Monday, March 05, 2007

Recent Conference Presentations

I have just returned from presenting at the Black Administrators in Child Welfare Conference in Baltimore and at the Child Welfare League of America Conference in Washington, DC.

At BACW I was struck by the power of inspirational stories and of invoking past heroes and heroines to create courage for the current struggle. Presenters repeatedly told their own and others’ stories of triumph after trauma, prejudice and adversity. Heroes such as Rose Parks, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King were called forth to bring energy to current problems. How can we use these methods more in our own agencies, and in our own change efforts? All of us in this field know inspirational stories of kids and families who have changed, programs that have been transformed, and treatment that has been effective. Many agencies have their own founding heroes and heroines. While we do turn to these rich legacies for help, I felt after attending this conference that we could do so more and with greater emphasis. Also, in this conference I experienced more acknowledgment of the struggle of this work, and the need to comfort and care for each other.

In my presentation I referred to the kids we treat as "damaged". Joanne V. Rhone, Ph.D., Professor at Clark Atlanta University suggested I would be better served by referring to them as "wounded" because as we know, wounds can heal. Damage, she stated, sounds more permanent and unchangeable. I thought this was an excellent point and will adapt my language in the future.

I attended a workshop on "Working Between Circles & Lines: Using the Restorative Circles Process to Create Effective Collaborative-An African Centered Construct for Organizational Prosperity". This workshop includes an introduction to Restorative Justice as a best practice in Child Welfare and how to use it to create paradigm shifts in organizational culture and practice. Restorative Justice is a set of values that guide decisions on policy, programs and practice. The Circles process restores the collaborative effort of agencies working together for the greater good. It was led by Saleem Hylton, CEO, President; K. Ivy Hylton, MSW, LICSW, Youth & Families in Crisis, LLC, Washington, DC They described and demonstrated the power of a Circle to bring people together and hold meaningful discussion. They gave examples of the use of this circle in creating agency collaborations, as well as in offender/victim encounters. I hope to utilize this technique further.

I also purchased two useful small books: The Little Book of Restorative Justice (Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding Series) by Howard Zehr and The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools: Teaching Responsibility; Creating Caring Climates (Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding) by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet. Both have clear explanations and many practical implementation ideas.

At my presentation at CWLA I had participants from all over the country, and it was very interesting to experience this national change in treatment approach. Many agencies are starting to implement trauma informed treatment and to move away from point and level systems. One agency expressed concern about whether such a change led to longer lengths of stay. Others talked about child care workers indoctrinating each other to "be tough" and not show feelings. It was clearly helpful to connect with others doing this work, and reinforced my hope to start more email net works and communication mechanisms.

Altogether it was a very interesting and inspiring trip.

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