Leadership Lens

Christine James-Brown

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In one of my initial communications with the field not long after I arrived at CWLA, I described my first impressions by referencing the first line from Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." After four turbulent years that included a national economic meltdown, passage of the Fostering Connections to Success Act, the current budget struggles at the federal and state levels, and reports of very respectable progress in the child welfare system, I continue to see a strong comparison between our world today and the 18th Century world described by Dickens.

On one hand, we live in a time of unprecedented financial challenge for our country and for the organizations that serve children, families, and communities. There is no question that many services will be affected by budget cuts. Apart from direct child welfare services, cuts that impact access to health care, mental health services, housing, food, and family supports have a disproportionate impact on already fragile families. These cuts are deep and--as the name of CWLA's budget campaign, "These Cuts Won't Heal," suggests--they may devastate thousands of children and families across the country for years to come.

On the other hand, recent years have brought positive changes to the child welfare system. The system is smaller, with fewer children coming in, more children finding permanent homes, and most children being served in their communities. Casey Family Programs reports that it is on target to meet its 2020 goal of reducing the number of children in foster care by 50%, and many other foundations, direct service providers, and researchers are reporting improvements.

Yet too many children, youth, and families are not achieving the outcomes required for them to reach their full potential. Despite important advances, there are still too many children and families touched by abuse and neglect. Some states have seen no progress and a few have even gone backwards. While foundation partners and a host of innovative organizations are making important improvements for their communities, not everyone is being adequately served. Most importantly, we have not done enough to serve the most challenging populations, including children with multiple problems, very young children, older children, children in rural communities, immigrant children, or children, families, and communities dealing with persistent trauma.

For these reasons, CWLA is recommitting to its historical role of bringing the best thinking, experience, and understanding of children, youth, families, and communities together to update our Standards of Excellence for the child welfare system. We are setting a high standard for addressing the needs of our most vulnerable children and families, which will be based on best practice and research, focus on achieving in individual as well as system outcomes, and form the context for how we structure policy and funding to support children.

As we launch this renewed focus on the Standards of Excellence, we recognize the long-term improvements these standards can make could be seriously jeopardized by some of the budget reductions that are being contemplated today. CWLA created These Cuts Won't Heal to focus on protecting federal funding for vulnerable children and families. Congress should not reduce the nation's debt on the backs of foster children and struggling families.

I believe this advocacy is more critical now than ever. As our country resets its values base, we need to make sure that the needs of our most vulnerable citizens are front and center. CWLA's ultimate mission is to ensure safety, permanence, and well-being for all children, but we can only achieve that mission if we collectively address the needs of the children that we have most failed. We have great research on how to better serve children, families, and communities, and the improvements in recent years provide evidence about the important role vision, focus, and accountability have in bringing about real change. The challenge now is to engage more people in that vision of accountability.

Our budget campaign is strong and engaging. We post updated information on the These Cuts Won't Heal web page.* We conduct weekly webinars to update our members on the latest news and developments. We aim to build commitment and support to do better for our children. I hope you will join our movement to rethink how we can better support children by asking your member of Congress** to support a fair and balanced federal budget that does not leave children's services bearing the brunt of funding cuts. Together, we can make these times much better.

* For more information, visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/thesecutswontheal.htm.

** To contact your member of Congress, call 202-224-3121 or visit www.usa.gov/Contact.shtml.

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