One On One: Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Joseph Costa

CWLA Board Chair

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What is your background, and how did you get involved with CWLA?

Ihave a graduate degree in social work from Boston College, and I've been involved in child welfare since 1984. Early in my career I ran an agency in Massachusetts that was a mostly residential service provider. During the last 15 years I've been in California--first in Los Angeles at an organization that provided early childhood development and educational services, and then in Marin, where I ran a multiservice agency. Now I'm back in Los Angeles, as the CEO of Hillsides, a multiservice agency with both residential and community-based programming.

My involvement with CWLA goes back to the early 1990s, when I was introduced to CWLA as a new executive. At that time, CWLA had a program where new execs throughout the country gathered in Washington, DC. We met with CWLA staff and it was a good introduction to a number of services. It was also a great way of getting to know some of my peers; I established relationships that have endured to this day. I've also been on CWLA's Western Region Advisory Committee, and it was this involvement that brought me onto the Board of Directors.

I joined the board at an interesting time. It was undergoing significant transformation--shifting from a very large board that represented general members and also regional areas to a smaller board that continues to have that mix but gives all board members the same level of responsibility and status. I think the group is now able to be a lot more agile and focused on the needs of CWLA and its members. So over the past two decades, I've seen CWLA evolve to where it is today.

Where do you see CWLA in the future?

I think CWLA will continue to be an organization that brings together both the public and private sector around child welfare issues, and in a broader way children and family services, focusing on the most vulnerable within that population.

One of the historic characteristics of CWLA has been its advocacy. I see public policy as something that will continue to be a strong part of CWLA's work in the future. We need to continue strengthening policies at both the federal and state levels while also being a real resource for state associations. I see CWLA as a place that supports its members as they navigate how federal policies impact practice at the local levels.

CWLA has always been very concerned about the quality of care, and I see us continuing to strive for standards of excellence in this area. I think we need to do that much more effectively than we have in the past. Part of that has to include engaging our members around critical issues, and allowing our collective knowledge and expertise to influence how we advocate for changes in policy. So those areas--advocacy and practice excellence--for me, serve as the foundation pieces of CWLA and are important building blocks for the future.

How important is CWLA's unique public-private membership?

It is tremendously important. One of the great things about our regional convenings is that they are accessible to both public policy people and practitioners from public and private backgrounds. The dialogue that comes out of those convenings and the professional relationships that are often established there translate into good policy and practice for the kids and families we're working with. Creating that dialogue between public and private agencies is a really important element of CWLA that we want to reinforce and strengthen. I see regional convenings as a great way to provide some very individualized contact with members from both the public and private sectors.

Is there anything you're particularly excited about in the upcoming year?

I'm very excited about CWLA's national conference, which will be held in Washington, DC, at the end of February. As is tradition, we'll bring members together at the conference during our annual meeting. This year, we want to make sure that the annual meeting is as informative as possible. We will provide members with information about CWLA's fiscal status, about some of the initiatives we're working on, and about some of the ways we plan to engage members in 2012. I would like to personally invite members to set that time aside to join us for the annual meeting.

In preparation for the annual meeting, we'll be sending out information to members so they can come prepared to participate in the discussion. It's really important that we do this--it's the only formal time we have to bring members from across the country together in one place. It allows members to have a say in what's going on at CWLA.

I'm excited about the national conference for other reasons as well. This year the Child Welfare League of Canada is going to be joining us, and I think that will be a great exchange. We'll also be talking about significant federal policy issues that affect members, including the most up-to-date information about budget cuts. It will be very important for people to come get the latest information about how cuts affect our programs and to visit their representatives on Capitol Hill. We want to have as many people as possible in Washington to remind lawmakers not to forget about our children and families in the midst of this political environment.

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