LESSON 6:II – WHAT ARE THE KEY CONCEPTS AND TERMS TO EXPLORE?
WHAT VS WHOM?
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has always been an unsettling phrase. It implies that one can dream up any fantasy project, and if you happen to be the CEO’s nephew or are dating a US Senator, your project is a go. But, what we discovered was that our strategic plan to support the launch of the Anna, Age Eight Institute, backed by reams of data, research and practical experience, became a reality only because of our relationship with political leaders. The good news is that these relationships were new, and developed through our work, and not because either of us come from politically connected families.
As you begin to build your local county 100% New Mexico initiative, be aware that it will benefit greatly from knowing both local elected officials and stakeholders like the university president, but you can also find powerful allies within state government, both elected folks and those running state agencies. This section is devoted to getting you in touch with powerful people with resources, including invaluable “unofficial leaders.”
We did our best to stay practical and focused, so you don’t have to wonder, “Why the heck should I be trying to get an appointment with the head of Human Services in the state capital when I live 500 miles away?”
Leadership and relationships
We humans keep making remarkable strides in innovation — in the fields of technology, medicine, architecture and even government. When presented with a challenge, a young techie will commit heart and soul into a solution that can enter the marketplace to create the next dot-com millionaire. How do we harness that creative force to ensure the safety of our nation’s children?
There’s much to be learned from the tech revolution that that can be applied to transforming society. Twenty years ago, we used landlines and stamped envelopes to conduct business. Not so today. We have transformed so many aspects of life, but we still have not created a user experience for all of our children that gives them the best chance at success. Despite all of this information swirling across all our screens, the failure to protect our kids is baffling. Well, in reality, we aren’t baffled at all. Plain and simple, it is about leadership. Or, more precisely: about leaders, real people with vision, dreams and their share of hurt.
This section is focused on the leaders in your city, county and state who set the standards for child health, safety and education, and determine whether or not ending ACEs and health, education and opportunity disparities is a priority worth funding. Make no mistake, the work ahead means changing how our governmental and non-governmental organizations work, so get ready for facetime with elected leaders and those who control the public and private funds that can be earmarked to save kids’ lives. And, maybe you will even decide to become one of those elected leaders yourself.
What is it with humans (and countries)?
We asked you to think locally and focus on your county with the 100% Community Initiative, but let’s step back now to ask two questions.
- Why is it that the richest nation in the world allows a great percentage of its children to live in households enduring various forms of abuse and neglect, resulting in trauma with lifelong effects?
- With our vast wealth, why don’t we end the social adversity that comes with lack of access to safe neighborhoods, health services, quality education and work opportunities? Why not give every child the best chance for success in school, work and family life?
The answer is complex, but consider this: in every one of our 3000+ counties across this vast country, adults are in power who themselves were traumatized in youth and now control the quality of others’ lives. Through action, or most likely inaction, these power brokers don’t, or can’t, see the damage caused by trauma. It’s not uncommon for folks with very traumatic childhoods to sum it up simply as, “I grew up in a tough family.”
All the data in the world on the impact of trauma won’t budge them in their belief that trauma-prevention is not a priority, and that it is not the job of local government to address it. We accept that fires happen, so each county needs a fire department. With that logic, because we face epidemic rates of childhood and family trauma, is there not a need for a Department of ACEs Prevention or even a Department of Family Resilience?
Whether because of ignorance, fear, anger, greed or incompetence, many local leaders cling tightly to a status quo that dooms children and their vulnerable parents to a world of trauma — with a built-in cycle to ensure that it is passed down from generation to generation. And, yet within each city council, county commission or school board, courageous and compassionate leaders arise who are eager to address trauma and disparities. These leaders need no help connecting the dots between trauma and the costs associated with family dysfunction, school drop out and underemployment.
Our job, and yours, is to strengthen support for local leaders who are ready to make well-resourced communities a priority and as fundamental to a local government’s service as a police department or office of economic development.
Plan A vs. Plan B
As we learned from working in the tiny town of Show Low in Navajo Country, Arizona, there are “Plan A people” and “Plan B people,” as the locals called them. Plan A people are those leaders who embrace change, seek to heal and help and empower all residents, in ways that are both measurable and meaningful. Plan B people find comfort in the status quo and do not want to get involved with change initiatives that might upset some. To Plan B people, change means loss, whether loss of power, control or peace of mind. We discuss in later chapters how addressing loss, not change, may be both your biggest challenge and opportunity.
Within each county, no more than 100 elected officials and stakeholders set the standard of all residents’ care and priorities. Our job is to reach out to these 100 and convince them that getting all residents to 100% is cost effective as well as forward thinking.
Contrary to what most of the public believes, we are not talking about enormous bureaucracies that must be convinced in order to make change happen. We are talking about a few key people in a handful of roles on state and local levels who can block or support our next step forward. Really, it’s only about the voting majority of about 100 elected officials per state and the same number of officials per county who control the real levers of change.
The illusion of doing something significant
Imagine that with one Google search you turn up a beautifully designed site that artfully describes an organization’s strong commitment to ending all forms of child abuse. It sounds impressive. But, when you scratch the surface of the site you discover that this organization primarily sells pinwheels that you can put on your lawn to show your support for ending child abuse! We certainly support public awareness projects, but such a strategy should not be pitched as the national plan for ending maltreatment.
Many websites are written well and beautifully art directed. Some are produced by very caring folks who mean well, but they are not set up to move the needle on measurable prevention. Even worse, some sites are produced as money-making ventures. Some sites appear to be the real deal, but when you dig deep and look for evaluation reports that detail what they have done, with what measurable and meaningful results, their credibility seems questionable. And, yet they ask for donations for their noble cause in an arena with few resources.
As you learn about the important leaders, stakeholders and organizations that can make or delay progress, you will need to critically assess them: what they truly stand for, their history of accomplishments and how they present data to back up their mission to build the vital services required to ensure safe families.
Timing is everything
We can’t repeat this enough: our campaign to win over leaders and followers is about building mutually respectful relationships, putting the pause button on judgments and seeking to find commonalities even when agreeing to disagree on many issues. In your work on addressing trauma, remember that it’s a long-term process. One that’s all about timing, as well as chemistry, as you connect with potential leaders and supporters. Every movement has its moment and place. Be sure your timing is good and your location is prime for change.