How many people does it take…?

All of us can recall the joke about how many people it takes to change a light bulb. I recalled that opening line when I recently saw a group assembled to assess the progress of one of our residents.  As we struggled to find a meeting room large enough to accommodate all the many “stakeholders,” I asked myself the question, “How many people does it take to help a child?” The answer of course is that it takes many, all providing a different perspective important to consider in determining the long-term well-being of the child. But I am left wondering at times if indeed there may be too many people involved in the process whose agenda is more reflective of their particular viewpoint rather than the best interests of the child.

The logistics of gathering so many interested parties is daunting.  The need to satisfy so many statutory requirements while never-the-less assuring the safety and well-being of very vulnerable children often creates a quagmire that deters achieving the stated best interests of the child and family. In this kind of environment progress can be slow, demoralizing all involved.

Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported on a review that was authorized by the Board of Supervisors that was very critical of the Department of Children and Family Services. It pointed to how its byzantine regulatory and bureaucratic  structure has not only impeded providing good quality care; in some instances it has failed completely, resulting in the loss of children who fell prey to abuse and violence. DCFS takes very seriously the recommendations that have been issued as a result of the review. The Department is undergoing a significant reorganization in order to create a culture where, “the safety of children is Job One” to quote its Director Philip Browning.

That kind of leadership is essential because change comes very slowly to such a large system like that of DCFS. Social workers and other caregivers, who have been disenfranchised and traumatized by the failures of the system, are understandably reluctant to embrace anything that is a departure from their current mode of operating.

For all of us involved with providing care to children and their families, who are at greater risk of neglect and harm, we must never lose sight of what is first and foremost, the safety and well-being of the child. Somehow we must also be dedicated to loosening the grip of the organizational quicksand that easily consumes those for whom we care.

Hillsides applauds the forthright and transparent manner in which DCFS has reviewed its practice and offer our support to help create a system where children come first. With any luck fewer people will never-the-less more effectively assist children and their families to successfully make their way through crisis and have hope restored.

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