Reflections on National Foster Care Month: Building Communities of Hope

Reflections on National Foster Care Month: Building Communities of Hope

May 15, 2013 | Dr. William Bell, President and CEO, Casey Family Programs

bell_william_headshot

NCCD Board of Directors member Dr. William Bell became president and CEO of Casey Family Programs (CFP) in January 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in the human services field, he chairs the CFP executive team and is ultimately responsible for the vision, mission, strategies, and objectives of the foundation. Prior to becoming president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, he served as the foundation’s executive vice president for child and family services.

NCCD Board of Directors member Dr. William Bell became president and CEO of Casey Family Programs (CFP) in January 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in the human services field, he chairs the CFP executive team and is ultimately responsible for the vision, mission, strategies, and objectives of the foundation. Prior to becoming president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, he served as the foundation’s executive vice president for child and family services.

May is a symbolic time for National Foster Care Month. It is a period of renewal that also brings a promise of warmer, better days ahead. It inspires hope in the future. 

At Casey Family Programs, our goal is to create this same sense of hope for the 384,000 children and youth in foster care and countless other vulnerable children across America.

Hope has often been associated with place, and just as children need strong families, families need supportive communities that offer them a better chance, viable choices and opportunity—communities that offer them hope.

Making this a reality for all families across America is at the center of Casey’s current effort that we call “Building Communities of Hope.”

We believe that securing a child’s well-being must extend beyond the government-driven systems that come to the aid of children who have been victimized by abuse or neglect. We have to shift away from a child welfare response system that primarily seeks to protect children by removing them from their homes to one that focuses on ensuring the well-being of our children in the context of their families and ensuring the well-being of vulnerable families in the context of their communities. We must be willing to make sure that all of our communities possess the institutions and the capacity to provide opportunities for all children and their families to live up to their highest potential. Every child deserves the chance to grow up surrounded by a community of hope.

No conversation about hope can ignore the terrible cost of violence in our communities. In cities across the nation, neighborhoods can be a deadly place for young people. Homicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for all young people ages 15 to 24 and the leading cause of death among African Americans of that age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We can and must change this. In one American city, two leaders have joined together to make a difference for children.

From the time he assumed office five years ago, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter understood that child welfare was a form of public safety and that the members of the workforce for this system were first responders for vulnerable children. With that in mind, he hired Anne Marie Ambrose as commissioner of the Department of Human Services, and together they created a vision of community engagement that is transforming tough neighborhoods into bastions of hope.

Neighbors have rallied to open a new community playground. Youth have been offered the opportunity to paint murals and create urban art. Parents have gathered at informal dinners to support each other and find ways to improve their child-rearing skills.

Philadelphia is using other tools as well. The city is participating in a federal project that allows it to reinvest dollars once restricted to only pay for foster care. These funds are now being used to invest in services that strengthen families, prevent child maltreatment, and keep children safely out of foster care. The city is partnering with the federal government through a National Forum for Youth Violence Prevention grant. In addition, Mayor Nutter has leveraged his role as president of the US Conference of Mayors to place the issue of violence involving African American males at the forefront of municipal agendas and national violence reduction strategies.

Since 2008, the number of children in foster care in Philadelphia has decreased by 37 percent, and about 1,000 fewer children a year are entering foster care today compared with 2008. Nationally, the trends are also positive: the number of children under age 18 living in foster care has decreased by more than 100,000 from 2006 to 2011, a reduction of 21.5 percent.

Let us take time during National Foster Care Month to focus our energies on the children and families who still need our help. Let us thank the people who have devoted their lives to building stronger communities. Let us cast a wider circle to engage even more people in our efforts to make communities across America a safer, more supportive place for our most precious assets.

Let us believe that just as spring and summer follow winter, the brightest days for America’s children still lie ahead. Together, we can ensure that our children will see those brighter days. Together, we can ensure that every child in America is surrounded by a community of hope.

Learn more about the work being done in Philadelphia.