Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The history of this can be traced to 1982, when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives resolved that the week of June 6-12, 1982, should be designated as the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week. The following year, April was proclaimed the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Since then, April has been used to increase public awareness, remember those who have died as a result of child abuse, and celebrate individuals, organizations, and communities who have helped prevent child abuse and neglect. CWLA has participated in this important event since its inception.

In 1998, CWLA launched the Children's Memorial Flag Initiative to draw attention to the tragedy of violent child deaths. Over the past three years, all 50 governors and hundreds of public and private organizations have united in this important effort by flying Children's Memorial flags as a symbol of the need to improve our efforts to protect children. This April, CWLA is continuing its Memorial Flag Initiative by reinvigorating the call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth.

As most of you know, the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children was held in 1909. This initial conference and the subsequent conferences (held every 10 years until 1970) resulted in important changes in laws, regulations, and visions for the care of vulnerable children. The conferences allowed hundreds of people across the country to come together and spend focused time talking about how to best address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. They were held in good times and bad, throughout economic booms and recessions.

Since I arrived at CWLA three years ago, I have been talking about the need for a White House Conference on Children and Youth. Our terrific public policy team--and many of you--have also taken up the call. Through one of the most significant recessions in our country's history, and through the continued transformation of CWLA and many of your own organizations, we have not taken our eyes off of the need for this conference. I firmly believe a White House Conference on Children and Youth will help all of us do a better job serving today's children and families, as well as future generations. A White House Conference will bring together ideas from thousands of people across this country and turn them into a specific strategic plan for improving outcomes. A lack of money is not a valid reason not to have a conference; rather, not addressing the needs of our most vulnerable children is short-sighted and sets us up to fail.

As we rally across this country in support of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I hope that you will join me in calling for a White House Conference on Children and Youth. Previous White House Conferences resulted in the establishment of the Children's Bureau and CWLA, and they led to the development of standards to regulate child welfare. By 1970, when the last conference was held, we had made important progress, but much more needs to be done. The past 40 years have been marred by a lack of collaboration and coordination within the child welfare system, between public and private organizations, and between child welfare and other systems that serve vulnerable children. The time is now for a very special conference that will bring all of these groups together.

Through times of war, peace, depressions, and recessions, we have had these important conferences. The time to restore this important opportunity is here. Sign up now at www.cwla.org/advocacy/whitehouseconfsignon.htm to support the conference. Make sure that your coworkers, family members, and friends do the same thing. And when we are successful in passing the legislation, participate in the meetings, plan gatherings for difficult-to-reach groups, and find other ways to ensure the most successful conference ever. With 40 years to plan, this conference should hit it out of the ballpark.

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