One On One: Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Julie Sweeney-Springwater

CWLA Board Chair

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What is your background in child welfare?

Ibecame involved with CWLA more than 20 years ago while an administrator with the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. I came on to the board as a representative of the New England region about five years ago and was later elected as vice chair. This past April, I was elected as chair of the board. One of the perspectives I bring to CWLA is that of directing a regional membership association of public child welfare agencies, the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors. I've worked primarily in the public sector, but the association is housed at Judge Baker Children's Center, which is a nonprofit mental health organization that houses a therapeutic day school and the DCF after-hours CPS emergency response program. I also run a certificate program in Human Service Management at Boston University's School of Social Work, where I've been teaching for 12 years.

What do you see as the board's most important strengths and responsibilities?

It's important for people to know that CWLA's board is very representative of its membership. Many of us are directors or CEOs of member organizations, which is a tremendous strength. In fact, when the bylaws were rewritten a few years ago, a change was made so that regional representatives became voting members of the board. Prior to that they were ex officio members. It changes the nature of the board--in a positive way--when you have people who bring the perspective of the work that occurs on a day-to-day basis with children and families all over the country.

We have a responsibility to members and the children and families that CWLA serves to make sure that the organization is financially stable; that is part of the intergenerational responsibility of any nonprofit board. We also have a responsibility to be strategic by regularly looking at where we want to go and how we're going to get there. Executing that strategy is an interactive process between the staff and the board. Boards also need to be generative, which is really about trying to understand everything that is going on in the environment around you--data, information, trends-- and then formulating a strategy based on the sense-making, if you will, that a board does.

How will CWLA use its leadership position to help members in the coming decade?

What is unique about CWLA is that it has members from both the public and nonprofit sectors. A critical part of being a leadership organization is to hear those voices from both private and public organizations and to be able to formulate positions on what will create the best outcomes for children and families. Building on the relationships between our members and helping them connect to each other is a critical aspect of our leadership role in the coming years. One of my pet peeves is reinventing the wheel. CWLA values networking among members to share challenges and lessons learned so that the limited resources we have are not utilized to duplicate work efforts or to repeat similar mistakes. I think members can really turn to CWLA to learn from other members; we can all be stronger by building solid relationships with each other.

In addition to building public-private partnerships, we recognize that child welfare operates in a continually shifting environment. In order to continue to be a leadership organization, you need to foster dialogue not only between member agencies, but also between the variety of stakeholders who play a role in the field. This includes a broad spectrum of people who work with children and families, because many families have complex needs best served by a variety of systems. The integration of mental health, juvenile justice, domestic violence, substance abuse, education, and other areas is a critical issue this field faces today. CWLA can be a convener of people from all child- and family-serving organizations, bringing them together to have strategic conversations during this tremendously challenging time. The economic situation has been difficult for many agencies and states facing cutbacks, but stressful times often can produce very creative solutions. CWLA wants to help the field find these solutions.

We can leverage these private-public conversations in our work on Capitol Hill. Having knowledge from both sides of the child welfare field is a great strength, particularly on a national level. It brings a strong and credible voice to the advocacy positions that CWLA takes, which can create positive changes for children and families.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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