Some 68 educators and social service professionals, most of them representing Westchester child welfare residential centers, attended a Child Welfare Symposium on Oct. 17 at Fordham’s Westchester campus.

The event was the first in a series of professional development programs for the Westchester audience, and was co-sponsored by St. Christopher’s, Inc., residential center, and Fordham’s Graduate School of Education (GSE).

“For an event to be this successful on its first attempt brings to our attention the need for more panel discussions focused on the child welfare industry,” said GSE alumnus Robert Maher, Ph.D., St. Christopher’s CEO.

Crises in the industry

Among the concerns that attendees focused on included: A “crisis” in obtaining a quality staff, given that wages for line workers are extremely low while, at the same time, children’s issues are becoming more challenging; the need for general funding and financing to cover more children with greater needs, in the face of fiscal austerity and tight budgets; racial imbalances among the children in care; and a lack of understanding of the complexity of competing local and national needs.

GSE Professor of Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy Toby Tetenbaum, Ph.D., said the concerns that were addressed were of key importance to the educators and professionals in attendance.

“If you don’t have funding, you can’t get quality teachers and social workers, which makes the kids’ problems much more complicated. We need resources for solutions.”

Helping fund welfare challenges

The symposium was intended to be a kick-off to bring people in and make them aware of childrens’ needs with the hope, said Tetenbaum, that “more will be willing to donate” to help fund child welfare challenges.

Other speakers included Sheila Poole, acting New York State Commissioner of the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS); Jim Purcell, executive director of the Council of Families and Child Care Agencies (COFCCA), who spoke about child welfare reform; Dr. Edward Placke, executive director of Green Chimneys; and Frank Spain, retired chief operations officer/CFO at Graham Wyndham Children Services,

Guest speaker Sam Ross, Jr., founder and managing director of Green Chimneys who is still active at age 88, will work with Fordham as an adviser on the professional development programs to be offered going forward.

“I believe in what we are doing,” He said.

Veronika Kero