As the world slowly pulls back the curtain of the pandemic and restrictions start to cautiously lift where it’s safe to do so, I’ve been thinking a lot about reawakenings. A couple of weeks back, I spoke at the Southwestern Political Science Association Centennial Virtual speaker series. I was on a panel with researchers from North Carolina State University, Dr. Thomas Birkland, and Wayne State University, Dr. Kristin Taylor, who are leading a longitudinal study examining COVID-19’s impact on the lives of Americans. A common theme came up repeatedly - we are entering a time that will require us to think, act, and evolve differently. There will be no “redo of 2019.”
With all the upheavals last year, we’ve had to ask ourselves the hard questions. Like every NGO, we felt overwhelmed and, at times, hopeless: so many have died, economies have fallen, and children have suffered. Yet, we also saw the world respond in profound ways to support one another. Charitable giving reached an all-time high. Ingenuity and innovation sparked unique partnerships, bringing resources and support where needed. New local initiatives helped with food insecurity, economic challenges, emotional support, and community connection. All the work we saw jolted us to ask: What is our endgame as an organization? What are we uniquely qualified to address? And what are we most passionate about? We wrestled with our own relevance, credibility, and utility, spending hours examining our role in a COVID-19 world and the more extensive work of a global organization.
The introspection and examination brought us to a recognition of our unique position. It started with understanding and accepting that we can't be everything to everyone. Recognizing our limitations was both a robust and humbling experience for our team. Out of this, we’ve gained a reawakened determination, a clarification of our "superpower." Not the bulky, might-make-right power of a Marvel character; instead, a laser-sharp focus on what we’re best suited to do in the world now and how our talents, interests, and connections can work together for the greatest good.
Since the 1990s, we've been working at the intersection of child abandonment, homelessness, social justice, health equity, and systems development in Perú. From our early experience doing outreach on Lima's streets to our efforts in running two model homes for formerly abandoned children, we have gained important insights and walked humbly into critical lessons. One thing we’ve learned from listening to and working with children and young adults is that they need hope - the kind that comes from deep, meaningful, loving relationships. They need the hope that comes from family connections and the support that grows from healthy attachments and molded resilience. Ideally, children would be nurtured in a family of origin and raised in a house filled with love, compassion, and deep connection, yet such a scenario is impossible for millions of them.
Over 30 years of published research points out that children need caregivers with the training and skills to foster meaningful relationships (Quiroga, Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2016). When provided attachment relationships from competent caregivers, children in residential facilities tap into their innate resiliency and demonstrate significantly better life course outcomes (Nelson, Bos, Gunnar, Sonuga-Barke, 2011). Science shows that building resilience leads to healthy relationships, stable jobs and housing, and emotional wellness, and reduces the likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.
We know what to do: make bold moves to overhaul child support services from a welfare-based model to an empowerment model. We know it will take decades, and we are in it for the long-haul. Our two decades of work in child welfare have given us key partnerships with academic institutions, subject matter experts, and youth ambassadors. With their support, we are educating institutional caretakers, influencing government policy, and training other organizations in evidence-based practices and tools for caring for marginalized children. The timing could not be better.
The pandemic taught us that we have what it takes to respond to children’s immediate needs, all while planning for the future. We will take our realizations from this crisis, past lessons, and hopes for the future to build a unified model that will offer a roadmap for serving the diverse and complex needs of children, youth, and young adults. A model that will offer a platform to transform child welfare services. I can’t wait to share our new directions/strategy with you.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.