A Focus on Equity

Our fellows gathered in Montgomery, AL, on January 22, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for our first quarterly training and development convening of 2019. It was a fitting time and place to continue an ongoing conversation among fellows, faculty and guests about the impact of our nation’s history of racial injustice on today’s child welfare systems. 

A cornerstone of the weeklong training was an afternoon devoted to visiting the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. Dr. Carol Spigner, professor emerita at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and former Associate Commissioner of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, helped to prepare fellows for this experience. 

Dr. Spigner presented a brief history of child welfare, with particular focus on the treatment of children and families of color. She then led fellows and guests in a nuanced discussion of how this history has influenced today’s child welfare systems.

This connection between history and present-day practice is essential for fellows to fully grasp the systems they are entering. Dr. Spigner noted, “This history is alive today. We are not just fighting what’s in front of us. We are fighting 200 years of patterns, philosophy, ideology, and practice.”

Dr. Spigner ended her presentation with a slide that showed children and families of color at the center of an array of systems with unequal and unjust impacts—including education, housing, and criminal justice. She encouraged fellows to think not just about families’ individual strengths and needs but also how all of these structures present systemic barriers to their success and well-being.  

Foster America’s Founder and Executive Director Sherry Lachman re-emphasized this point in her introduction to the fellows’ afternoon at the Legacy Museum, citing the “conveyor belt” that moves disproportionate numbers of youth of color from our nation’s child welfare system into the criminal justice system. She noted that upwards of 70 percent of youth in the justice system have experienced the child welfare system.

“We can’t fix mass incarceration and the disproportionality in that broken system until we hit pause on the child welfare system’s conveyor belt to incarceration, and until we examine who winds up on this conveyor belt to begin with, and why,” Lachman said.

But it is not enough simply to diagnose inequity; we must actively work to dismantle it. At the convening, fellows presented updates on how their work is actively addressing systemic inequality. For example:

  • Minnesota’s state child welfare system has the most disproportionate outcomes in the country for Native American children, and an early data walk exercise organized by Foster America faculty made this painfully clear to Cohort 2 fellows Ryan Borowicz and Jennifer Worden. As a research analyst for the state, Borowicz includes race and equity measures in every dashboard his team creates. He is now part of a team examining racial differences at each decision point across the child welfare spectrum. In her fellowship role, Worden was asked to draft a statewide prevention plan; after an extensive listening tour, she successfully proposed making reduction of disproportionality for African American and Native American children in out-of-home care one of the plan’s two primary aims. Today, she is helping the state build capacity to benchmark and measure progress toward this goal, while local teams develop and test on-the-ground strategies to achieve it.

  • In New York City, improving racial equity has been an explicit goal for fellows placed at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). Cohort 2 fellow Sheela Bowler was tasked with completing an equity assessment mandated by Mayor de Blasio. As Bowler completes her fellowship, Cohort 3 fellow Danielle Maniscalo will carry this work forward as a consultant within ACS’s new Office of Equity Strategies. One of the office’s early challenges is to embed equity-focused measures into agency structures and systems in a way that creates institutional accountability beyond the current administration.

Solutions that effectively counter bias and dismantle racism are not easy to design and implement, particularly as structural inequality is deeply embedded in every facet of our system and lives. Our fellows have already demonstrated that they have what it takes to be successful in fields ranging from technology and data analytics to human-centered design. Trainings like the one in Montgomery are essential, however, to ensure fellows understand the historical context of child welfare and grow increasingly comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about race and equity.

It is equally critical for fellows to listen deeply to our jurisdictional partners, before jumping in with new ideas. That’s why they work closely with content experts on the ground, who are best positioned to understand root causes and posit solutions. Within that context, as newcomers with perspectives from other sectors, fellows are well positioned to begin asking questions that help those steeped in “how things have always been” envision new ways that the system can change for the better. 

We believe the potential for change is enormous, as each new cohort of fellows learns from those that precede it, and the Foster America movement gains momentum.

For now, Maniscalo notes, “Once you have seen the data, you can’t ignore it. We’re starting with a lot of data collection and embedding disproportionality into our daily conversation in a way that creates institutional accountability, so that we can’t shy away from it.”

At Foster America, we’re counting on it.

Cohort 3 Preservice Training

In January 2019, we hosted a two-week preservice training for our 18 new Foster America fellows. Cohort 3 first convened in Silver Spring, MD during the week of January 7th for an on-boarding curriculum that included cohort introductions, primers on child welfare and design thinking, and local site visits and reflection. Highlights of the first week included: 

  • Personal stories from a panel of foster care alumni

  • Remarks by Rafael Lopez, former commissioner of the national Administration on Children, Youth, & Families and Foster America board member

  • Visit to Baltimore County Department of Social Services, including a “day in the life” presentation by local caseworkers and dinner with Maryland’s Deputy Secretary, Randi Walters

  • Introduction to design thinking with faculty member Jessica Mason of Social Impact Studio

  • Introduction to adaptive leadership with faculty member Jeff Lawrence of Organizational Agility Advisors

Fellows spent the next week at their host agencies, beginning to meet local stakeholders and collecting baseline system data.

We reconvened with the Cohort 3 fellows from January 22-25 in Montgomery, AL for a second and final week of national preservice training, which doubled as a quarterly convening for our Cohort 2 fellows. This week included a visit the National Memorial of Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum, a powerful opportunity for our fellows to consider the history of racial inequality and economic injustice in the United States. We approached this visit as a chance to confront the ongoing legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation in America, and reflect on how this legacy shaped our society and public systems, hoping to strengthen our team and fellows’ abilities to contribute to a more just future. Particularly given Foster America’s mission to change outcomes for children and families served by the national child welfare system, we designed our visit to help us and our fellows consider how our nation’s history of oppression and racial terror and trauma remain present in the child welfare system today. Other highlights of this training week included:

  • Remarks by Doug Nelson, former President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation

  • Remarks by Dr. Carol Spigner about the history of child welfare

  • Presentation by Paul Vincent about Alabama’s child welfare system

  • Capstone impact presentations by Cohort 2 fellows

We look forward to sharing additional thoughts in a future blog post about the visit to the National Memorial of Peace & Justice and our commitment to addressing the inequities of the child welfare system.

Introducing Cohort 3

Please join us in welcoming 18 incredible Foster America fellows to our third cohort!

On January 7th, 2019, they started full-time, 18-month roles at child welfare, health and human services, and early childhood agencies nationwide that will use their skills to help keep more children safely out of foster care and improve the outcomes of children in foster care.

These talented fellows have expertise in human-centered design, program development, strategy and operations, data analytics, engineering, and finance.

We can't wait to share more. Watch the intro video on YouTube, and follow us on Twitter for an introduction to one fellow each week throughout spring 2019.  

Foster America Cohort 3 Fellows

Foster America Cohort 3 Fellows

November 2018 Finalist Days

November 2018 Finalist Days

This Friday and Monday, the Foster America team traveled to both coasts and completed Selection Days for fellowship candidates in Seattle and Washington, DC. Judges from a variety of backgrounds, including host agencies around the country, child welfare experts, and leaders from the business and nonprofit worlds, interviewed candidates and challenged them to develop visions for executing a better future for child welfare. 

"I Was in Foster Care. Family Separation Isn't Just a Problem at the Border": Foster America in Time Magazine

"I Was in Foster Care. Family Separation Isn't Just a Problem at the Border": Foster America in Time Magazine

Executive Director Sherry Lachman writes in Time Magazine about inequity and how we can better support families and kids in foster care. "Many children in the broader foster care system — particularly children of color — are separated from their families when preventive services could help their parents overcome the challenges, often poverty-related, that lead to their removal."

Read her article here.

Foster America’s Statement on Families Separated at our Borders

Foster America’s Statement on Families Separated at our Borders

Immigrant children and their parents are being cruelly and needlessly separated at our borders. We oppose this trauma and implore our federal government to expeditiously reunify separated families. Foster care is like chemotherapy: inherently toxic. We must work to ensure that foster care is a treatment reserved for children who truly need it to remain safe and healthy.

Foster Parent Recruitment Innovations in Rhode Island

Foster Parent Recruitment Innovations in Rhode Island

On March 9-11, 2018 the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth & Families hosted a first-of-its-kind foster parent training bootcamp. With over 200 families in attendance, this program accelerated much of the 10-week long training process for foster care licensing into an intensive, 3-day curriculum. Foster America fellow Adam Williams helped to organize this innovative training program to vastly increase the number of potential home-based placements for children in the state's care.

Cohort 2 Attends Preservice Training in Seattle

Following their week in Boston, our second cohort of fellows came together to complete their final week of preservice training in Seattle, WA from January 16-18, 2018. The week’s activities and speakers included:

  • A cocktail reception to celebrate the launch of the second Foster America fellowship cohort with honored guest Washington State Department of Children, Youth, & Families Secretary Ross Hunter;

  • A discussion about child welfare systems in the 21st century led by David Sanders, Ph.D., who is the Executive Vice President of Systems Improvement at Casey Family Programs;

  • A result based leadership data walk and workshop with Raj Chawla, Principal of The OCL Group;

  • A site to visit to nonprofit partners Treehouse and The Mockingbird Society

  • A panel on the use of data and technology in child welfare featuring Emily Putnam-Hornstei of the Children’s Data Network, Susan Smith, the Senior Director of Data Advocac for Casey Family Programs, and Brian Clapier, former Associate Commissioner for Research and Analysis at New York’s ACS.

Learning from and working with leaders in the child welfare sector, our Cohort 2 fellows gained vital information to begin their own projects at their new host agency sites. We look forward to following their progress and continuing to see all that they will accomplish througout the Foster America fellowship.

Sherry Lachman speaks on WNPR's Where We Live

Executive Director Sherry Lachman joined an impressive panel on today's episode of WNPR's "Where We Live" to speak about the intersection of the opioid crisis and child welfare in Connecticut and beyond.

Panelists on the program included:

Listen to the full episode online here.

Welcoming Cohort 2

With the beginning of the new year, we are happy to welcome a second cohort of Foster America fellows to our ranks! The twelve new Foster America fellows braved the frigid, snowy weather to join us for an initial week of preservice training in Boston, MA from January 2-5, 2018. In addition to valuable cohort bonding, highlights from this intensive week of learning included:

The Cohort 2 fellows bring a diverse array of professional experiences to the child welfare sector, including backgrounds in data analytics, management consulting, international development, large-scale technology implementation, legal services, and more. The fellows have taken full-time leadership roles to lead high-impact reform projects at the child welfare agencies in Allegheny County (PA), District of Columbia, New York City, Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri, and Washington. We look forward to sharing more about their accomplishments throughout the year ahead. 

Foster America in the New York Times

Read the New York Times op-ed by Foster America's founder and Executive Director Sherry Lachman regarding the plight of children in foster care.  She calls on philanthropists, advocates, corporations, and professionals to help modernize the child welfare system, improving outcomes for kids and reducing longer-term burdens on our social service infrastructure.

It turns out that our child welfare system is a kind of patient zero for the crises overwhelming our other social service organizations.
— Sherry Lachman, Foster America
NYT cover photo.jpg

2017 Year in Review

This has been an incredible year of learning and growth for Foster America, and it would not have been possible without your support.

Please click the box below to read our 2017 Year in Review and join us for the next exciting chapter, as we welcome a second cohort of Foster America fellows in January 2018. Note the fullscreen viewing option for easy readability. 

Quarterly Fellowship Convening - November 13-15, 2017 - Washington, DC

Cohort 1 fellows joined the Foster America leadership team in Washington, DC for several days of reflection and celebration of their first year of fellowship service. The gathering started as current fellows supported the Selection Day interview process for Cohort 2 candidates by sharing their experiences during a lunch panel at Halcyon. On Tuesday, the group convened for a day of thoughtful reflection and future program development, guided by Randi Walters and Peter Watson from Casey Family Programs. Fellows also received coaching on presentation skills from Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter to First Lady Michelle Obama. On Wednesday, fellows put their coaching into action and delivered riveting final presentations on their work in the child welfare agencies serving Allegheny County (PA), New York City (NY), and Rhode Island. Thanks to the many friends and supporters who joined us for this event hosted at Casey Family Programs. 

We are inspired every day by the impact of the Foster America fellows and look forward to another great year ahead! 

Cohort 1 Panel