A large group of funders, advocates and service organizations are spearheading a new campaign to improve the quality of the foster care system in dozens of states.
Children Need Amazing Parents, or CHAMPS, will focus its money and energy not on recruiting more foster parents, but rather on improving the existing network of homes.
“Loving, nurturing parenting is the most powerful intervention for helping children thrive and succeed in school, relationships and in life,” CHAMPS said on its website. “For most children and youth in foster care, their foster parents are the most important adults in their daily lives. Yet, past policy reforms have largely overlooked the role of quality foster parenting as a driver of better outcomes for children.”
The initiative will focus on 20 to 25 states (mostly unspecified at the moment) and four specific goals:
- Improving the capacity for state-level advocacy in the area of quality foster parenting
- Reforming state policies to make parents more involved in decision-making, and to instill accountability measures that “ensure foster parenting is a priority.”
- Advocacy for federal programs that prioritize foster homes in the out-of-home placement continuum; suggested routes include fiscal incentives and accountability standards around training and quality of foster homes.
- “Changing the public narrative” about foster parents with a mix of research and messaging that incorporates foster parents, former foster youth and community leaders.
A few additional notes on CHAMPS:
Lots of partners: A long list of funders and organizations are aligned with CHAMPS.
The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) seems to be taking a convening role on the philanthropy side, and other contributors include the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the Duke Endowment, Lumos Foundation, the Georgia State Department of Human Services, the Hilton Foundation and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation.
Among the participating organizations: the Brookings Institute, Foster Club, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, New York-based multi-service provider Children’s Village and the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center.
Leadership: Hope Cooper, founder of the consulting firm True North Group, will serve as campaign manager for the overall effort. Cooper was once the vice president for public policy at Child Trends, senior officer for Pew Charitable Trusts and, before all that, spent ten years on Capitol Hill working for the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Cooper told Youth Services Insider over e-mail that the state-specific efforts of the campaign will involve a lead partner in each state.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all staff structure, as the campaign is led by a coalition of organizations, with primary support from staff in those organizations plus some targeted consultant time,” Cooper said.
Consultants from ChildFocus and the Clapham Group will be assisting, Cooper said, as well as research staff from Brookings.
The co-chairs of the campaign are Jeremy Kohomban, CEO of Children’s Village, and Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco.
Early States: CHAMPS will start with campaigns in Georgia and New York.
QPI Connection: We’d expect that there will be some close collaboration between this campaign and the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), another venture funded in part by AECF. That project is overseen by the University of South Florida and Rodriguez’s Youth Law Center, and currently operates in three cities (Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Cleveland) and six states (California, Nevada, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana).
QPI’s focus is one of the CHAMPS goals: rebranding the foster parent. QPI’s agenda, as stated on its website, argues that the different standards for adoptive parents and foster parents – strengths and weaknesses for the former, safety metrics for the latter – has created a public image of foster parents as “financially motivated and uncaring.”
“The foster care ‘brand,’” QPI states, “is tainted and deters families from participating rather than encouraging them.”
Pushing against congregate care: Proposed federal constraints on the use of congregate care were ultimately the demise of the Family First Prevention Services Act last year, a bill that would have increased federal funding for birth parent substance abuse and mental health treatment while curbing funds for placing youths in group settings.
We doubt CHAMPS will arise as a combative force against congregate care. But a policy paper released by one of the campaigns leading figures, Brookings fellow Ron Haskins, makes it clear that weaning states off of congregate is part of the mission. From the paper by Haskins:
There is now almost universal agreement that group or institutional care should be considered an option of last resort. In 2014, a group of ten leading child welfare researchers with extensive careers of research on children felt so strongly about this issue that they issued a “consensus statement” on group care.
Their conclusion, stated with admirable conciseness, is that children should be placed in group care only “when necessary therapeutic mental health services cannot be delivered in a less restrictive setting.” Nonetheless, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 15 percent of children are placed in group homes or institutional care.