Local leaders must lead: Community leaders should think, plan and act collectively to improve the long-term safety and success of children and their families
Creating a Community of Hope that will ensure the safety and success of children begins with local leadership – leaders who challenge others to think differently about seemingly intractable problems.
These leaders come from a variety of backgrounds. They include parents, mayors, government officials, tribal leaders, pastors, business leaders, judges, community advocates, local residents and many others.
Regardless of their job titles, these individuals have the courage, energy and commitment to overcome the inertia of the status quo. They also share another key quality: They understand that success requires a broad cross section of the community working together to develop a clear and measurable plan for change.
In Paintsville, Ky., Family Court Judge Janie McKenzie Wells saw firsthand the problems faced in this small Appalachian community: poverty, drugs, fractured families. She knew that the only way to achieve lasting change in her community was through collaboration with others.
Fortunately, she already had a great working relationship with Susan Howard, the regional manager for Kentucky’s child welfare system. They understood that the challenges confronting children and families in Paintsville and surrounding Johnson County required a commitment from every sector of the community. On a fall day in 2012, they invited just about everyone they could think of to a conference room at the downtown Ramada Inn.
In a city of just over 3,000 people, more than 120 people gave up their lunch hour to attend. They included mothers and fathers, local business leaders, retired educators, mental health experts and even representatives from the local library. Howard and Wells tapped into that enthusiasm and created committees to focus on specific problems, educating the members about the nature of child welfare in Johnson County, about how there could be more effective solutions than just removal of children from their home and family.
Howard and Wells received something in return: An education of their own.
“They taught us, too,” Wells said. “There were resources in the county we didn’t know about.”
Through Johnson County Community of Hope, Wells and Howard have watched new resources come to the region, volunteerism increase, collaboration improve among branches of government, and local residents renew their commitment to the health and well-being of children and families.