In our work, we often encounter difficult stories.
Watching first-hand as a child ages out of the foster care system before finding a forever family is just one example, but it is a story that is impossible to forget. The role loving adults play in the lives of children, young and old, is irreplaceable. The more we learned about the child welfare system, the more clear it became: MFF needed to invest in programs and ideas to keep children and families together and meaningfully improve the child welfare experience for those who need it.
It is not a small challenge to tackle–and it’s complicated. Seven million children in the US are reported for child abuse or neglect every single year. Almost 40 percent of all children in this country experience a child protective services investigation by the time they are 18 years old. The interventions families experience, while well-intended, often do not lead to better outcomes. Foster youth are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school or college and they are more likely to have poor mental health. While 12 percent of children placed into foster care are arrested by age 19, those who are assigned a child protective services investigator but are never placed into foster care fare even worse: 37 percent are arrested by age 19.
It was clear that MFF could not address these multifaceted and complex challenges alone. The child welfare system is full of smart, caring professionals who in many cases lack sufficient resources and support to make a difference. From listening to people across all sectors of the child welfare system, we learned that it needs to be empowered and invested in.
As a longtime convener of leaders and innovators, we saw an opportunity to impact the child welfare system by bringing together a network of nonprofit organizations, subject matter experts, government agencies, policymakers and, most importantly, people with lived experience. We brought on a strategic change and evaluation specialist, Elisabeth Wilson, whose previous experience as a senior research analyst for the Indiana Department of Child Services made her perfectly suited to not only serve as our in-house researcher but our expert on the child welfare ecosystem. The result? Our commitment to a multi-year, multi-million-dollar Child Welfare Initiative.
In this initiative, we will continue to build our network and seek ideas that have serious potential and need funding to prove their effectiveness.
We committed $1.1 million in funding to create the Colorado Implementation Science Unit (CISU) within the Colorado Office of Children, Youth and Family Services. Created in partnership with Casey Family Programs, Think of Us, Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab, Mile High United Way and the Colorado Department of Human Services, the CISU helps small, local nonprofits gather and use data to prove the efficacy of their programs to the federal child-welfare clearinghouse. Approval from the clearinghouse is important because it means organizations can provide enhanced support to children and families and prevent out-of-home placements.
The CISU will potentially lead to more federal funding for prevention services, improve access to evidence-based child welfare programs across the state and prioritize programs designed by and for BIPOC, rural, tribal and underserved communities all through building evidence across Colorado’s child welfare programs.
In another capacity-building program, MFF granted $330,000 to MindSpark to create the Child Welfare Executive Accelerator. Its goal is to empower frontline staff to solve the problems facing the children and families they support. It offers design thinking, executive training and research support and is a life-changing opportunity for child welfare professionals. The first accelerator will launch in North Dakota in 2022 and more are planned across the country.
And we’re just getting started. MFF’s investments in child welfare will impact children and families across the country, in partnership with an impactful group of nonprofit organizations. To learn more about ongoing efforts, visit the Child Welfare Initiative page of our website and discover the meaningful policy change supported by our partners that benefits current and former foster youth.
Learn more about our Child Welfare Initiative partners at their respective websites: