Think of Us, a national nonprofit founded in 2014, just got a major capacity boost to build out the Center for Lived Experience it launched this year.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has given $3 million over three years to Think of Us for the center, the largest signal advocacy grant in the foundation’s history. A major piece of the grant is the construction of a Lived Experience Data Engine that can assist the work of policymakers and advocacy groups around the country in furthering reforms of the child welfare system.
This includes devising methods by which people with lived experience can contribute to the policymaking process, even if they do not have an interest in long-term participation in advocacy work, according to Think of Us.
“This investment will lay the groundwork for an advocacy machine to catalyze legislative and administrative actions that fundamentally re-architect the child welfare system, with people who have been most impacted by the system at the center of designing and reshaping it,” Sixto Cancel, founder of Think of Us, told Youth Services Insider.
The organization has already managed to collect data on the experiences of about 38,000 current and former foster youth, thanks to far-reaching engagements during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The center identifies three main components: participatory research with current and former foster youth, community building and “proximate policy,” which Cancel described in an interview with The Imprint Weekly Podcast as the effort to ensure a “strong feedback loop” for policy- and lawmakers when they are developing bills and other changes.
“While child welfare advocates and policymakers across the ecosystem value the importance of lived expertise, traditional policymaking methods are not conducive to actually centering the insights and solutions of people most impacted by our system,” said Cancel. “With this investment, Think of Us intends to change that by creating the necessary infrastructure for our partners in the field to truly center lived experience … so that policymakers and people with lived experience can co-design a system that truly meets the needs of children and families.”
While the center will occasionally take positions to back or oppose legislation and policy, Cancel said its central mission will be to support and inform the work of others.
“We’ll continue to play a role where we have opinions about things,” Cancel said, but more important is serving the “need for diversity of thought on Capitol Hill” when it comes to child welfare.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation provides grant support to The Imprint. Per our editorial independence policy, the foundation had no role in this story.
Other news outlets don’t cover child welfare and juvenile justice like we do.
News for people, not for profit.