Child Welfare vs. Child Well-being

While recently attending the quarterly meeting of CWLA’s Board of Directors, there was a presentation on an initiative to establish an overarching set of principles to govern the standards of excellence in child welfare. The genesis of the initiative is an effort to demonstrate the impact of child welfare on the well-being of children and families. As I reflected on the discussion it occurred to me that perhaps we might want to no longer refer to these efforts to care for vulnerable children and youth as child welfare, but rather as child well-being. After all, is that not the goal?
Welfare has become a word to avoid in our politically charged divisive environment. No longer does the word welfare refer to the efforts of a noble society caring for those less fortunate.  Welfare now connotes a system of well intentioned, but failed, expensive entitlements that create dependence and a threat to true “freedom.” As unbelievable as this may seem, it never-the-less reflects the philosophical divide that grips our nation in political grid lock.

Therefore, rather than constantly running the risk of alienating those for whom welfare has become a “dirty” word, I suggest we replace it with well-being, because at the end of the day that is indeed what is accomplished in all we do for the  children, youth, and families we serve.

Whether it is the support we provide children and their family when their homes have been disrupted, to the mental health services we offer to those experiencing trauma or the outreach we offer youth who are transitioning from the foster care system to independence, all these efforts contribute to their well-being. The end result is a marked improvement in functioning, stronger and healthier families as well as an ability to pursue a full, independent life.
Using the word well-being rather than welfare is not some semantic hat trick, but rather an attempt in a skeptical environment to express the impact achieved when services are rendered to a vulnerable population. Over the last few years we have seen 85% of children in our care successfully restored to their home and communities. The amount of time that families have been separated has been significantly reduced, and the hope for leading successful lives has been established.
If the word welfare is a stumbling block, then I suggest we get rid of it. More than ever we can not afford to allow anything to get in the way of the support we need to achieve lasting change for all we serve.

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