Virtually all child protection agencies are committed to child safety and work very hard to keep “their children” safe. Unfortunately, that work is frequently not informed by a shared vision for the community’s children and families. In the absence of a shared vision, these organizations are seldom dynamic and often become bound by bureaucratic process and inertia. Such agencies find themselves administering a variety of disjointed programs with few unifying themes such as freedom from abuse and neglect for all of the community’s children and permanence in a stable family for every child. Additionally, agency workers seldom enjoy job satisfaction from this type of environment since they seldom see positive outcomes, save those of successfully completing the process that is defined for them by others. That process is the central focus of all work, in the absence of a shared vision and well-defined mission. Further, clients are limited to a fixed menu of agency responses that often fail to fully and appropriately meet their needs. Customizing agency responses to align with client needs is seldom done because doing so would unacceptably deviate from the pre-defined process.
This model emphasizes the need for successful organizations to be externally and internally vision driven and mission focused. It begins by clearly defining and explicitly stating what the vision of the organization is for the community’s children and families and, in turn, for the clients it serves. Since the vision extends beyond the legal and practical boundaries of any specific organization, the agency must define its unique contribution to the attainment of that vision, i.e., its mission, its reason for existence.
Next, the agency must identify what is required to pursue its mission and determine its priorities (critical initiatives). If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Additionally, the day-to-day work must continue while the agency planfully develops the map for its journey toward excellence.
This map is, of course, the agency’s strategic plan. Along with focusing on and defining excellence for the agency, it shows the path to follow along the way. The good news here is that the strategic plan does show the way toward excellence. The bad news is that excellence is not a place it is a destination. The very best strategic plan can only show the way as far as today’s vision can reach, knowing that, when the agency gets there, its vision will extend even farther.
Strategic planning is, thus, not a discrete event. Rather, it is an ongoing commitment to moving toward excellence and to iterative planning cycles. The commitment is to a self-renewing series of strategic plans, generally each spanning two or three years. The distance an agency can move during each planning cycle is variable. The constant pressure for change that is a necessary part of strategic planning must be exerted at a level that does not cause the agency’s foundation to collapse. Too much pressure and the foundation collapses. Too little pressure and the necessary change does not occur. Determining the level of change-pressure an organization can bear without imploding and then constantly maintaining that precise pressure, no more–no less, is one of the most critical skills common to effective leaders in child protection.