I love driving our daughter to school.
The drive offers a chance to talk without a specific plan. We use the time to check-in, and the conversation often takes unique twists and turns.
Yesterday she asked me why traffic lights always have red on top, yellow in the middle, and green on the bottom. She was curious if there was ever an instance when the structure changes or is modified. For most of the drive, we talked about how some things in our lives require unified and uniform systems. Driving along, we were able to identify several such standardized structures – traffic lines, the shape of street signs, the universal clanging of church bells. These mundane things are critically important to our lives – and are often outside our conscious recognition. We both came to understand in our examination of unified systems the role of standardization in helping to orient people and ensure safety.
She said to me, “that’s what you are trying to do with your work in Peru. You are trying to help develop standards and structures that can keep children safe.”
In that one statement, she summarized our decades of work. It seems pretty simple when put into two sentences. We seek to help shape structures of support – models of care, standardized practices – for others to adopt and modify in a culturally informed manner to better the lives of marginalized and underserved women and children. Yet, this work is anything but simple. The complexity indeed rests in the movement toward uniformity.
Standardized practices are a bit of a pink unicorn – charming in the imagination and wholly ethereally. What is conspicuously absent in standardizing services and supports for the child welfare sector is a mechanism to help coalesce best and evidence-based practices into a framework.
There is a voluminous amount of research and literature on best practices with marginalized children. No one has figured how to assemble the best practices – like a giant jigsaw puzzle – into a consolidated frame. The puzzle pieces are sitting in front of all of us, what we cannot make sense of how to connect them. No one knew what the final solution would look like in its consolidated and structured frame. According to many scientists, child welfare is a mystery. Not because we don’t know how to deliver best practices in the most efficacious care, but because we don’t know what it looks like to have all of the pieces connected.
In early 2020 we discovered a breakthrough in our understanding. We admitted that we, and other scientists, had missed the critical piece. We found a missing piece that could be the center stone of child welfare services. This missing piece, culture, became the central understanding of how to move forward in developing evidence-based, child-centered child welfare services.
In many ways, this missing piece is our traffic light. It is a standardized method or model for approaching the complexity of child support. It is not a substitute for healthy attachment and nourishing relationships, just like a stoplight is not a substitute for responsible drivers and traffic laws. Instead, culture is the moderator, the conductor. Culture helps bring all the pieces of child-welfare services into a unifying framework for delivering evidence-based care to children living in orphanages, fractured kinship situations, foster care, and those emancipated into a life that they’re still uncertain how to navigate. The work of HBI is about creating roadmaps. Roadmaps that help every child find access to the futures they deserve.
I love driving our daughter to school. I learn so much!