported to have asthma. That's double the rate of childhood asthma compared to Los Angeles County. BREATHE LA will use the grant money to expand the efforts of its O24u BREATHE Environmental Education Program. Over the next three years, O24u will be working to improve the respiratory health of approximately 9,000 children living within a 3-mile radius of the Port of Long Beach.

The O24u program will operate onsite at 36 elementary schools where the students will engage in hands-on activities that teach them about air quality issues and what they can do to make a difference. The activities, developed by educators and registered respiratory therapists, have been endorsed by local school officials, youth organizations, and physicians as an effective environmental education and asthma management program. BREATHE LA will also hold special sessions with parents living in the area to reinforce key lessons.

The goal of the initiative is to decrease absenteeism of students undiagnosed with asthma by 10-15%, which translates to 152 missed school days. The program also aims to reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations relating to asthma, which could potentially save the City of Long Beach $2.7 million. For more information, visit www.Breathe LA.org.

Tech Trends

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is pioneering a new internet-based platform called Casebook that has the potential to revolutionize child welfare case management practices nationwide. A subsidiary, CaseCommons, Inc., was established to design, develop, and deploy the Casebook platform through Casey Family Services, the foundation's direct services provider with divisions in seven states.

Casebook allows caseworkers to instantly communicate, coordinate, and collaborate across the broad spectrum of child welfare services. Casebook has tools that enable workers to easily manage data entry, collection, and distribution in a user-friendly online environment designed to help team members get up to speed quickly. Easy access to information, automatic alerts, reminders, and checkpoints keep case management on track, and a family-centered focus encourages collective problem-solving and information sharing.

Already, Casebook is being used by caseworkers in all Casey Family Services divisions in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. To learn more, visit http://casecommons.org.

Speaking Out

"Our applicants are amazing...They are doing whatever it takes to pay for this adoption on their own, but they're coming up short. And that's where helpusadopt.org comes in... Building families--that's what we do."

-- Becky Fawcett and her husband Kipp spent over $40,000 to adopt their first child in 2005. The high costs associated with the adoption process gave them the idea of helping other prospective adoptive parents overcome the enormous financial expenses. In 2007, they founded helpusadopt.org, which provides grants ranging from $500 to $15,000 to help with the cost of domestic, international, foster care, and special needs adoptions. Since then, the organization has awarded 43 families more than $300,000 in financial assistance toward adoption expenses.

"What they have in common is that they really don't have that sense that they have any control over their lives. And, what they learn is self-reliance and self-assurance. And, it's just so lovely how we see them flower and bloom and become their own people."

-- Anita Ross, veteran director at the Black Hawk Children's Theatre, recently directed the stage play The Pinballs at the Hope Martin Theatre in Iowa's Waterloo Center for the Arts. The play, based on the award-winning book of the same name by Betsy Byars, dramatizes the challenging experiences that characterize life in foster care--being bounced around from one foster home to another like pinballs. In the theatrical production, three child actors deliver stirring performances in their roles as foster children who all arrive on the same day at the home of a couple who have cared for 17 other foster kids. The play was funded and produced by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. For more information, visit www.wcpbhct.org.

Have an opinion on child welfare issues in the news, especially the comments above? Send a letter to the editor to voice@cwla.org.

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