FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

The System is Cold and What We Need is Warmth Keith Fanjoy

We are the ones implementing “the system.” We are the problem. The good news is we can also be the solution. We must balance our quest for innovation in child welfare with remembering the basic truths about what all families need to thrive. If we can step outside our own need for self- preservation and the status quo re-evaluate what we believe about our current helping process, we can reprioritize where and how we invest our time and resources. What do we believe? It must always start with shared values and beliefs, but too often, we’re in a rush to complete the job and check the box. Systems of care are often set up with very good intentions. Ultimately, they become focused on the transaction of services or surveillance, creating feelings of shame of the demonstrated behavior versus the more time- intensive option: developing a meaningful and mutual relationship to respond to the root causes of symptoms. The excuse is it takes too long, and the unspoken issue is our inability to relinquish control and expertise of the process. What if we believed that the vast majority of situations come to the attention of child welfare as a result of the brain’s response to toxic stress? The buzzword that is often used is “trauma”, but let’s describe it more universally as things applicable to all of us: stress. The kind of comprehensive stress that comes from all directions leads to a poor decision that if put in the same position as those we serve, there’s no guarantee you would act differently. What if the response to that stress was a cumulative and comprehensive dosage of meaningful and healthy social connections and universal supports through an integrated neighborhood collaboration? To get there, we must change what we believe and how we currently operate. Families are not responsible for our dysfunction, and while

we may not want to own creating the current structure of the child welfare system, we need to fix it. Relationships Take Time If we’re going to look at solutions for children and their families through a community context, we have to address the macro factors and cultural norms that are pushing against those strategies. The biggest of those factors is a broader society with families stretched so thin, with so many stressors even for the most fortunate of families, that they are limited with their most valuable resource: time. This is also true for the professionals providing services. I can recall a recent conversation with a provider who explained their difficulty working with a parent who was hostile towards their agency and that the parent simply didn’t want to hear feedback regarding concerns about their child. The more I listened, there was a lot I didn’t hear. Not only was there not an awareness to consider a sit-down and dedicate energy to listen to the concerns of the parent without judgment (safety) but there also wasn’t a commitment to seeing the parent as a mutual partner (trust) in the solution. There needed to be a prompt meeting where compliance occurred, so the child would ‘get with the program’. How about some hospitality? Most human service professionals are on the run; the same could be said for teachers and healthcare workers, amongst others. The problem? Relationships take time. Not a 45-minute billable mental health session from insurance once a week, not a 15-minute conference at school with a teacher given a long list of responsibilities outside of academics, and not a child welfare worker focused on a narrow definition of well-being. It’s not a blame game; we’re the ones asking staff to do it because funding

90 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022

Powered by