Letter from Dr. William C. Bell, Casey Family Programs President and CEO
We are living in a time of profound transformation in America, a time that can yield dramatic, sustainable improvements in our capacity to ensure the safety and success of all of our children.
For this transformation to occur, hope is essential.
We know that hope is possible, because we see evidence of hope in communities across this nation. From the unprecedented coalition known as Cities United, where mayors have joined together to reduce the violence-related deaths of young, African-American men on the streets of their cities to a rural community in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky that is drawing on the strength of neighbors to help drug-addicted mothers pull their lives – and families – back together, we are restoring hope across America.
We can see the evidence of an emerging hopefulness through the amazing efforts of our collegues in philanthropy and the dynamic partnerships between government, philanthropy, business, and communities such as the My Brother’s Keeper initiative recently announced by President Obama.
We know that hope is possible as we are seeing the lives of vulnerable children and their families changed through the work of child welfare and other public systems across the United States. Their success in safely reducing the need for foster care and building a sense of hope in their communities has led to a deeper understanding of what it takes not only to achieve and sustain progress, but to go beyond it to create a remarkable transformation of human capacity. There are approximately 120,000 fewer children living in foster care today than there were in 2005.
And along with the reduced use of foster care the key measures of child safety have either improved or remained the same, indicating that child welfare’s increased focus on prevention, in-home support, and building stronger community partnerships has helped more children have the opportunity to grow up in safe, stable families.
Child welfare systems across the nation are succeeding in safely reducing the need for foster care. These changes are taking place in communities that represent the broad spectrum of America:
- In Baltimore, children requiring placement in foster care dropped from 5,906 in 2005 to 2,139 in 2012 – a remarkable reduction of 64 percent. Maryland, as a whole, showed significant improvements too. The reason, in part, is a statewide initiative called “Place Matters” that promotes safety, family strengthening, permanency and community-based services to keep families intact and safely reduce the need for out-of-home care.
- In Lorain County, Ohio, local leaders were able to change their entire approach to serving children and families, thanks to a collective vision for change and the participation of a broad group of community stakeholders. Over the past decade, the county has seen a rise in adoptions, a steep drop in foster care numbers and greatly improved child safety.
- In Minnesota, improvements made by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians led to an increase in the percentage of children served in their parents’ homes; an increase in the percent of out-of-home care in relatives’ homes; and a decrease in the percentage of children in non-native, out-of-home care.
We must do more to build hope so that every child, in every home, in every ZIP code in America has the same access and opportunity to thrive. And that will require that we look beyond what the child welfare system can do alone, and consider how we can collectively across systems and across sectors improve the broader conditions in communities that affect the health, safety, and opportunities for children and their families.
In a nation founded on the principle that all people are created equal, how do we account for the birthplace lottery that too often determines the opportunities for children to reach their full potential?
How do we account for the sobering fact that, according to federal statistics, on average every 24 hours in America we lose 29 people under the age of 25 to homicide, suicide or child abuse and neglect? How do we account for the unprecedented loss of human capital and potential that occurs every 15 days in America when 435 young lives are cut short for reasons that we can prevent if we only committed ourselves to the task?
Four hundred and thirty-five is also the number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives. Think about that for a moment. We believe the knowledge and experience of 435 people is vast enough to help govern the most powerful nation on earth – and yet we allow the same human potential to be lost every 15 days without applying the urgency and relentlessness required to stop it.
How do we account for the sobering fact that, according to federal statistics, on average every 24 hours in America we lose 29 people under the age of 25 to homicide, suicide or child abuse and neglect?
If a new virus emerged tomorrow that killed young people this quickly, how would we respond? We would respond in the same way any caring group of individuals would do to a threat of this magnitude: Leaders at all levels would take immediate action to focus our efforts to stop this virus from spreading and to find ways to heal those who have been infected. We would use data to pinpoint the virus’ hotspots and to create meaningful ways to measure progress toward halting its transmission and ensuring its eradication.
We would ensure coordination across all governmental entities, private organizations, and other stakeholders that had a role in preventing and treating this virus. We would invest in research and education to ensure that the necessary modifications to life behavior changed to ensure the sustainability of our efforts. And we would create partnerships with business and philanthropy to leverage their resources and expertise to work collectively in support of a cure.
But it is not a virus that takes the lives of those 435 young people every 15 days. It is violence; it is despair; it is untreated mental illness and substance abuse; it is the poverty of opportunity; it is the low expectations and blindness to see possibility that have been allowed to become so pervasive in far too many of our communities in America. It is a lack of hope.
But I believe that our history as a people says we can change this condition if we choose to. I believe that our history as a people is filled with the evidence of our capacity to approach any challenge we face with the urgency and relentlessness needed to overcome. I believe that our strength as America is found in our pledge that we are one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
2020: Building Communities of Hope is a collective vision for change. It is a collective vision of hope that is built upon four core principles and beliefs about achieving measurable and sustainable change:
- Local leaders must lead our efforts to work with and empower families and communities to make decisions to improve their life outcomes. Mayors, schools, courts, tribal leaders, child welfare leaders, and others must collaborate effectively with community members in developing a shared vision of success and act to achieve it.
- We must improve our utilization of data to drive our decision making and improve the capacity of communities to support their most vulnerable citizens. We must draw on the tools of the Information Age to better understand the conditions that contribute to poor outcomes and pinpoint those ZIP codes where change is needed most. Further, we must create clear and measurable goals for improving outcomes and use data to ensure we stay on track.
- We must change our federal, state, tribal and local funding structures to better support more effective investments in sustainable change, life-outcome improvement and restoring hope. Too often, we invest resources to support programs that do not result in improved lives. We must integrate government and community response systems around a shared vision of success and ensure that funds are directed toward programs and strategies that truly address the fundamental challenges facing children, families and communities.
- The philanthropic and business communities must rethink our approach to giving so that they are more aligned with supporting and leveraging the enormous annual investments being made by federal, state, tribal and local governments to improve life outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens.
Many people and organizations are creating and expanding hope in communities across America by operationalizing these core principles and beliefs to develop strategies for change that will be documented in the pages that follow. Their efforts are beginning to demonstrate that the power and potential of these principles lie in understanding how each works together with the others to help overcome the deep-seated challenges that can undermine community. As you read about the efforts of these individuals and communities, we hope that you, too, will be encouraged to continue your work to ensure that every child in America is surrounded by a Community of Hope.
This is our declaration of hope:
- Every child in America will grow up surrounded by a Community of Hope – a place where every child has the support and resources they need from the adults in their lives to reach their full potential.
- The ZIP code of a child’s birth will no longer be one of the most determinant factors for his or her success or failure in life.
- Our urgent and relentless pursuit of success for every child in America will no longer be determined, deterred, or delayed by political cycles, grant cycles, or silos.
- America will live up to its promise to all of its children that they will have a right to a real life and not just an existence; that they will truly have the liberty that comes from freedom, justice and equality; and that they will be empowered with the tools, education and opportunity to pursue their happiness.
Dr. William C. Bell