Foster America fellows from Cohort 1 and 2 gathered in balmy Saint Paul, MN this week to share learning, discuss new approaches to child welfare challenges, and collaborate in workshops.
The OCL Group's Raj Chawla led a workshop for fellows on centering measurable results in the process of changing outcomes for children and families. Each fellow considered their "difference made measure."
After intense discussion of measures of change, the fellows, faculty, and staff headed to the Happy Gnome for a Jeffersonian-style dinner. This structure encourages a group of people to all consider and answer a thoughtful question, with each person addressing the table one at a time. Dinner attendees shared their responses and ideas for solutions in the wake of family separations at the border. (You can read Foster America's statement on family separations here.)
The Social Impact Studio's Jessica Mason led a design thinking workshop for fellows. Fellows began gathering information by reading accounts of lived experiences of individuals interfacing with various institutions, including child welfare and criminal justice. Participants identified key positive aspects, challenges, and opportunities on Post-It notes, then came together in groups to discuss and categorize.
Later, participants heard from the Minnesota Department of Human Services' Children and Family Services deputy assistant commissioner, Nikki Farago, in conversation with Foster America deputy director Marie Zemler Wu. Farago, the first Native American woman to serve in her position at the DHS, spoke about opportunities and challenges that lay ahead in the Minnesota child welfare environment.
Amelia Franck Meyer, the CEO of Alia (a national nonprofit focused on transforming child welfare), delivered a presentation on the traumatic effects of separating children from their parents. She argued that our current system often processes these children in counterproductive and harmful ways, by treating natural responses to trauma with punitive measures ("blame and shame") instead of support and healing.
Fellows and faculty boarded a bus for a site visit to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, about 90 minutes north of Saint Paul.
Kristen Weber, Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, presented to fellows about qualitative institutional analysis (using ethnographic tools from the social sciences to understand organizations' behavior) and its application in child welfare.
Anita Fineday from Casey Family Programs presented on the historical trauma of Native American child removal at the hands of the US government and the legacy of boarding schools, after which two representatives from the Mille Lacs Band joined to present on new initiatives.
After the session, the group proceeded to the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post to learn about the Mille Lacs Band's historical practices and way of life.
The Foster America fellows and team are deeply grateful to the Mille Lacs Band for welcoming us for this site visit.
On their final day in Saint Paul, the fellows reflected on the learning and collaboration of the past week. The Foster America team presented awards to fellows for their contributions.
Fellows returned to host agencies across the United States on Thursday. We know that the spirit of the convening will bolster their efforts to help kids and families for the months to come!