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The Strategic Triangle:

Throughout the book, emphasis is on the strategic triangle:[15] value creation, enhancing the authorizing environment, and operational capacity building. An explanation of the three legs of the strategic triangle will be helpful here.

Value Creation:  Stakeholders within the agency and external to it value the protection of children. Value creation, then, starts with supporting and increasing the level of importance that those stakeholders attribute to the agency and its activities. How well does the agency protect children? Beyond this fundamental value, the agency must encourage and, at times, create value for correlates of effective child protection. Included here are related resources and activities such as:

·       Inter-agency collaboration

·       Resource pooling

·       Additional low income housing

·       Expanded mental health and substance abuse services

·       Keeping children safe, in the community, in school, and out of trouble

·       More family-centered programs and services

·       Increased neighborhood-based resources and opportunities for families and children

Enhancing the Authorizing Environment:  When the agency and its activities are legitimated and supported by elected officials, key stakeholders, other members of the Children’s Safety Net, the media, and the general public, the authorizing environment is agency friendly. The agency has authorization to effectively address key issues and to take advantage of excellence opportunities. A commonly asked question is, “How much authorization is needed to move forward?” Fortunately or unfortunately, the answer is, “Enough.”[16]

Accurately and consistently gauging how much authorization is enough is a core skill that distinguishes traditional public administrators from the new leadership. The traditional task of public administrators is to diligently and conscientiously implement applicable laws and administrative rules within the legislative and bureaucratic intent. Alternatively, leadership requires a sustained effort to build individual relationships with all authorizing stakeholders. Leaders constantly assess the authorizing environment, assure that stakeholders have accurate and complete information, and attend carefully to the changing needs of that environment.

Leadership also requires risk-taking. Leaders must know when to move forward and when to consolidate past advances before moving forward. They have to carefully assess how much pressure the environment can productively tolerate, internally and externally. They then need to maintain that vital level of pressure required to support the new adaptation, no more, no less.[17]

This is not especially difficult or risky, if the leader never makes mistakes, never confronts controversial issues, never makes unpopular decisions, never disappoints influential people, and never pursues change faster or in directions that cause discomfort. Under those restraints, the authorizing environment would be quite stable.

If, instead, the leader does make occasional mistakes, does irritate and frustrate people at times, and does make unpopular decisions and take controversial actions in children’s interests, the authorizing environment can become very volatile. At those times, the leader must draw on authorization reserves. Along with authorization when things are going well, leaders must maintain authorization reserves for the more difficult times that inevitably come. This means that continuous enhancement of the authorizing environment is not only a good idea, it is required just to stay even. To achieve excellence in child protection, it is absolutely essential.

Operational capacity building:  Operational capacity refers to the internal and external resources required to do what needs to be done. This includes enough people who have the necessary skills and competencies as well as sufficient access to needed hard and soft resources. Moreover, both internal and external people and resources are required to adequately and appropriately protect children. No single child protection agency has the internal or organizational capacity to do the job alone. It requires the collective resources and efforts of every participant in the Children’s Safety Net where the bottom line is keeping our children safe. Continuous capacity building is not just important; it is the essential difference between agencies that achieve excellence and those that do not.

Which is more important: value, authorization, or capacity? The reality is that without value, there will be no authorization. Without authorization, there will be no capacity. Without capacity, the agency will produce nothing of value. If nothing of value is produced, there will be no authorization.

Unless a child protection agency’s commitment is to aggressively pursuing all three legs of the strategic triangle concurrently, the effort will fall short and the children for whom it is responsible will not be kept safe. What’s more, to achieve the level of excellence the children deserve and must have, agency leadership must be:

·       Mission-focused, understanding that the agency’s mission incorporates its primary value creation potential;

·       Externally oriented, understanding that although there are important internal stakeholders, the primary stakeholders in the authorizing environment are external to the agency;

·       Opportunity seeking, understanding that capacity building is, in large measure, dependent on the leader’s ability to recognize and exploit opportunities to appropriate resources in the service of abused, neglected, and dependent children.

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