A late 2019 conference in Seattle might have offered the first public indication of a new framework for investing grant dollars at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
It was the most recent gathering of the Baltimore-based philanthropy’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, held just before the coronavirus made such things lethal, at which the juvenile justice leadership heralded the project’s expansion into front-end system reform of probation and diversion. But Lisa Hamilton, who had just been promoted to CEO to succeed Patrick McCarthy, spoke of a broader need to do more for teens and young adults.
She told the receptive crowd that more needs to be done to push back against two narratives: the idea that “early childhood is the only time to make a difference,” she said, and the more general “negative stereotypes on teens.”
“Thanks to the people in this room, we fought back on the super-predators” scare of the 1990s, Hamilton said. “I want to see us raise up the promise that our young people have.”
Late last month the foundation made a focus on those between 14 and 24 official, announcing its “Thrive by 25” commitment to invest 50% of its grant-making to serve this population over the next 10 years.
Hamilton, in a blog discussing the foundation’s new framework, called Generation Z “our best-educated yet,” but said “their progress is uneven,” with particularly notable barriers to advancement for youth of color.
“These youth are not beyond hope – quite the opposite,” Hamilton said. “Yet we often don’t invest to help them make their dreams a reality and grow into the most productive and purposeful individuals they can be.”
The foundation, with current assets of about $3.2 billion, is already investing over the 50% mark on teens and young adults, so this really reflects an intention to carry that through to 2030. It is not backing away from its four existing program areas: child welfare, juvenile justice, economic opportunity and community change. Rather, the Thrive by 25 concept serves as an overlay to them, according to communications director Norris West.
“The Thrive by 25 work will be part of the fiber of our activity in each of our program areas,” West said in an email to The Imprint.
West said the foundation will continue to support its signature Kids Count data project, one of the few annual reports on children that is not produced by the federal government. The juvenile justice work under JDAI will continue “full speed ahead,” he said, but noted that the foundation does not intend to expand it to any work with young adults involved in the criminal justice system.