In astrology, when the stars or planets align, something special is about to happen. So too, it can be argued, that when the federal, state and local players in children and family services agree on what needs to be done that this “alignment” could foretell important changes in the lives of children, hopefully for the better (see also welfare reform). But for those trying to advance such changes, an important question arises. Is such alignment necessary to make changes that will improve results for children and families? The answer to this question is of considerable importance. Because if the answer is yes, then much effort will need to go into creating such alignment, and it is anything but a sure thing. If alignment turns out to be necessary, is it a precondition of change. It is possible that alignment may be necessary, but it is not the place to start.
Why are these questions important? Well, for the simple reason that many if not most of our most troubled communities exist in an environment where the state (not to mention the federal) governments could give a damn about what happens. I don’t mean rhetorical commitment. Everyone is good at that these days. I mean substantive commitment to “do what it takes” to improve the well-being of children and families, even if that means, God forbid, changing what we do and how we do it.
So what do we think? Well we think that alignment is not necessary to improve results for children and families. It is certainly not a precondition for action. But it may well be a desirable condition to create because it makes possible later shifts in the system of formal services for children and families which will be harder (maybe impossible) without it.
Why do we think a community can improve conditions of well-being without alignment? Well, most importantly, because it’s been done. Look at the New Community Corporation in Newark New Jersey, or… the growing number of examples of poor school systems which changed, sometimes dramatically, without much in the way of state or County’support.
What this means for those trying to support such change processes is that we must help create or at least illuminate the pathways which allow to progress in both the poor soil of non-alignment, as well as the richer soil of alignment.