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Latest News: Executive Director Messages

Kim Dvorchak's 42nd National Child Welfare Law Conference Opening Remarks

Saturday, August 24, 2019  
Posted by: Kim Dvorchak
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Thank you, Candi.   Thank you for your leadership and service as NACC’s President.

 

Good Morning.

 

The National Association of Counsel for Children is honored to host this 42nd National Child Welfare Law Conference, and to create this communal space for learning and exchange among your 700 closest friends and colleagues.

 

Anaheim means Home by the Santa Ana River.  And whether this is your first NACC Conference or your 42nd—welcome home!

 

In this room we hail from Hawaii to Maine,

From British Columbia to the Virgin Islands,

From the Choctow Nation to the Penobscot Indian Nation

 

We are Child Welfare Law Specialists,

Lawyers for children, parents, agencies, and tribes,

We are policy advocates, professors, pediatricians, CASAs, judges, and more.

 

We do not agree on every policy, practice, or approach

But we do gather here with a singular goal:   

To do better.

 

To do better for the young people, families, and communities we serve.

So that they may experience a better future

than the time of crisis we meet them in.

 

That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we look to each other

for guidance, knowledge, and support.

 

It’s not only a matter of the heart,

and our deep concern for the well-being of children and families.

 

It’s a matter of our professional and ethical responsibility.

 

Before becoming a doctor, medical students take the Hippocratic oath,

an ethical vow, to “first, do no harm.”

 

The oath recognizes doctors have incredible power,

to save a life and to take a life

—and that this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humility

 and an awareness of one’s own shortcomings. 

 

We in the child welfare legal community also have incredible power,

 

To strengthen a family, and to separate a family

To connect a child to loving, nurturing adults and

to disconnect a child through a chain of disruption and transience

 

--and this tremendous responsibility must likewise be faced with great humility and an awareness of our own shortcomings

 

We have a professional and ethical responsibility to not just know better, but to do better

 

·      To apply our best legal knowledge, skills, and strategies to keep children safe in strengthened families and supported communities

·      To empower children, youth, and parents to be heard and to use their input in making critical decisions about their lives,

·      and to ensure that all proceedings are fair and equitable

 

We may not be able to achieve every result children and families need

But we can safeguard procedural justice

and ensure that we treat every person with respect

 

It begins with the principle that all families are valued.

 

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to Jamestown, VA. 

 

If you haven’t yet seen the commemorations, I recommend the websites 400 Years of Inequality and the New York Times 1619 Project.  

 

We must know this history, also a history of family separation, to better understand how the roots of racism and discrimination are entangled in our laws and culture today. 

We most also know the history of Indigenous Americans whose families and communities were also forcibly separated in the name of policy. 

 

Today, African American and Native American children are placed in foster care at twice the rate of their percentage in the general population.  And we continue to see large scale family separation at our southern border.  We can and must do better.

 

NACC recently released a statement and a call to action to end the traumatic and unnecessary separation of children and families at the border.

 

NACC made this statement because we believe as members of the legal profession we have a special responsibility to speak out against state-sponsored injustice.

 

NACC also makes a statement by elevating the voices of young people formally involved in foster care, as we recommit ourselves to authentic youth engagement. 

 

Valuing all families means we need to confront and challenge systemic racism,

fight the active discrimination against LBGTQ families and young people,

AND respect and restore the civil rights of children and parents

while working to improve safety and well-being

 

It’s a tall order,

—and an awesome responsibility.

 

This work is hard.

 

And sometimes our systems fail us too—when we are asked to do so much

with too little resources and not enough support.

 

When simply taking care of ourselves is a challenge

when every day, or sometimes every hour, presents a new crisis to be addressed.

 

That’s why we come here to sunny Southern California.

To reboot, to update our operating systems, and to find support in the smile of a friend.

 

To expand our world and take a break from our daily routine.

 

We need this time together,

as we forge forward into a moment of unprecedented opportunity for our field.

 

The Family First Prevention Services Act can fundamentally transform the child welfare system, redirecting resources from wide-scale foster care placement,

to the family-based services and kinship supports we have advocated for all along.

 

The Children’s Bureau has made it abundantly clear—the child welfare system must evolve to focus on prevention, and it must do so with youth and family voice as an integral component.

 

And with the change of one answer to the Child Welfare Policy Manual,

the Children’s Bureau made available federal funding for legal representation of children and parents. 

 

Not since the In re Gault decision 52-years ago has there been an opportunity to invest in the development of legal service delivery systems in such a robust and meaningful way.

 

The Family First Prevention Services Act and Title IV-E funding for legal representation

present landmark opportunities for us to fundamentally transform the child welfare system.

 

Whether the children and families we serve experience this transformation is up to us.

 

The pull of business as usual is strong,

but the power of advocacy is stronger.

 

And the power of an advocacy community working collectively

can literally change the way business is done. 

 

And if there are systemic barriers preventing children and parents from receiving the benefits of family first or high-quality legal representation back home,

 

Then take this time to strategize with your peers, and make a plan to transform your system through practice and policy.

 

NACC is launching a new State coordinator initiative to select a key point of contact in all 50 states by the end of 2023.  We are thrilled to convene our first cohort of state coordinators here in Anaheim, and believe that this initiative, as well as the relaunch of NACC’s Children’s Law Project will deepen our member engagement and better support your efforts.

 

TOGETHER WE ARE    PROMOTING EXCELLENCE IN LEGAL REPRESENTATION

TOGETHER WE ARE    BUILDING COMMUNITY AMONG CHILD LAW PRACTITIONERS

TOGETHER WE ARE    ADVANCING JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

 

Over the next few days, we will discuss key topics in child welfare law and how we can do better in our practice.

 

We are grateful for the gift of time and knowledge from an incredible array of conference faculty—thank you for traveling to Anaheim to share your expertise and help us to better.

 

Thank you to AdvoKids, Fostering Media Connections, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Pritzker Foster Care Initiative, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, PSCDataTech, and more. Thank you to our many organizational partners and allies for participating in this event.

 

I stand here on the wings of a dedicated staff and board, who have put in countless hours planning this event and planning NACC’s future.

 

Would NACC’s Board of Directors please stand—folks, if you don’t know NACC’s Board and/or have an interesting serving on our board, feel free to introduce yourself and learn more—they are an incredibly committed group with vast expertise and skill.

 

And if serving on NACC’s Board was not enough, we have found a way to keep you serving with our new Emeritus Board—Emeritus Board members, would you please stand and accept our thanks for your many years of service and ongoing support.

 

Next, I invite Team NACC to please stand for our thanks: Daniel Trujillo, Sara Willis, Ginger Burton keep operations running across programs from our Denver office; and our two newest team members work remotely as I do—Ranni Gonzalez from Sandy Valley, Nevada, NACC’s Membership Outreach Assistant and Allison Green from Washington, DC, NACC’s new Legal Director. 

 

I also want to acknowledge and thank Brooke Silverthorn, who departed NACC for a law school faculty position, but who is returning to teach the Red Book Training Course this fall.  Brooke’s contributions to NACC are substantial and we are glad she is still working with the NACC family.

 

The NACC Community is here to provide support and connect you with each other.

 

Thank you for joining us and welcome home. 

 


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