Sunday, October 11, 2009

A few minutes with Karl Dennis


I've often mentioned the great paradox of child welfare: the more expensive the option the worse it is for children. The most expensive, and worst, option of all, is locking children away in "residential treatment centers" (RTCs) – really just orphanages with fancy new name. The evidence is overwhelming that they simply don't work.

There are far better, and less expensive, options. One of them is Wraparound. To steal a line first used to describe the child welfare reform in Alabama, Wraparound moves the system instead of the child. Wraparound brings whatever help a family needs right into the home or, when some kind of placement really is needed, right into the foster home. One of the most extensive such programs, Wraparound Milwaukee, just won an Innovations in American Government award from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

But precisely because Wraparound will be different for every family, it can be hard to explain exactly what it is. Some examples help. And who better to offer them than the father of Wraparound, Karl Dennis? Mr. Dennis founded the first Wraparound agency, Kaleidoscope, in Chicago. Though he now is retired, Mr. Dennis still speaks all over the country, and I've never met anyone who's heard one of his presentations who wasn't glad she or he took the time to listen. (Of course, I don't speak to many RTC directors, so…)

So I hope everyone who reads this Blog will take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Family Advocacy Movement, the excellent grassroots group in Nebraska. They invited Mr. Dennis to be their keynote speaker at a conference on Oct 2. And they've posted on their website a high-quality videotape of the first of his two presentations.

You can find the tape by clicking here, then scroll past that other guy – it sounds like he stole his whole presentation from this Blog anyway – and click on the video of Karl Dennis. It runs about 20 minutes, and it's well worth the time. (This particular website tends to work best with Firefox, Chrome or some other browser other than Internet Explorer.)