By Claire Louge, Executive Director

Have you heard the expression ‘we’re building the plane as we fly it’? What it usually means is that the work is so urgent, the process of doing the work is being created at the same time as doing the work.

But let me ask you this: Do you want to be on a literal plane that is being built as it’s being flown?

Of course not.

The paradox of our field is that the needs of children and families are urgent, but to best meet those needs, it requires slowing down. Take these examples:

  • A family service provider needs to get through an intake form checklist to meet program fidelity. But without slowing down and having a conversation with the family, she’ll probably miss a lot of details that would guide their work together and make it more effective.
  • An organization needs to meet their grant objectives before the end of the year. They hustle to get as many people enrolled and served, but in that hustle, they don’t have time to make changes to their approach that would better meet the needs of the families they work with.

These are probably familiar examples. The human service field often has to overpromise outcomes for as little as possible to get the resources they need to serve people. The speed of it leads to burn out, missed opportunities for meaningful change, and implementing things that may not work as well because we don’t have time to rethink our approach. It’s the paradox of our work: everything is urgent, but to do our best work, we need to slow down.

There is absolutely an urgency to meeting the needs of children and families. Human needs, such as shelter, food, and safety, can’t wait. They are happening now, and we don’t want those needs to go unmet.

But slowing down is necessary for thoughtfully reflective decision making. If we want to create a system that builds trust and connects families to what they say they need, we need to engage in thoughtfully reflective decision making. We need to take the time to create the process for how we work so that we can then do the work. 

We urgently need to slow down.

I get it. This may seem impossible. Who has time for the process? How do we slow down when there are growing numbers of families in our caseloads? When there are so many needs? When there are grant numbers to meet so we can continue to get funding for the work? When there is so much to do within a workday (not to mention outside of the work day, in our personal lives)?

We start by doing it when we can, and we commit to prioritizing it. We create time for reflection and we protect that time like it’s an urgent need. We give our reflection and learning time our full attention, or as much as we possibly can. (I completely understand how easy it is to do something else, like answer emails, while we’re attending a virtual training, for example!)

That’s why I loved attending our Child Abuse Prevention Conference last month. Those three days of learning were an opportunity for over 600 people to engage in thoughtful reflection with one another. That thoughtful reflection fueled connection, creativity, resourcefulness, purpose, hope, and everything we need to not only do our jobs, but do them well, in a way that is meaningful and effective.

Being there with passionate people who are committing their lives to promoting the well-being of children and families was deeply affirming. I left the conference feeling like I had just hung out with ‘my people’ for three days. I felt connected and uplifted. That’s the power of slowing down. And it’s what we all need to move forward and do our best work.