If you see something, say something
This week on Tuesday the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in light of the recent death of a child in its care. Some reservation was voiced given that these reviews have taken place in the past with little, if any, impact on avoiding the tragedy of deaths resulting from child abuse. In spite of the skepticism, I believe the Commission may be very worthwhile and serve an important purpose of engaging the whole community to address this kind of horror.
Although DCFS was indeed ultimately responsible for the well-being of the child, this family had a number of other interactions with people and institutions that should have served as another tier to assure this child’s safety. What is seen as a failure of the child welfare system is also a failure of the whole community to keep a child safe. It is not acceptable to think that someone else will take care of this kind of thing. All of us have the responsibility to note the concern and to be diligent in making sure the issue is addressed.
Important for the Blue Ribbon Commission is to not only review the system of care, but also address the larger infrastructure in the community to determine how together we can be supportive of the efforts of DCFS. Our schools, health care system, law enforcement, churches, other community organizations, and neighbors have a role in creating an integrated and effective network that is solely oriented at assuring safety for the most vulnerable children and their families.
Terrorism in this country has been thwarted to some degree by a heightened sense of vigilance that helps us identify suspicious activity and encourage notification to the appropriate authorities. I suggest that we need to bring this same approach to a campaign to make children safe. If you see something suspicious going on with a family or a child, say something. Report it to law enforcement, DCFS or raise the concern with the local school personnel, but never assume that it is someone else’s responsibility to address the issue. We have a role to play in making children safe.
The last thing we need are vigilantes. However, if each of us, as neighbors and community members, embraces the concept that together we have an obligation to keep children safe much would be accomplished; and systems of care would be more effectively used.
This notion of the community providing a safety net for vulnerable children and families is supported by the fine work done by Child Welfare League of America in its recent publication, National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare. The publication is also reinforced by the work of the Casey Family Programs that have served as a catalyst in creating communities of hope. Together we can create the kinds of communities that are responsive to families in crisis and assure that children will be kept safe.