Q&A with CAC Executive Directors
The Challenges and Rewards of Leadership in a CAC
(Part 2 of 2)

In last month's newsletter, we asked leaders from CACs across the southern region to share their experiences with us and give us their best leadership advice. This month, we continue the conversation w ith a discussion of supporting staff and building a positive organizational culture.
Thank You To Our Contributors

Melissa Brunner : Former Arkansas State Chapter Executive Director (4 years) and former Executive Director of the Children’s Safety Center in NW Arkansas (3 years).

Wendy Myers : Current Executive Director of the CRICKET Center of Worcester County CAC in Maryland (12 years). 

Chris Newlin : Current Executive Director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama (13 years).

Jerri Sites : Former Executive Director of Rainbow House CAC in Columbia, Missouri (5 years) and of the CAC of East Central Missouri (5 years).  

Marcus Stamps : Current Executive Director of Davis House CAC in Tennessee (8 years).

Winn Stephens : Current Executive Director of the CAC of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky (5 years).

Nancy Williams : Former Executive Director at Memphis Child Advocacy Center in Tennessee (10 years).

1. How did you cultivate a positive, productive culture for your employees?

Melissa : Ongoing open communication by creating a safe environment in which employees could share their thoughts and ideas. I tried to model this myself. Also, finding ways to celebrate the "wins" through commendation, time off, and some fun.

Wendy : We support one another every day, every decision, through every case. Period. We work hard to promote a mutual respect for one another. We have annual MDT retreats which include training, time for fun, and time for self-care. We are a small CAC, so we are able to do small things for one another throughout the year to help build trust and enhance team communication. We spend time together and encourage one another personally and professionally. This takes time but is worth the effort! As the ED, I attempt to leave words of encouragement and small gifts for every member of our team regularly. (This can be as small as a candy bar, but our staff tells me this makes their day!) When staff communicates a need to me, I try to handle the request expeditiously. I want every member of our team to know their own value and to be able to work in a supportive and healthy environment. I make sure training needs are met and that each member of our team is able to attend both local and national training annually. 

Chris : I have learned that my most important responsibility is to create a healthy work environment for our staff. If I am able to do this, then I can unleash the full potential of our 62 staff members and 40+ MDT members. This starts with modeling reasonable work schedules and expectations. When I first started at NCAC I thought I needed to show everyone that I was going to work as hard and as long as anyone, if not harder and longer. I foolishly thought this is what a servant leader did. Over time I learned that I was modeling the opposite of what I wanted. I was essentially challenging employees to “measure up.” Over time I began to realize that the entire CAC world had somehow wrongly adopted a “Culture of Sacrifice." We all were working long hours with toxic content just to show how much we cared, and often this came at the expense of quality time with our family and loved ones. As a leader, we must model reasonable work hours and consistently talk and model what we want our employees to do. We created a comprehensive Agency Wellness Plan which is not focused on rescuing employees who are “in the danger zone,” but rather to build resilience and support around each of our employees. This improves both their well-being and productivity. This is further supported by openly communicating our Core Values, which not only define who we are as a group, but also identify the type of people who will thrive in our dynamic work environment.

Jerri : We met each Monday morning from 9-10 a.m. We started our meetings by sharing positive experiences from the week before. Then we would go over the calendar to look at coverage needs for the week. We allowed time for any concerns to be voiced and discussed ways to address those concerns and would end recapping what to expect for the week. When staff seemed overwhelmed, we supported one another by lowering or diversifying that person’s caseload for the week.

Marcus : A combination of empowerment, encouragement, humor, realism, and transparency have led to a much better culture for our employees. Establishing a leadership team with quality personnel has been a key contributor to a positive and productive culture for all employees. 

Winn : I work hard at making sure our employees feel valued. We are very generous with our staff benefits, PTO, etc. We give staff lots of opportunity for professional development. We also are very flexible with time for those pursuing advanced degrees. I’m also a big proponent of making sure staff have what they need to do their job. If there is an ink pen you really like, then we’ll get you your very own box. If your desk chair is uncomfortable, order a new one. You’d be surprised how good it makes someone feel when you give them 20 of their favorite pens. A new desk chair is a fraction of the cost of a help-wanted ad and a lot cheaper than an unproductive employee.

Nancy : Listening. Celebrating successes. Learning from each other. Respecting boundaries, and at the same time, helping staff to appreciate each other’s role in meeting our mission.  

2. In what ways did you support your staff and/or MDT? “Support” could include professional/personal development opportunities, stress management, recognition of job performance, etc.

Marcus : I support each member of our leadership team in developing leadership skills through leadership training and empowering them to take ownership of their respective area of work. Our leadership team and all team members are encouraged to think as if they are a division president of their respective work area.

Jerri : We sent staff with team members to at least one national conference per year. We would sign up for webinars (from Midwest Regional CAC and National Children's Advocacy Center) and watch those as a group. During lunch, we made sure not to talk about cases. After we had a smart TV set up in our conference room, we made a habit of watching funny YouTube videos (carpool karaoke, funniest home videos). We were flexible with schedules and allowed personal time without question. We made sure to recognize outstanding work of staff at weekly staff meetings and MDT members at case review.

Winn : Again, we try to be very generous with our benefits package. We provide four self-care bonuses a year. We cover the cost of all required CEUs for our staff. We do a couple of annual staff outings each year. In 2019, we are implementing a plan to cover the co-pay for all therapy appointments for our staff. That way if any staff member would like to speak to a therapist, they can do so for $0 out-of-pocket.

Nancy : The most transformational experience in our quest to provide quality services and best practice was the hiring of an executive coach for our small leadership team. Four of us received coaching individually and once a month as a group. We learned how to work together as a team (sounds easy but you know it isn’t easy), self-awareness (what were our own triggers, our work styles, our strengths/challenges), and to think for ourselves (the beautiful mystery of coaching). Our coach told us, “I’ll help develop the inspiration for the perspiration and provide validation, encouragement, and support as you tackle your goals.” And we did!

3. Are there any resources (books, blogs, podcasts, etc.) that you would recommend, or any advice you would give, to new leaders?

Melissa : The Good Life Project podcast. It offers so many positive episodes on various topics, many about leadership and life. Also, the book, 8 Keys to Self-Leadership by neuroscientist Dario Nardi, which shows us how to honor our natural talents (and those of others) and to stretch ourselves into new areas while keeping that sense of learning and wonder we had as children. And lastly, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown Ph.D., which gives research-based insight into how the courage to be vulnerable can transform our life professionally and personally. Advice: be gentle with yourself as a new leader. Don’t expect perfection out of yourself because life is full of what I call "teaching moments." Welcome them as a way to learn and offer grace to not only yourself but to others when they experience teaching moments themselves. Don’t be afraid to sp eak up – just do it in a way that others can hear you. And practice boldness by sharing ideas and insights that you have – they may n ot always be the way that is chosen or even the best way, but sometimes they are exactly what is needed and can make a difference in the life of a person, team, Board, child, or even a movement.

Wendy : I would encourage new leaders to seek help, appreciate and encourage the unique qualities of their CAC team, rely on SRCAC for training and support, and keep an open mind about change. Things change quickly in our world so embrace the uncertainty of staff changes, law changes, funding resources changes, and standards changes. 

Chris : I would suggest leaders stay in touch and engaged with their staff and MDT. I had a wise Board member who once told me, “Don’t forget who brought you to the dance.” Additional advice from other Board members:

1) “Either you change the people, or you change the people.” (We should be more committed to the mission than any single employee. If we have tried to correct an employee without success, then we need to let that person move to another setting where she/he can be more productive.)
2) “Our job as a Board is to make one decision at each meeting: do we keep the Director or let the Director go?” (The role of the Board is to oversee the organization, not to micromanage the work of the organization. If the current leader can’t manage the organization, then the Board needs to get a new leader for the organization.)
3) “Sometimes good enough is good enough.” (The time and effort required to go from good enough to perfect is significant, and we must ask ourselves if we should commit to perfect at the sacrifice of helping more individuals or whether good enough is sufficient and also allows more people to be positively impacted by our work. This does not mean that we accept only a minimal level of service or quality. It is about knowing when one is not maximizing the impact of one’s limited resources.)

One final thought on advice: your job is not to make the Board of Directors job easy by making sure the organization is running well. Your job is to challenge the Board to fully support and engage in the mission, and it is their job to challenge you to be the best leader you can be for the organization. Having the trust between Board and leader to support and challenge each other can create amazing chemistry and productivity. Best question ever asked by a Board member: “What do you need from us?”

Jerri : Relationships are key: relationships with staff, MDT members, community leaders, legislators, and most importantly constituents – the children and families served by the Center. If we always have the families we serve in mind in our decision making and in our role as leaders, we can’t lose. Also, nurture personal friendships with like-minded colleagues and leaders – people you can rely on for professional advice or trusted professionals with whom you can share ideas and frustrations.

Winn : My advice is to focus on people first and foremost. Your organization will only be as good as your people. That starts with the Board and goes down to the lowest level of the organization. Good people will produce good results. You can teach skills. You cannot teach work ethic, enthusiasm, or principles.

Thank you to all the directors who shared their experiences with us!
Welcome to our New Chapter Directors!

We are pleased to welcome two new Chapter Directors to the southern region.

Kate Shipley - Louisiana

After serving as the Interim Director of the Louisiana Alliance of Children's Advocacy Centers (LACAC) for five months, Kate Shipley was promoted to Executive Director of LACAC and assisted the Governor's Office in securing federal funding for the state for $1.2 million over three years to improve coordinated efforts for victims of child trafficking through partnership with CACs. Prior to this role, Kate was the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) Liaison to the Louisiana Children’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative (LACAT). She is a trained forensic interviewer in three national protocols, RADAR, NCAC, and APSAC, and worked as a contractual Forensic Interviewer at the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center for two years. Kate served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the New Orleans Children's Advocacy Center, during which she assisted in the successful accreditation of LACAC. Kate received her Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Bachelor of Arts in International Development at Tulane University.
Kate Flack - West Virginia

Kate Flack has spent the last decade in organizational leadership, program design and implementation, research, nonprofit advocacy, and fund development. After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, she worked with an international health and development organization to increase access to dental care for rural communities in Honduras. Kate came to West Virginia University to pursue her master’s degree in public health. While developing her professional skills, the content focus of her work has ranged from supporting risk-factor epidemiological research for restless legs syndrome and mild cognitive impairment, to mind-body therapy clinical trials, to designing data-driven quality improvement initiatives for a health center, to running a state-wide comprehensive sexuality education institutionalization initiative, to directing the fund development and awareness initiatives for a multi-million dollar nonprofit. After becoming a mother three years ago, Kate's passion for helping marginalized and victimized populations extended to children and guided her to the CAC movement. 
The staff of Southern Regional will be presenting the following workshops at the 35th International Symposium . We will also have a booth in the exhibition area, so please stop by!

Karen Hangartner, LMSW

Leading a Multidisciplinary Team: Themes from the Field
Session I - Tuesday, March 19, 10:30 AM - Noon

Looking for Solutions to Address Secondary Traumatic Stress? Ask the Experts
Session IV – Wednesday, March 20, 8:30 AM - Noon

Jerri Sites, MA

Identifying Dynamics of Abuse and Corroborative Evidence in the Child Forensic Interview
Session I - Tuesday, March 19, 10:30 AM - Noon
Research to Practice: The MDT Approach to Recantation
Session IV – Wednesday, March 20, 8:30 AM - Noon

Melissa Brunner, BA

Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Interaction Styles
Session X – Thursday, March 21, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM

Greg Flett, MSW

What is Language Access? Why Does It Matter?
Session VII – Thursday, March 21, 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM

Putting Language Access into Practice at a Children’s Advocacy Center
Session VIII – Thursday, March 21, 10:30 AM – Noon
Team Facilitator Two Point Oh!?
Session X – Thursday, March 21, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM

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Spotlight is a newsletter prepared by Southern Regional CAC that focuses on current topics, ideas, trainings, and conferences which are designed to further the knowledge and practice of CAC professionals within the region. We hope you find the information helpful! Let us know if you have specific topics you’d like to see in future newsletters.
This publication is funded through grant #2016-CI-FX-K002 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components, operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this publication (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).
Southern Regional CAC | #justtryingtohelpsomekids | Vol. 2 No. 3: Mar 2019