Vol. 11 October 2021

Institute News

The latest news, successes stories, and updates
At the Institute, we believe innovation starts with an idea.

In this monthly newsletter you'll find ideas you can use. Whether you're a member of a family in need, a child welfare professional, or a caring member of the community, we strive to bring the most practical, informative, and heartwarming content straight to your inbox.
The Institute is Listening
This month, we've decided to feature content centered around a particular theme: the importance of listening. Simple right? We wish. In our child welfare world of high case loads, frequent staff turn over, and constant change, action often overshadows listening. The result? Programs, interventions, and systems continue to be built without the input of those being served. Not on our watch. In this newsletter we explore how we can intentionally value and hear a wide range of voices before making decisions that affect the lives of children and families forever.
Compelled to Action

We were recently moved by a New York Times Opinion Letter entitled, 'I Will Never Forget That I Could Have Lived with People Who Loved Me,' by Sixto Cancel. Click the link to find the article via the New York Times, or access it through the Think of Us homepage. Sixto's advocacy and lived experience jumped off the pages as he explained the realities surrounding his lifetime in foster care from 11 months old to exiting at age 23. During his time in care, Sixto experienced ongoing trauma that is all too common for many young people: constant placement change and upheaval, disconnection, and the constant threat of institutionalization.
Tragically, only after exiting the system was Sixto finally able to connect with some of his biological family. On his journey to reconnection, Sixto discovered that four of his biological aunts and uncles were foster and adoptive parents, with one in particular living only 58 miles away from where Sixto spent most of his childhood. This aunt would have absolutely tried to care for Sixto, had she just been identified and contacted by the professionals. We at the Institute continue to be compelled to action.

We encourage you to read a recent Think of Us report: "Away From Home: Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements in Foster Care," that gives a piercing look into the lives of young people in the child welfare system. We hear you, Sixto, and many others, and promise to keep listening.
Every Conversation Matters: National Adoption Month 2021

This year's National Adoption Month is coming up in November, but we thought we'd get a jump on things and bring you resources you can start using now! This year is "Conversations Matter;" an effort to raise awareness about the importance of incorporating daily youth engagement into child welfare practice, especially for teenagers in care whose plan has moved to adoption.
The following data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System1 highlights the unique predicament that teenagers in the system face. As of June of 2020:
  • There are over 122,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted who are at risk of aging out of foster care without permanent family connections.
  • Approximately one in five children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted are teens.
  • Teens, ages 15-18, wait significantly longer for permanency when compared to their peers.
  • Only 5 percent of all children adopted in 2019 were 15-18 years old.
  • The risk of homelessness and human trafficking is increased for teenagers in foster care. Of the 122,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted:
    • 52 percent are male
    • 48 percent are female
    • 22 percent are African American
    • 22 percent are Hispanic
    • 44 percent are white
    • The average age is eight years old
    • 11 percent are between 15 and 18 years old
    • Average time in foster care is 31 months
Clearly, teenagers and older youth are particularly in crisis while waiting to be adopted. We can do better, and it starts with intentional and meaningful conversations with youth.

The Institute encourages you to participate in the 'Ask Youth Challenge' as part of National Adoption Month and beyond. Take the opportunity to be proactive in asking youth you're working with about their story, fully understand their perspectives, and establish a deep rapport. Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and talk with youth about tough issues. Use the images and hashtags provided in the link above to share your progress, successes, and challenges with the child welfare community. We hope to provide some stories of success in our next newsletter!

For resources to help deepen your engagement with older youth click here, or check out the Institute's resources page at
How do we have conversations with young people in care about making lifelong connections?
Lifelong Connections - Engaging Youth in Foster Care

It's been about 10 months since we hosted this think tank in November of 2020, but it remains just as powerful and just as important of a topic today. Seven brilliant and passionate leaders, all with lived experience within the child welfare system, came together for a discussion about the best ways professionals can engage with youth in foster care, specifically about establishing lifelong connections that will support them long after they leave the child welfare system behind. It's no easy task to engage with youth that are about to transition to adulthood from foster care, but conversations like this, with individuals who lived it, are a great start to bolstering our efforts as professionals. Their voices must be heard!

The video is riveting, and we promise it's worth your time!

Also check out the "Engaging Youth in Foster Care Tool" that was developed from this meeting by clicking here.

Late last month, our entire team participated in the Child Welfare Virtual Expo, with this year's incredibly important theme of Advancing Racial Equity in Child Welfare. Black children represent almost one-quarter of the children in foster care in the United States but only 14% of the general population.1 This is but one statistic that highlights the striking disproportionality that exists within child welfare. At the virtual expo, our team was able to engage with and learn from many different experts about ways that we can take practical steps to reverse these horrible trends. The Institute remains committed to striving for racial equity in all aspects of our work, and continuing our education on how to best support minority children and families.

To learn more about racial inequities in child welfare, click here for a list of resources and publications from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Always keep up on our latest adventures at
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Until next month, we wish you hope, health, and well-being.

The Institute Team
Copyright © 2021 The Institute for Child Welfare Innovation, All rights reserved.

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