Everyone knows about dominoes. Although the game dates back to around 1355 BC, it has evolved into an entirely new form of entertainment. The ‘domino effect‘ is fairly straightforward…one thing leads to another which leads to another. Pushing that first domino causes a chain reaction, which visually can be quite fascinating. The metaphor known as the domino effect is probably more well-known than the original game by now.
What does this have to do with child welfare? In my previous post, Tell Your Story Or Someone Else Will, I attempted to make the case for child welfare professionals being proactive with the media. In anticipation of the almost guaranteed skepticism, I present, The [Child Welfare in the Media] Domino Effect. What follows is admittedly fictional, although I would propose it is possible and maybe even probable.
Imagine that public child welfare organizations, in concert with the non-profit counterparts, undertake a media campaign aimed at both educating the public about the field and improving their image in the community. Enlisting the aid of professionals in marketing and media, this effort describes the successes and challenges while highlighting opportunities for more direct involvement. Rather than responding to events, which are generally negative, this effort embraces opportunities to share information.
It turns out, many people do not fully understand the child welfare system or how it works. Given that a Harris Poll commissioned in 2011 found that 83% of adults know little or nothing about the experiences of children in foster care, it seems that some educating is in order. After learning more about the difficult but rewarding work being done in child welfare, people might better understand that they have something to offer–possibly serving as foster parents, CASA volunteers, or mentoring foster youth. Once they get involved, many come to realize the challenges of child welfare, including under-funding, workforce shortages, and the impact of these challenges on vulnerable children. Hence, they go from volunteering to taking the role of engaged participants and well-informed advocates within their communities. They start talking to their friends and neighbors about child welfare. They steer their book clubs towards books like I Beat the Odds, Another Place at the Table, The Glass Castle: A Memoir, or Paper Angels: A Novel to increase understanding of the experiences of vulnerable children and families. They talk with their employers about starting a corporate volunteer program focusing on at-risk childre or advocate for on-site child care and support services for families. They seek out new opportunities to spread the word about the needs of vulnerable children and families.
Eventually, these same people who might have supported funding cuts to social service programs such as child welfare, early childhood education, or innovations for impoverished neighborhoods are calling elected officials to ask for increased funding. When a foster child transfers to their child’s classroom, they encourage their child to befriend the new student and reach out to the foster parent to offer support. When someone in their family announces their intent to adopt, they suggest that they consider the more than 100,000 waiting children in the foster care system. When their teenagers are considering career choices, they talk with them about the important career options in child welfare and other human service areas. Soon, colleges are expanding their offerings in social sciences because of the increase in applicants. Ultimately, the child welfare workforce challenges of the past are a distant memory and social service agencies have a plethora of qualified applicants for the rare opening. One day, 83% of the population not only knows a great deal about child welfare but are actively looking for ways to prevent child abuse in their communities, thereby reducing the need for foster care and preventing the trauma caused by disrupting families.
Yes, it’s hypothetical; a best case scenario or maybe even a dream. But change happens when people dream of what could be. What if child welfare followed the lead of other industries and actively shared their stories with transparency, shedding a positive light on the field and educating the public about the challenges? Maybe we just need to push that first domino.