They will always be struggling in terms of trying to strike a balance between economic survival and doing good. They will also always be struggling with the issue of people and communities often thinking about doing things in this arena economically, by saving money, and by concentrating on efficiency and return on investment. Those business terms have their place, and you don’t want to waste money and resources, but you need to change your whole viewpoint. And it is a struggle to try to do the best you can when you’re in an environment that sort of forces you to scrimp and save.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Rein.
Larry Rein is currently the CEO and President for ChildNet. He has been the Executive Director of ChildNet Palm Beach County since 2012 and has been with ChildNet since its inception in 2002, when he was named Vice President of Network Development. Larry is a pioneer in Community-Based Care and his expertise and passion lies in effectively engaging and leading the right community partners in the design and execution of effective and comprehensive local service networks. His significant contributions include the crafting of the first Local Interagency Agreement between ChildNet and the Department of Juvenile Justice, which marked the beginning of system enhancements to better serve dually involved youth. Consistent with ChildNet’s guiding principle to strengthen and preserve families whenever possible, through Larry’s advocacy efforts, ChildNet forged a groundbreaking agreement with the Children’s Services Council of Broward County resulting in more than $8 million in funding for prevention and diversion services. He has also engaged existing child welfare service providers and attracted new ones to substantially expand local service capacity, in particular, significantly increasing the local inventory of foster homes, group homes and relative caregivers and developing new behavioral health and family strengthening programs that seek to either prevent unnecessary removals or facilitate more timely and stable reunifications for families where there has already been a removal.
Larry is an active and engaged member and chair of several local child advocacy and behavioral health boards and committees. He serves as the Chair of the Palm Beach County Circuit 15 Local Interagency Review Team and has been elected Board Secretary and Audit Committee Chair for the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, the local managing entity for substance abuse and mental health. Larry is the Chair of the Screening and Assessment for Family Engagement, Retention, and Recovery (SAFERR) Committee, as well as a member of Circuit 15’s Crossover Committee and the Palm Beach County Community Alliance. Larry has also served as the Chair of the Florida Coalition for Children/Florida Department of Children & Families Crossover Youth Workgroup and as a member of the Youth Symposium Program Evaluation Workgroup and the Advisory Board for the Children’s Services Administration of Broward County. Larry has been recognized for his work in the community with awards that include Children’s Consortium 2002 Heart Award for Exemplary Service and the Mental Health Association of Broward County’s 2000 Exceptional People Impacting the Community (EPIC) Award. Larry received his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and his Master of Science Degree in School Psychology from St. John’s University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
I trained as a child psychologist, but I turned out not to be that great at it. I then moved on to retail business, running a chain of lady sportswear stores in South Florida for about 15 years. After my 40th birthday, I think I had a bit of a “midlife crisis” and decided that I wanted to do something more meaningful and that is when I got into social services in Broward county in 1995. My first job was for a juvenile justice provider to help start the Juvenile Assessment Center in Broward County. From there I was fortunate enough to move on to the School Board of Broward County where I served as the SEDNET project manager and the school system expert on children’s mental health services.With the privatization of foster care and the creation of Community-Based Care in the state of Florida, which began in Broward county in 2002, I was fortunate enough to be asked to join ChildNet. I was the second employee starting on August 1st, 2002.
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your nonprofit?
I did not start ChildNet, but I was there from the beginning as the second employee. We were created specifically in order to bid to become the first community-based care (CBC) lead agency in Broward county. We won a competitive procurement in 2002 and then began providing services in 2003.
Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?
I think we make a gigantic social impact. Essentially ChildNet operates the foster care system in Broward and Palm Beach County in Florida. We are responsible for the safety and well- being of over 3000 South Florida children at any one time who have been involved in a substantiated case of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. I think we are serving an incredibly important purpose and doing work that has an incredibly significant social impact.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
Individual stories are important but I usually think about our gigantic system and its wide impact because with all our incredible community partners over the last 18 years, we have revamped the foster care system in South Florida. That said, maybe the most rewarding individual stories are of several excellent employees at ChildNet who were former foster care children within our system. Because of their strength and resilience, along with the support we were able to give them, they have been able to now be incredibly effective adults making a very significant impact on their community and helping those who were like they were to hopefully become like they are now.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Absolutely. Not insignificantly, creating a different view of foster care and child welfare would help. In the last twenty years, in the state of Florida, there has been a total transformation of foster care and related services. Unfortunately, for reasons that sometimes escape me, the media always wants to point out the bad and sustain those old-fashioned images of institutional orphanages. But in fact, the real picture is that citizens and communities in Florida have done an amazing job serving as foster parents. The Children Services Council has also provided all kinds of abuse prevention resources, the picture is much healthier than it ever was, and we need to change the image. We absolutely need to sell and promote the positive. We also need to recognize that there are substantial, significant, and complex problems that underlay foster care and child abuse. Right now, adult substance abuse is the primary cause of at least 50 percent of the children that are removed form their homes and enter the foster care system. As a society, we need to recognize just how substantial this problem is and devote the resources and creativity to combat it and finally make a difference. Lastly, we need to change our view in terms of resources. Politicians, funders, and the community needs to not think so much in terms of returns on investment and efficiency, we need to be thinking about what is the most and the best that we can do for these children. Think about it, they have been so substantially abused, abandoned, and neglected that they must be taken from their homes and be placed under the supervision of ChildNet and the courts. We shouldn’t be skimping; we shouldn’t be thinking about how we can do it for less. We should be thinking about how we can do the most and the best possible for these children. They truly need it and deserve it.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
My thoughts about leadership have changed dramatically in the past three and a half years as the CEO of ChildNet. I once thought leadership was managing people well and being a cheerleader for them. I now recognize those are components of leadership but there is much more to it. Leadership involves clearly leading by example. It is more than cheerleading, it is motivating, it is engaging, it is having people truly embrace the purposes and goals of your organization. Part of that is being encouraging, expressing gratitude, recognizing, and rewarding your team. Leadership is not about bravado; it is about showing humility. You are much better able to engage your team and company if you are humble, honest, and transparent. That facilitates your team getting on board and moving your organization in the direction you all want it to go. Leadership is clearly very complex and my view of it has evolved tremendously over the last three and a half years.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a nonprofit”. Please share a story or example for each.
They will always be struggling in terms of trying to strike a balance between economic survival and doing good. They will also always be struggling with the issue of people and communities often thinking about doing things in this arena economically, by saving money, and by concentrating on efficiency and return on investment. Those business terms have their place, and you don’t want to waste money and resources, but you need to change your whole viewpoint. And it is a struggle to try to do the best you can when you’re in an environment that sort of forces you to scrimp and save. I think there is also going to be interesting workforce issues in a nonprofit. We typically do not have the resources to match salaries and compensation of other industries and that makes attracting and retaining staff very difficult. Not unrelated, typically in a nonprofit organization there is work in an arena where the job is very demanding, and sad, you can see a lot of the not good side of society and a lot of misfortune. This takes its toll on people. We need to be better prepared on how to engage, support, and care for our staff. We also need to take time to care for ourselves. Working in a nonprofit can be extremely draining and exhausting. Many of us in the nonprofit arena think in terms of working 24/7, it’s not a job, it’s a calling, it’s my entire life. We need to deal with that. We need to still recognize that we are doing great work by contributing to our community. You are helping people, but you cannot let the job kill you, drain you, or drive you away. Those are some of the important things people should think about before starting a nonprofit.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know if it is my favorite, but I believe I once read a quote many years ago in the New York Times business section. The quote was from their ‘Corner Office’ column and was a response from Jeff Bezos. When asked about how he did his hiring and if there was a rule to guide him, his response was yes. Very simply, he said, “no jerks.” I heartily embrace that. I think that in the nonprofit workplace, in any workplace, but especially in the nonprofit workplace, you want people recognizing that everyone is there for a good purpose, everyone has the best interest of their community at heart, everyone is trying to give back, and we need to treat everyone with the ultimate respect, compassion, and support. We need no jerks in the workplace, we just need “joy in the workplace,” my mantra at ChildNet.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. Please provide name and social media handle.
Is there a person in the world I’d like to talk to? I might like to talk to Jeff Bezos, I might like to talk to Melinda Gates, I might like to talk to Bill Gates. I’d love to see these very wealthy, talented, caring, compassionate philanthropists, at least one of them, recognize and champion the issues and the challenges of child abuse and foster care in this country. I think the challenges that I experience, that ChildNet experiences, and that our colleagues experience around the state of Florida, is the persistent image of the institutionalized orphanage and foster care system. This old, terrible, sad image could be changed if we had somebody like the Gates, like Bezos, like Elon Musk, somebody big, to embrace foster care and the prevention of child abuse. Someone to really make it their mission and a true national cause.