Where were you 50 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. led that historic march on Washington, D.C. and shared his famous “I Have a Dream” speech? I was getting ready to enter 8th grade and had no clue how momentous that march was and the impact it would have for civil rights in this country. Much has changed in 50 years and yet the struggle for civil rights continues. Equality is illusive and freedom requires constant vigilance and effort. As much as some dreams have been fulfilled, others are still denied.
On the anniversary of this great speech, many are asking, “What is your dream?” At Hillsides we ask, “What is the dream for ourselves as an organization and for the children, youth, and families we serve?”
Given the most recent article in the Los Angeles Times addressing the crisis in foster care in the county, my dream is that every child will be kept safe and every child along with their family will receive the support they need to be successful. In a previous blog, I introduced you to a young boy that was admitted to Hillsides from one of the children’s holding centers mentioned in the article. I wonder what his dreams are? What responsibility does the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) have in putting him in the right path to achieve dreams? How are we helping him fulfill them?
The article reported that DCFS has reached a crisis point because of a severe lack of foster homes and other resources for children and youth in their care. A combination of an increased number of vulnerable families, shortsighted attempts to employ best practices, and a bottomline approach has led to this crisis, which is a long time in coming. As a result, there is a severe shortage of qualified foster homes. County social workers are stretched beyond a reasonable capacity. Providers are forced to do more with far less resources than is necessary. This is a disaster that puts children at risk and caregivers alike.
Dreams are dashed in such an overwhelming environment. But just as with the civil rights struggle, exposing the truth and insisting on improvement are required. There is no magic bullet, but the solutions are known. More resources are needed. Better assessments and measurable, achievable treatment plans must be developed as part of the initial intervention with these children. Early intervention that supports the role of family is essential to long-term success and stability. Effective recruitment of qualified foster homes is imperative. Perhaps if we can strive to improve in these areas, every child’s dream is closer to being fulfilled as they traverse the foster care system.
Increased funding is not the only solution; proven and effective interventions are also necessary. However, the care of the most vulnerable children should not be subject to the budget balancing exercises that often seem to drive decisions regarding their care. It is unacceptable and the result is a system that fails its mission to protect and improve the lives of those it serves.
I have a dream that some day soon we will have created communities that safeguard its children, supports its families, and assures the basic rights of all, especially the most vulnerable. My dream for the young boy in our care is that we will be a resource for him and his family. By doing so, he will dream of great things for himself and be confident enough to pursue them.
Dreams are just fantasies if there is no reason to hope that they will be realized. One hundred years ago this coming month, a courageous womanacted on her dream to provide a safe and secure home for children whose families no longer were able to provide for them. Each day we take up that dream and commit anew to creating a lasting change for all we serve. Dream with us!