Child welfare is personal for Ian Forber-Pratt, who was adopted from India and brought to the United States as an infant with his sister. With a master’s degree in social work, he’s spent his life crisscrossing the globe to create better outcomes for children, even helping pass legislation that built a national foster care program in India.
A little over a year ago, Forber-Pratt returned to his Missouri roots with his wife and son, not quite sure what his next steps would be.
After a visit with his former employer – Melanie Scheetz, executive director for Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition – his next mission was determined.
Forber-Pratt will build a new organization aimed at helping to replicate the Coalition’s highly successful 30 Days to Family program, an intense, short-term intervention to place children with relatives within a month of entering foster care.
The Institute for Child Welfare Innovation will provide “subject matter expertise to government and non-governmental entities interested in replicating and scaling programs that positively impact children’s lives,” including the 30 Days to Family program.
“After exhaustive research we decided to launch a separate independent entity that will give greater longevity, and impact, spreading positive and intentional innovation in the child welfare field,” Scheetz said, in a press release about the creation of the Institute for Child Welfare Innovation.
When Forber-Pratt returned to the United States from India in 2018, he said, “I asked Melanie what roadblocks she was facing in her organization.”
What Scheetz shared was that the organization’s 30 Days to Family program it had created in 2011 was constrained by Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition’s St.-Louis-focused mission and vision.
30 Days to Family was originally created to connect foster youth entering adulthood and transitioning out of foster care with family and adults. After a while, Forber-Pratt, who was an “extreme recruiter” with the program at the time, said the question became, “why aren’t we finding these connections at the very beginning when a child enters foster care?”
The model now focuses on finding connections for children starting at the very first court hearing when they enter foster care. Specialists are trained in locating family and other connections for a child and, with just a few hours’ notice, come to the initial court hearing armed with a rough draft genogram, identifying as many family members as possible.
Within those first 30 days, the genogram is refined and ultimately ends up being filed with all of the child’s other court documents, so the information is never lost in case a child re-enters foster care or moves through multiple homes.
“We come in right at the court hearing,” Forber-Pratt said. “30 Days to Family specialists only have two cases at a time. A deep level of engagement happens at the very beginning.”
Interest had grown from other states and organizations wanting to replicate the program, which had seen much success in reducing the time children spent in care.
“As sites across the nation expressed interest in replicating our program, the opportunity for scale outgrew the Coalition’s mission to serve families in St. Louis; we were at a positive impasse,” Scheetz said in a press release.
“She said, ‘Ian, please solve this problem,’” Forber-Pratt said.
He has spent the last several months coming up with a solution, which culminated in the creation of the Institute for Child Welfare Innovation, a separate, standalone nonprofit organization. It got a jump start earlier this week with a $1.4 million grant from a private anonymous donor.
Forber-Pratt has hired Melanie Moredock as director of program replication and Patrick Pisani as assistant director of program replication. In January, the organization will have six full-time staff who will focus on scaling the 30 Days to Family program, which has already been replicated in Ohio and on a smaller scale in California, Rhode Island and Virginia.
The first independent research on the 30 Days to Family model was conducted in 2017 and the findings, just recently published in the Child Welfare Journal, show the program has a 71 percent placement rate with relatives. In addition, the study showed that children experienced a reduced number of days in foster care, greater likelihood of reunification and greater involvement in extracurricular activities for youth. The study also notes cost savings to states of up to $10,217 per child served.
The program has been submitted to the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse and Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse, and is currently awaiting review for both.
Another independent study of the replication of the program in Ohio has been completed and those study results are currently in the process of being published.
Forber-Pratt says he hopes to have a well-supported designation from both clearinghouses next year. This could enable child welfare agencies to draw federal dollars to support 30 Days under the recently passed Family First Prevention Services Act.
“I’m excited to see how hearts connect with hearts to make sure children and families have better outcomes in the world,” Forber-Pratt said.