In a prior life, I had it easy, analyzing the investment prospects of mid-sized companies. We understood these companies lived in a “shark tank” of competitive pressures and resource headaches. The better-run companies gained market share, used cash wisely, and had the humility to understand failure is possible.
The best-run companies listened to their customer base every day and reacted quickly to critical customer needs. And the best run companies always won.
Now I run an entrepreneurial charity that builds awareness of and serves children who were in imminent danger at home, had no capable relative to live with, and were dropped into foster care. The foster care systems is a necessary business that is constantly put down, argued about, scorned, yelled about, blamed, and sued. And that’s all on a pretty good day.
Why does the business rarely gain accolades? Why do investors not line up? Why is the term “foster care” such a pariah to so many? The obvious answer is: “The State isn’t a good parent.” Would anyone want their own child to be dropped into a system where there are far more children than there are foster families to look after them? A system where “care” is the non-constant variable?
Read the stats: Among children who have been in care between one and two years, 37 percent have lived in three or more placements. Thirty percent of the children remain in this “foster flux” for two or more years. For youth who age out at 18, one in four have a diagnosis of PTSD as young adults and one in five have a serious depressive disorder.
In most business sectors, one finds solutions to nagging issues and then develops operational efficiency in order to execute vision. In foster care, nagging issues occur but the outcomes often remain suspect. Complaints are constant and many children continue to bounce around, suffering at alarming rates from the constant stress.
System-level change requires an intensely vested community or an unhealthy dose of tragic headline news. In my state, and perhaps yours, the leverage for change has been high-profile cases of dying children and shockingly excessive caseloads. Only then did the community wake up, it appears to me.
How does foster care get better? Consider your own line of work. What does your business run on? Not your salesmanship, no offense. Rather, it runs on your ability to offer a relationship that matters to your customer.
In foster care, the children are victims of transactions – removal; disruption; crisis. Transactions are tension points where the system, understandably, spends significant energy. This natural focus on tension points often exhausts state-level operations, and the child’s voice is muffled with the inevitable systematic upheaval.
While lawsuits, high-profile child deaths and exhausted case management can force a community to focus on a better way, isn’t there a better way to gain this enlightened perspective?
Yes, but only if the community lends a constant hand to their State. Consider your own state, and remember one thing. The customer must be heard in every business, and so much more in this one – by a vigilant community who takes full responsibility.
The child is our customer, and always will be. This truth is the golden nugget; hold it tight!
David White is the chief idea officer at Fostering Great Ideas, a nonprofit working for child welfare reform. White became a social worker after more than a decade working in real estate and telecommunications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.