From The Imprint–One benefit of an extended career in child welfare settings is that you begin to understand the concept of capacity. I’m not offering this as sage advice or cynical wisdom, nor as a pup social worker who is naïve and imagines that every family and every system can be set on the right track.
I do know that your tenure as a professional helper will be cut short if you overestimate and overpromise the ability of a family or your system to achieve their goals. In the case of a family, your misjudgment can be perilous for children. Similarly, inflating the capacity of a system reinforces the perception that we are the “beleaguered child welfare agency” the public loves to hate and mistrust.
The formula for sustaining our reach, enhancing our credibility and actually moving the needle on safety and well-being is to name and describe the space between the aspirational and the possible, the virtuous and practical, the panorama and narrowly focused.
This is where we find ourselves currently with the conversation regarding the future of child welfare. Spoiler alert – I’m not of the mind that we are in need of a “go big or go home” stance But we do need a well conceived and just consensus on what this system should and should not do, and how to include the voice of communities.
Child welfare legislation and policy is historically pockmarked with overwrought ideas. Those ideas were big, but not in a way that allowed us to get out of our own way. For example, how long have we discussed the idea of primary prevention and family support without having a firm policy agenda or funding stream?
For the most part, we have maintained a system that attended to families who were already desperate and in crisis, or who were disproportionately impacted because of race and class. And this could very well happen again if we are too vague on the details.