During this season I often ask some of the children in residence at Hillsides what they would like as a gift for the holidays. They often respond by mentioning a brand name instead of the actual item. Luckily, I know that Nike refers to sneakers but I often need a translator! In an increasingly commercialized world, things are often identified within particular categories, each with a perceived value and even prestige.

The compartmentalizing of our world is not limited to commercial aspects. Within the children’s services field we identify  people according to categories often associated with their diagnosis, behavior or symptom. Of course the problem with these categories is that they do an injustice to those we serve. The children, youth, and families we serve are more than the sum of the symptoms or challenges that any one of them experience.

Recently, I was stopped by one of our more enterprising residents who “works” in the kitchen as a dish washer. He called me over to negotiate a better reimbursement for his indispensable service. In spite of the many challenges he confronts or the diagnosis given him, he is an engaging, ambitious kid prepared to make sure that his wage is fair. He wants to be happy, have fun, not worry about his safety or well-being and be successful.

For him and all the children, youth, and families we serve at Hillsides what they need from us is to serve as a resource for them so that their dreams may be realized. It is not just about providing the right diagnosis, but rather looking beyond the presenting symptoms to embrace the dream of a full and happy life for them.

This kind of work is not done in isolation. It can only be done effectively by a community of professionals, volunteers, and neighbors who together play different roles in delivering the many resources that make a difference in the lives of all in our care. Be assured that it does make a difference, especially at this time of year. We could not fulfill all the needs we attempt to address during the holiday season without the generous support that we receive from our donor community.

This week we anticipate a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times that will expose the failures of the foster care system and the tragedies that result because of its ineffectiveness. As important as such a series may be in serving as a catalyst for change, it also does a disservice to many good people who in spite of the challenges never-the-less provide indispensable care to children and families struggling with many issues. Rather than being disheartened I hope you will redouble your efforts at supporting and advocating to create a system of care that truly and effectively makes a lasting change.

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