What many have called a “foster care crisis” continues to be alive and well in many local and state child welfare systems. Despite the need, both public and private organizations struggle to build needed capacity with a sense of urgency required to meet the needs of children of all ages and backgrounds coming into care. There is a way to do this, but both public and private sector must begin to think and do things in a different way.
As the CEO of Thompson Child & Family Focus in Charlotte, North Carolina, I have seen it firsthand in the past two years as we have seen over 300 percent growth in the number of licensed foster homes and children placed in those homes. Just two years ago, we supported 27 licensed foster homes serving 26 foster children. As I write this today, we support 109 licensed foster homes serving 114 foster children.
Interestingly enough, upon review of “Who Cares: A National County of Foster Homes & Families,” the entire state of North Carolina only increased foster home capacity by 10 percent during the same timeline. I have to ask myself and others, why is that?
I believe I know part of the answer: There is little or no investment into building and supporting foster home capacity. This must change to meet the needs of children in the system.
Every public child welfare agency demands quality foster homes to take children when there is a need for a placement, but almost no public child agency invests in private foster care organizations so they can build the necessary capacity. What many don’t realize is that private organizations often use their own funding to slowly build foster home capacity – which in most cases includes a loss of money for up to three years until break even.
At Thompson, we wanted to intentionally grow foster home capacity quickly to meet the needs of children in our state, but knew we could not do it without seed money. We were fortunate enough to receive a three-year investment by a local foundation; with the understanding that we would be able to not only sustain, but be able to continue to grow our foster care program without assistance.
The four times growth I referenced was achieved in less than two years. As we head into our final year of the three-year investment, we anticipate another 50 homes serving an additional 70 foster children daily by the end of year three. Without this investment, we would have remained stagnant – 30 foster homes serving 30 foster children while the needs for homes continues to grow.
Here is an example of how it can work on a three year $700K investment:
- Year 1: $400K
- Year 2: $200K (earned revenue of $200K)
- Year 3: $100K (earned revenue of $300K)
In year four, an organization is not only sustainable on earned revenue, but can also begin to build increased capacity on profit margin created by scale.
This is a business and we should all get comfortable with that fact and begin to act accordingly. No business can begin or grow without an initial investment. In our case, we were fortunate enough to find philanthropic investors at scale, but this is rare. This same type of investment can and should be done by local, state and federal agencies. We must begin to think and do different if we want to achieve different outcomes.
Will Jones is CEO of Thompson Child & Family Focus in Charlotte, North Carolina.