I was 5 years old, but I remember the day vividly. I was moving out of our family home with my mom and sister because my parents were getting a divorce. For the next 13 years, I would live in six different places. Life was not always easy, and my family depended regularly on social assistance to make ends meet. But I consider myself quite lucky. Although they lived apart, my parents worked very hard to make sure our basic needs were met. My sister and I never wanted for emotional support and guidance.
In my first blog, I stressed the need for those of us working in child welfare to find the right tools and processes to empower children and families to achieve better outcomes. What my childhood experiences made me realize is that the first, and arguably most pivotal, life tool children need is access to emotional support and guidance. Sadly, this is something many children are never afforded.
It reminds me of the book, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. One of the story’s central themes is a child’s struggle to survive in the confusing world of adults. Alice, the main character, enters a world where everything and everyone is nonsensical. She is only able to leave this chaotic place once she starts applying the skills, knowledge and rules that she was taught in the “real world”. It makes me wonder, if Alice – like so many children today – never received a solid foundation of emotional support and guidance, how can we expect her to be prepared to navigate a complex world? Unless there is some extraordinary intervention, the reality is that these children just fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.
As it stands today, many children are being serviced by a system that inherently focuses on building job and independent living skills and less on nurturing their development. Our youth are vulnerable human beings that rely on adults to provide emotional support and guidance to explain, if not shape, the world they live in. Without a holistic approach toward the child, how can we ensure that our child welfare efforts are truly beneficial and enduring?
Universities and colleges, for example, are finding that the lack of emotional support, not just money, can prevent vulnerable youth from entering and finishing school. This realization prompted a new program in California that provides additional support services for foster youth in community colleges, including the assignment of a counselor, grants for books and supplies, mental health services and even child care assistance, since foster youth are more likely to become teen parents. The measure also requires every county child welfare agency to assign somebody to assist foster youth with school and financial aid applications. And in Pennsylvania, a public-private partnership is recruiting and supporting foster youth who want to go to college with year-round campus housing, food, supplies and counseling.
While these are great examples of taking a more holistic view of the child, we have a long way to go. Progression requires innovative, yet practical ideas, such as collaboration with and integration of all social services – health, employment, housing, justice, etc. Just think of the possibilities if we have processes and tools in place to help us look at all aspects of the child and family and allow us to provide holistic support and assistance. Perhaps, if the family receives what it needs, it will be better positioned to provide the emotional support and guidance children need to overcome life’s hurdles and achieve better outcomes. If I’ve learned anything from my own experiences, emotional support and guidance are fundamental for children.
In my next blog, I will explore how we might use data and analytics to inform and build a strong ecosystem that better serves children and families.
For more information visit www.accenture.com/outcomes.