Foster Care – Broken but fixable
Foster America has some solutions
The foster care system in America is failing. On any given day, more than 400,000 children are placed outside their homes – in foster care or group care settings – without the security of a permanent, loving family to call their own. The direct national cost of child maltreatment is approximately $33 billion annually. The statistics for success however do not match these skyrocketing cost year to year. In the largest study of young people who aged out of foster care, only 8% had obtained a two- or four-year postsecondary degree by age 26, compared to 46% of their peers. And, 12% of young men were in prison, compared to 1% of their peers. Further, the study found of the young adults who had been in foster care 50% were unemployed, about 25% were homeless, and nearly 60% of men in this group had been convicted of a crime.
leaders and innovators have proven that change is possible
Within the system, the key opportunities for leverage are missed. Children enter care too often, when many could remain safely at home with the right set of services. Too many children in care live in institutions, associated with substantially greater costs and poor outcomes. The child welfare workforce is unstable and underprepared, and inconsistency and turnover among caseworkers leaves children lingering in care and without the supportive resources they and their families need. Further, the myriad systems that are involved with children in the child welfare system are disjointed, leaving children even more vulnerable to poor health and mental health outcomes, educational failure, criminal involvement, and economic insecurity.
In short, solving these complex problems has stretched the child welfare system beyond its expertise and capacity. Yet, despite the grim outlook, its most effective leaders and innovators have proven that change is possible. A critical issue, however, is the ability to attract and retain top talent in the child welfare field.
Foster America (“FA”) is a fellowship program that does just that. FA recruits, trains, and deploys talented professionals with diverse skills and backgrounds into the child welfare system. Like Teach for America, Education Pioneers, and other fellowship models before it, FA seeks to effect change within a bureaucratic system from the inside out by placing successful postgraduate and mid-career professionals to work under change-minded agency leaders, catalyzing short-term improvements and long-term transformation. FA’s fellows focus on a previously-identified problem, leveraging their prior professional experience, skills, and outside-the-box thinking to impact defined metrics.
focusing on those that are ripe for transformation
While there may be a number of areas that need improved within the foster system, focusing on those that are ripe for transformation FA believes is the smartest way forward. Included in those are: leveraging data and performance measurement to drive better, more proactive decision making internally and communication between agencies and their counterparts externally; reducing the churn rate of front-line caseworkers, and addressing the shortage and retention longevity of good foster families.
Sherry Lachman, the founder of Foster America, is currently working with the leaders of the child welfare agencies in the central child welfare agency in New York City, Pittsburgh and Rhode Island and others. In October, 2016 Lachman and her team at FA set up a pilot program with 6 to 8 fellows, each of whom have embarked on a one- to two-two-year commitment to their assigned agency, with the option of extending their fellowship afterward.
Over the next five years, Foster America plans to recruit at least 100 new leaders hoping to create a sea-change in this critically important but relatively small field. Currently, there are only about 500 leaders in the child welfare sector at the state and local levels.
The good news is that FA is oversubscribed with respect to both interested applicants and agencies, but it is struggling with identifying funders willing to invest. Relying on a shoestring budget and a small army of volunteers from organizations like McKinsey and Harvard, FA plans to use data from its pilot to improve its program and develop plans for scaling into additional regions, including California, within the next six months.
When we asked Foster America what would they do with a $300,000 grant, here’s what they said:
A $300,000 grant would go a long way toward helping Foster America fund mentorship and training for their first cohort of fellows in three focus areas: child welfare content, leadership development, and human-centered design. Additionally, these funds could support several key hires, namely a Chief Operating Officer, Director of Recruitment & Partnerships, and Director of Program Evaluation. Finally, a grant of this nature would support FA in its challenging mission to market not only the fellowship program itself, but also a field of reform that has historically gone unnoticed and underfunded.
How does the mission of Foster America align with that of Invest America?
Jobs & the Middle Class is one of twelve core areas of focus for Invest America. The child welfare field is unique in that it remains relatively untouched by the partisan polarization that has infiltrated almost all other areas of reform. The FA model does not advocate or advance a particular political agenda. Rather, it seeks to infuse talent into an often overlooked space that touches the lives of millions of children annually. Not only does this improve quality of life for all those directly affected by the system; like improvements in education, improvements in the child welfare system can bring significant economic benefits to our country as a whole.
You can read more about Foster America and its team here.
You can read the 2016 Foster America year in review here.
You can donate to Foster America here.
Year End Review by Foster America
Foster America Cohort 1 Fellows
2016 was a signiﬁcant year in the growth and evolution of Foster America. What was once the kernel of an idea to bring fresh thinking and new energy to the child welfare system is now being tested for the ﬁrst time.
Invest America Fund is a seed fund building a community, joining social and political entrepreneurs with funders committed to cross-partisan policy transformation. We target and support leaders and organizations whose ideas and approaches have the potential to reach and improve the lives of 150 million or more American voters. The Fund is building a national matrix of steady-state funders to tackle the most important issues facing our country today and is inspiring a “Silicon Valley” for political reform.