Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America

Most Americans think there are only two ways to support a child who has been placed in foster care: adopt a child from foster care or become a foster parent. This is too much to ask of most people.
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Massachusetts kicked off National Foster Care Month with its second Re-Envisioning Foster Care Conference. On May 6, a broad cross section of people gathered in Holyoke to harness creative ideas, mobilize collective energy and maximize financial resources -- all directed toward better serving our children and youth whose lives have been impacted by foster care.

My journey into the world of child welfare began on May 11, 1999 in a Boston suburb. My 12-year-old daughter and I stood in our driveway waiting for the social worker's car to appear. Earlier that day I had received a phone call asking if we would open our home to two little sisters. I left work, picked my daughter up from school and drove to the store to buy high chairs, car seats, cribs and diapers.

My daughter grabbed my hand as the car approached, excited to meet the two little sisters they were bringing to our home. A sweet five-month-old baby was placed in my outstretched arms. My daughter was introduced to a 17-month-old toddler with gorgeous brown eyes.

These two beautiful little sisters led me into the world of child welfare and taught me the value of investing in the lives of the half-million children who experience foster care in this country. They showed me what our nation's child welfare system looks like. They inspired me to collaborate with others to create new realities.

The girls were exceptional teachers. As a result of the lessons learned while parenting them, I sold my businesses and became a full-time child advocate.

It was clear that most Americans think there are only two ways to support a child who has been placed in foster care: adopt a child from foster care or become a foster parent. This is too much to ask of most people. The result: hundreds of thousands of potential resources turn and walk away from the children who need them the most.

How can we change this reality? By establishing a corps of community members in every region of the country who invest in the well-being of children in their backyards; folks who actively engage in creating a caring safety net for the infants, toddlers, school-aged youngsters and teens whose lives had been impacted by foster care.

Every year nearly 25,000 young Americans "age out" of our foster care system at risk for homelessness, incarceration, teen parenting, unemployment and lives of poverty. Here in Massachusetts, we are crafting road maps that will take us in a new direction.

For the past decade I have collaborated with outstanding people to build a compelling new menu of engagement options so that citizens of all ages can easily support children in their communities. Together we have established three nonprofit organizations: the Treehouse Foundation, Sibling Connections and Birdsong Farm.

Each of these nonprofits is dedicated to ensuring that every child is rooted in family and community so they can lead fulfilling and productive lives. The Treehouse Foundation focuses on moving children out of foster care into loving, connected families that are surrounded by caring neighbors of all ages. Sibling Connections provides year-round programming so sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care can create joyous shared memories. Birdsong Farm aims to address the educational needs of students in foster care.

We have partnered with a broad cross section of like minded people to develop new national models so the menu can be available to children from coast to coast: educators, philanthropists, mental health professionals, parents, colleges and universities, business leaders, nonprofits, marketing professionals and interested citizens.

This May, as we mark National Foster Care Month, we wish all of our children and youth in foster care health and well being. We wish them loving family and community connections. We wish them opportunity and a level playing field. Here's to Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America!

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