Leaders set the tone for building relationships that drive authentic engagement of children and youth

The Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY) is producing a series of Lessons Learned to share fundamental insights about engagement of children and youth, especially in relation to permanency decisions. Each lesson brings to life insights and knowledge gained as the QIC-EY project progresses.

The Lesson

Leaders set the tone for building relationships that drive authentic engagement of children and youth.

With the QIC-EY’s definition of authentic engagement of children and youth now developed and the pilot sites engaged, a second foundational lesson for child welfare professionals has emerged; and it starts at the top. Although senior-level leaders are not always engaging directly with clients, by valuing and modeling relationship building within their organizations, they can create the conditions for staff members to maximize opportunities to engage authentically with children and youth. When leaders recognize and prioritize relationship building throughout an organization, agency or system, they can blaze a pathway for shared decision-making, ensuring that children and youth are at the center of child welfare work. This ultimately will benefit not only the children and youth served but also the system overall.

To bring this lesson to life, the QIC-EY talked with Addie D. Williams, JD, former president and chief executive officer of Spaulding for Children. Addie believes that even though leaders in child welfare do not always engage with children and youth directly, the tone that these leaders set and the actions that they take to build open, inclusive, caring environments have a direct and lasting impact on how staff engage with children and youth. To hear the full conversation with Addie Williams, click here. To learn more about the QIC-EY’s Lessons Learned series, visit the QIC-EY’s products page.

Application of the Lesson

Leaders go first and pave the way. While the QIC-EY continues its work of addressing necessary changes at both the systemic and the workforce levels, you as a leader in child welfare can act right now to leverage QIC-EY lessons already learned to impact your work and the work of your staff. Leaders ultimately drive how their agencies, organizations or systems are actively and intentionally partnering with children and youth. To begin applying this QIC-EY lesson learned, ask yourself these questions:

  • As you lead staff members who engage directly with children and youth, are you modeling and exhibiting characteristics that encourage authentic engagement?
  • Do the staff whom you lead feel valued, included and part of the decision-making process?
  • As you and the teams that you lead are working to provide safety, permanence and well-being for children and youth, how are you supporting your staff members by valuing those same priorities for them?
  • Are your staff members equipped with the skills, resources and tools they need to find ways to engage authentically with children and youth?

Laws and policies should not become barriers to good practice. Sometimes they can create unintended barriers for staff striving to make connections with children and youth. Reviewing laws and policies to assess how they might affect practice is another way that you as a leader can make an impact.

  • Do you recognize when and how laws and policies can become administrative barriers to meeting children and youth where they are developmentally and emotionally?
  • Have you considered if there are any casework practices that have the unintended consequence of hindering authentic child and youth engagement?
  • Do your laws and policies allow for some flexibility in how workers engage and meet the needs of children and youth?
  • Are you having open and practical conversations with field staff about barriers that they are encountering that hinder their ability to engage as needed with children and youth?

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