Imagine it is January 2018. A group of child welfare advocates from across the country are celebrating a year of remarkable achievements because our wish list for 2017 was fulfilled. Here is our letter to elected and appointed officials thanking them for acting upon what we had hoped would have been their demonstrated commitment to child welfare services for 2017.
Dear Government Leaders:
You have achieved significant improvements in outcomes for children and families. When your terms of office began or continued in January 2017, you assumed legal responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of children and families who had been separated because of neglect, physical and sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment, and dependency.
You acted on the understanding that when child protective services and the courts separate children from their parents, a legal and ethical commitment is made not to replace parental abuse or neglect with government abuse or neglect. You acted on the understanding that the emotional and physical loss and trauma resulting in life-changing decisions to take the children into protective custody will be ameliorated by the quality of services provided to them.
You demonstrated that when decisions are made to separate children and parents, you outsourced the care of those children to foster, kinship, or adoptive families who evidenced the ability, resources, and willingness to:
- provide round-the-clock care protecting and nurturing;
- meet developmental needs, including cognitive and academic development, emotional support, social skills, cultural identity, and gender identity and sexual orientation;
- support positive relationships between children and their birth families,
- help ensure that children will be connected to safe, nurturing relationships intended to be enduring throughout their lives, and no young person in foster care was discharged to the streets at risk of being trafficked, homeless, or worse;
- work as members of a professional team.
You set a precedent that says child welfare agencies must respect and support the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) Code of Ethics, which establishes clear expectations and principles to articulate basic values and to guide practice. It reflects that family foster care is a public trust that requires foster parents to have essential supports from their agencies, be dedicated to service for the welfare of the children in their care and their families; and examine and use the knowledge upon which fostering is based, serving with dignity, integrity, and competence.
You reflected the belief that parents have the right to timely services to support reunification, respecting that almost all of these families are loving and want to be competent parents. You incorporated the understanding that, for many of these families, economic challenges and substance use are significant factors, along with institutional racism. You recognized that the prevention of abuse and neglect must be a cornerstone of public policy, including the unnecessary separation of children and parents.
You made it mandatory that foster, kinship, and adoptive families received support from professional child welfare staff with the academic and experiential credentials and commitment to follow the six major principles of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics:
- being competent;
- having dignity;
- having integrity;
- supporting positive relationships;
- providing excellent service;
- being advocates for social justice.
We are honoring you because you made, as required reading for all elected and appointed officials, the Child Welfare League of America’s (CWLA) National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare Standards of Excellence: Raising the Bar for Children, Families, and Communities. You supported the actions outlined in the Blueprint recognizing that while the child welfare system has a distinct set of responsibilities to care for children identified as at risk of abuse and neglect, knowledge and resources must be leveraged from families, communities, and other systems. This is essential to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and families.
Your guidance demonstrated for the public that, as described in the Blueprint, unless communities provide needed resources and take ownership for ensuring the well-being of all children and families, neither vulnerable children and families nor children and families in general will flourish.
Your actions reminded your constituents that to be any kind of parent – birth, grand, step, foster, adoptive – and to be a professional working with children and families in the child welfare system is a privilege, not a right. But for children to be protected is a right, not a privilege.
You acknowledged that to be a government official charged with the protection of our country’s vulnerable children and families is also a privilege.
We celebrate you, in 2018, for using your privilege to make our country a safe, nurturing place for all children and their families. We look forward to continuing to work with you and to celebrating even more achievements in the coming new year.
Eileen Mayers Pasztor, DSW, professor, School of Social Work, California State University, Long Beach, trainer/consultant, Child Welfare League of America, board member, National Foster Parent Association; Irene Clements, executive director, National Foster Parent Association, Eshele Williams, PsyD, LMFT, therapist, consultant, trainer/educator specializing in foster and kinship care and adoption, board member, National Foster Parent Association, Karen Poteet, MPA, board member, National Foster Parent Association, Jean Fiorito, consultant, National Foster Parent Association, Donna D. Petras, PhD, MSW, vice president, models of practice and training, Child Welfare League of America