It’s not really a word, yet, but give it time. USA Today reported in 2009 that ‘frenemy‘ is on the list of new words to be added to Webster’s Dictionary. By their definition a frenemy is ‘someone who acts like a friend but is really an enemy’.
So, to whom am I referring you may ask. Before I say, I will start with a caveat. I think the ‘enemy’ part of the definition may be taking it too far. Maybe ‘fakeholder’ would be better. My definition would be ‘someone who appears to be a stakeholder, ie: of the same mindset, but who is actually disruptive to the cause’ or a ‘fake stakeholder‘. To be clear, when I say ‘stakeholder’ I am referring to “a person or organisation with a legitimate interest in a given situation, action or enterprise” (quoted from Wiktionary).
OK, so I’ll get on with it. I’m referring to educators. Well, actually just one educator who recently shared their opinions with me. However, their comments were very similar to things I have heard from other educators throughout my career. The story goes like this….I’ve met a person in a social situation who turns out to be a teacher in an alternative school. So I’m thinking we have similar interests in advancing best practices for vulnerable children. I’m always up for a conversation with others who are interested in improving the well-being of children who have been abused or neglected.
Upon learning about my professional interests in child welfare, this educator proceeds to tell me about their view of what is best for kids in the system. By their assessment, the best placement for kids who become involved in the system is structured residential care, the more restrictive, the better. If that isn’t an option, they should be in a foster home. The worst possible placement is with their biological family or kin. The latter is especially detrimental to a child’s education and well-being, I’m told.
As the conversation progresses, I’m flashing back to my days as a caseworker and the many times I locked horns with educators over what was best for a child/youth on my caseload. More than once, I dealt with school personnel who actively subverted my efforts to reunify a child with their biological family or to maintain the child in the family home. Didn’t they know that residential care is often over-used and rarely the best choice of placement for a child? Didn’t they know that studies have shown better outcomes for kids placed with family verses strangers? Even if they weren’t aware of these things, surely they knew that federal law mandates that efforts focus on reunification unless reasonable efforts have failed to result in successful reunification?
The disconcerting part of this state of affairs is that we, meaning educators and child welfare professionals, have similar interests in helping vulnerable children. So we really should be on the same page, right?
I’m going out a limb here and say that, I believe we, child welfare advocates, that is, have failed in our duty to engage and inform our stakeholders. Yes, I know many have tried unsuccessfully to do so. And some have been successful. Regardless, we clearly need to keep trying. We need to sit down at the table and talk through these issues, come up with a plan, and return to our respective offices, schools, whatever, and spread the word. We have information on best practices and outcomes for children involved in the child welfare system. We need make sure that our stakeholders also have this information, and convince them to join us in our efforts to implement best practices as we know it based on solid research and evaluation. Or at the very least, avoid working from opposing viewpoints.
See the following study regarding kinship care and additional citations on the topic.
Winokur, M., Crawford, C., Longobardi, R., & Valentine, D., 2007. Matched Comparison of Children in Kinship Care and Foster Care on Child Welfare Outcomes. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 89(3), pp. 338-346.