Changing the Conversation

Written by
Sean Harding
Senior Manager, Content & Copywriting
December 10, 2022

The most apparent aspects of any system are the public policies and institutions that comprise it, as well as the funding mechanisms and resources that they employ. The aspects of our systems that are no less crucial but more easily overlooked are those that we carry inside ourselves: the often unnoticed and unquestioned assumptions we hold regarding how the system works, what it achieves, what its aims should be, and how it could change. 

To create lasting and effective change, we must shift what is accepted as normal and expand what is perceived as possible in child welfare. 

Examples of our growing impact to drive new thinking can be seen in our engagement with thought leaders and national media.

We were invited to contribute to articles and publications, including an article in The NY Times entitled “Can ‘Kinship Care’ Help the Child Welfare System? The White House Wants to Try.” A story by NBC News reported on Michigan’s failure to provide a quality education for its youth in foster care and quoted our Vice President of Research & Design, Sarah Fathallah on our research addressing this topic. Our work was also featured in The Economist and USA Today.

Another example are the invitations received by our CEO, Sixto Cancel, to share our work by speaking at events and giving interviews. Sixto spoke at 45 events this year and was interviewed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, The LA Sentinel, The Top of Mind Podcast, The We Are For Good Podcast, and many others.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of shifting mental models occurs when the conversation takes on a life of its own, when our work is cited and our conclusions amplified by others without any involvement from our team. 

For example, an April 15 article entitled Five Myths About the Child Welfare System in the Washington Post by Dorothy Roberts, Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, cites our Away From Home study. 

She wrote, “In 2021, Think of Us, a research lab founded and directed by former foster youth, issued a report based on interviews with 78 young people who had recently lived in institutional foster-care placements. The study observed that they ‘frequently compared institutional placements to prison, as institutional placements have many functions of a carceral environment: confined, surveilling, punitory, restrictive, and degrading.’”

In an article published in The Imprint, a leading national publication covering developments in child welfare, author and former foster youth Hailey D’Elia wrote an article making the case for training child welfare workers in trauma-informed practices. In that work, she cites our Aged Out report as one of the things that helped her realize she was not alone and to take action to address her own trauma.

A lengthy letter to the editor published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy by Sarah Kroon Chiles, Executive Director of the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, cited our Away From Home report, writing “Instead of listening only to insiders and those with a financial interest in keeping children in these facilities, Riley would do well to listen to young people with lived experience in such institutions. They are exposing the abuse and tragedies befalling children in congregate care and calling for mass closures. We need to heed their call and follow their lead.” 

We are glad to see our work begin to impact wider public conversations about how to best help youth and families to thrive. We invite you to check out some of the links provided and follow the conversation as it continues to take shape.

Additional Resources

UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent podcast interviews Sixto Cancel

The Appeal, Can We Imagine a World Without Institutionalized Kids?