Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

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As CWLA went through a strategic planning process over the past few years, we recommitted to the values that have shaped our work since our initial founding. While the world has changed and will continue to change dramatically around CWLA, our network of members, and the children, youth, and families we serve, an increased focus on services and practices that reflect these values based on what we know today is critically important. These values include the belief that:

  • Children, youth, and families need access to a comprehensive system of care that provides the most appropriate services--when they are needed and for only as long as necessary.
  • Whenever possible, children and youth who come to the attention of the child welfare system should be served within their families and communities with services and supports that ensure they are in safe and nurturing environments.
  • When the only option is separating children from their families and/ or communities, child welfare agencies and their partners should intervene in the least intrusive manner. They should provide integrated services and supports designed to build and maintain viable family and community ties, and strengthen families so that their children can be returned as quickly as possible.
  • Children, youth, and families should receive individualized, integrated, high-quality services and supports that are culturally and linguistically appropriate and designed to meet their specific needs. These services should aid children and youth in achieving greater safety and nurturance, lead to improved outcomes, and establish lifelong connections to caring adults.
  • Young people, families, and communities should have an ongoing and meaningful voice in the planning, decision-making, delivery, and evaluation of the services and supports they receive.

The articles in this issue of Children's Voice reflect our values and resulting commitment to a stronger focus on prevention, increased use of evidence-based practices that are responsive to the individualized needs of children and families, collaboration across sectors and systems, and strengthening families and communities to better support children. The feature article about trauma-informed child welfare (page 26), written by CWLA staff member Julie Collins, highlights the efforts of the SAMHSA-funded National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) to inform the mental health and child welfare systems about the need to understand and respond to the impact trauma has on children, families, and workers. It stresses the fact that service providers need to act in collaboration using the best available science to support resiliency and recovery. CWLA is pleased to be working with NCTSN to bring the results of its work to the broader child welfare field through articles like this and special sessions at our upcoming national conference.

Our article about military families (page 18) stresses the importance of addressing the potential for abuse and neglect by strengthening families through a focus on improving protective factors. This article also points out the need for a better connection between child welfare and prevention efforts and the need to link resources that exist on base and resources that exist in the civilian sector. A prevention focus and a collaborative approach to service delivery is also highlighted in our article about models of postadoption services (page 10).

The Management Matters commentary by David Kolker and Allan Barsky about the benefits and risks of evidence-based practices in child welfare (page 22) illustrates the complexity of implementing best practice research when there are so many differences among the children and families we serve. The authors point out that "any agency that sets a 'one-size-fits-all' policy for intervention risks is not only ignoring the uniqueness of each client, but also the need for nuanced decision-making."

While each of the articles in this issue focuses in a different way on strategies to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families, they show a variety of ways to get there. They are each viewed through a different lens--service strategy, target population, practice area, and organizational improvement. As the national voice on behalf of children, youth, and families at risk of abuse and neglect, CWLA will have to start to integrate these messages into one coherent position. As long as they remain separate they will appear to be in competition with each other.

The focus on outcomes with the requirement of tracking specific indicators of improved conditions for families and communities provides an opportunity for us to speak in one voice about the difference we want to make for children rather than how we want to achieve that difference. I will be writing more about the importance of focusing on child outcomes in future Leadership Lens columns, and we will be talking more about this during a special session at our national conference in February. I invite you to participate in the conversation.

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