Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

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Iam struck by the two articles in this edition of Children's Voice that demonstrate the difference individuals can make to improve the lives of vulnerable children. In "Messages of Hope" (page 26), we learn about Daniel Heimpel, a young reporter who quit his job and began a freelance career to focus on writing about the foster care system. CWLA gave Heimpel the Anna Quindlen Award for Excellence in Journalism in Behalf of Children and Families at our national conference last January. We are excited to see that he continued his work after the awards ceremony by launching Fostering Media Connections, a nationwide initiative encouraging the media to write about the foster care system. He is increasing awareness about foster care issues and recruiting other reporters to join what he calls his "army" of advocates. You will be able to follow his progress in a new column called "On the Road with Fostering Media Connections" in future issues of Children's Voice and online at www.cwla.org/voice.

In our interview with country music star Jimmy Wayne (page 10), a former foster child, we learn about his Meet Me Halfway initiative. Wayne is walking halfway across the country--from Nashville to Phoenix--to raise awareness about the plight of homeless youth. Too many youth aging out of the foster care system end up homeless, and too many homeless children are runaways from difficult home environments. It is important for all of us concerned with improving life chances for children who have been or are at risk of abuse or neglect to remember that individual actions can make a difference. Any one of us can make the type of personal commitment made by the two men featured in this issue.

It is easy for the general public to think that the problems we are addressing are too big, too complicated, or too overwhelming for one individual to make a difference. Whether it is a frontline social worker who remembers the birthday of a child in a foster home, a couple who adopts a child out of the foster care system, a volunteer who becomes a coach or mentor for children in a residential program, individuals like the family who took in Jimmy Wayne as a teen-ager, or people like Daniel Heimpel and Jimmy Wayne who use their talents to help our children, individual actions do make a difference. It is individual actions combined with collective action that can best help vulnerable children and families.

CWLA was founded on the concept of collective action. Ninety years ago, a group of child welfare agency representatives came together with a shared commitment to ensuring a child welfare system that was organized to deliver quality services to children and families. The establishment of the CWLA Standards of Excellence formalized this commitment, and the training, consultation, and public policy work we've done throughout the years has at its foundation this shared commitment to delivering the best, most relevant services possible to children and families. With a membership system that is both public and private--and representative of all child welfare practice areas--it is the shared commitment to the Standards of Excellence that has held us together. Our collective action, enhanced and supported by the individual actions of people throughout this county, could not be any more important than it is today.

Our children and families --and indeed the organizations that make up the child welfare field--are suffering from the economic turmoil in this country. Individually and collectively, we are all feeling challenged by the work we have to do to truly advance our shared vision that every child will grow up in a safe, loving, and stable family.

CWLA will continue to encourage individual and collective action to advance the services and supports that will improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families in this country. But we realize that beyond individual and collective action, it will take major changes in public policy for us to be successful. We are therefore committed to our three-prong focus on advocacy, best practices, and Standards of Excellence as our unique contribution to increasing safety, permanence, and well-being for children and families.

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