Our nation’s children in foster care have become invisible and stigmatized. The root cause of foster care is poverty, and our society has created state child welfare systems to take care of our nation’s vulnerable children. Unfortunately, citizens only seem to pay attention to what’s happening in the world of child welfare when something goes wrong – a kidnapping, injury, beating or death. In addition, every year as many as 25,000 young people experiencing foster care in America “age out” of our foster care system alone, without any enduring family relationships or community connections. This usually happens on their 18th birthday. Suddenly, after a childhood spent in a system that has made every important life decision for them, they are on their own with no one to count on. The result: a foster care pipeline of 25,000 American youth head out into the world annually at risk for homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, early parenthood and lives of poverty. The fact that there is a foster care pipeline that produces the next generation of poor and homeless people in this country is unacceptable.
Most Americans think that there are only two ways they can support a youngster placed in foster care. That is to become a foster or adoptive parent. This is too much to ask of most people. The result is that hundreds of thousands of Americans turn and walk away from the children in their communities who need them the most.
The way to flip this paradigm and prevent children from entering the pipeline is to create a mechanism that would invite citizens from coast to coast to stop, turn around, come back toward foster children in their neighborhoods; to share their time, treasure and talent with them. As an educator and businesswoman who had spent her career serving children and families in creative ways, Judy Cockerton began to Re-Envision Foster Care in America, (REFCA).
REFCA Initiative Background:
With Hal Grotevant and Jen Dolan of the Rudd Center for Adoption Research at UMass Amherst and Jane Lyons, Executive Director at Friends of Children, Treehouse Foundation launched the REFCA Initiative with a first regional conference in November 2010. The vision is to create a network of cross-sector collaborations on both the regional and national level to inspire and achieve widespread engagement, investment and positive impact. The REFCA Initiative is designed to provide Americans of all ages with a compelling new menu of engagement opportunities so they can directly support their community’s most vulnerable children. The REFCA approach fosters collaboration, innovation and an array of sustainable best practices. It invites the expertise of a vast spectrum of stakeholders including the Department of Children and Families.
The Treehouse Foundation aims to replicate the REFCA regional approach coast to coast to help other states develop regional hubs of foster care innovation and sustainable best practices. The REFCA initiative is creating a national vision of child welfare that is broader than the issues of child abuse and neglect; a vision that clearly demonstrates child welfare can be a place where people come together and no one gets left behind.
The activities that were launched by the REFCA Initiative have resulted in identifying the strands needed to weave together a regional foster care framework and a common youth agenda that is rooted in community engagement, shared responsibility, collaboration, and investment in innovation. REFCA provides the leadership needed to broker critical conversations, key partnerships, and a shared vision. In addition to offering up a collaborative social change model to other parts of the country, the REFCA Initiative provides a venue where stakeholders can identify and respond to specific regional concerns, while engaging area-specific resources from professionals to parents, community colleges to museums. At the core of the REFCA model is partnership and engagement with each state’s child welfare agency as well as other institutional sectors from a child’s life, such as schools.
At the third REFCA conference held in May 2012, work began to create a roadmap to bring Re-envisioning Foster Care in America to a national level. The next REFCA conference is scheduled for May 3, 2013.