Our nation’s children in foster care have become invisible and stigmatized. These children have been relegated to the care of overburdened systems that cannot possibly provide them with the lifelong family connections that will help them to become successful, happy adults. This is all too evident in the statistics related to outcomes for foster youth who are over-represented in the populations of the homeless, teen-parents and the incarcerated. 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.
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.
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
One way to flip this paradigm and prevent children from entering the child-welfare pipeline is to create a mechanism that invites 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.
The Child Welfare Pipeline
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.
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.
Through the REFCA model The Treehouse Foundation aims to help other states develop regional hubs of foster care innovation and 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 children receive what they need to lead happy and successful lives.
The activities 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
- providing the leadership needed to broker critical conversations, key partnerships, and a shared vision
- creating 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
- modeling partnership and engagement with each state’s child welfare agency as well as other sectors relating to a child’s wellbeing, such as education and health
The REFCA Vision
- create a network of cross-sector collaborations on both the regional and national level
- inspire and achieve widespread engagement, investment, and positive impact
- provide Americans of all ages with a compelling new menu of engagement opportunities so they can directly support their community’s most vulnerable children
- foster collaboration, innovation and an array of sustainable best practices
- invite the expertise of a vast spectrum of stakeholders including the Department of Children and Families
- offer a replicable, sustainable collaborative social change model that can be implemented in other parts of the country
HEROES Leadership Project
The HEROES Leadership Project, which launched in 2010, is an important part of the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative. Group members include youth who have experienced foster care and/or adoption, foster and/or adoptive parents, foster care alumnae and many other supportive adults.