Why Funders Should Invest in Child Welfare

By Terri Braxton and Rick Leon,
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

May is national Foster Care Awareness Month, when communities across the nation honor foster families who lovingly open their homes. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, with funding from the Freddie Mac Foundation, recently celebrated the occasion with its Fifth Annual Regional Foster Parent Appreciation Gala to thank over 600 local foster parents.

 Many philanthropic organizations believe that federal, state and local governments provide all the funding needed to take care of children in the child welfare system. Many funders feel that private funds might supplant government funds. Others may believe that investments in child welfare cannot provide measurable outcomes, or might invest in direct services but not necessarily policy and advocacy. In truth, investments in both policy and practice are critical in making a positive impact for abused and neglected children.

As a regional organization, The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) is uniquely qualified to speak about the challenges that plague the region’s child welfare systems serving our most vulnerable citizens – children and youth who have experienced real nightmares in the daytime.

Through work with its local government members, COG has identified several gaps in government funding that seriously jeopardize how well children fare in the foster care system. While larger system reform efforts may be needed, it is often the less obvious, chronic problems faced by foster families that fall through the cracks. A small sampling of these funding gaps and potential entry points for funders are:

  • Capacity to locate extended family members: Many foster children linger unnecessarily in foster care. Why? Social workers overloaded with caseloads rarely have extra time to locate and evaluate extended family members who could serve as caretakers or establish relationships. Through a grant from the Freddie Mac Foundation, many are now learning successful methods for finding family. Because connections with kin increase foster children’s likelihood of success as adults, additional funding to hire family finders is needed.
  • Mentors for children aging out of care: Studies show that youth who age out of the system without being adopted or having adult mentors are most likely to drop out of high school, face unwanted pregnancies, be unemployed, experience homelessness, become imprisoned, or develop chronic mental health problems. Among those who go to college, only 2% graduate. The Orphan Foundation of America — a nonprofit that provides care packages, tutoring, mentors and financial aid — has demonstrated a college graduation rate of 68% with their foster youth.
  • Assistance to foster parents: Foster parents are rare and precious resources, but government funds typically cover only basic reimbursements for these families. Many jurisdictions do not cover child care expenses or fund extra curricular activities like camp and music lessons. School pictures, field trip fees, transportation costs to visit siblings, and even certain dental and medical procedures are typically not covered. More is needed to provide the right tools and to prevent burnout. The value for your investment is priceless.

There are easy ways funders can assist local governments directly. Many wonderful nonprofits also provide a wide range of services. What is needed, overall, are more multifaceted investments and assistance from the funding community to help ensure positive outcomes for this most at risk population. We hope you can help.

COG is a regional organization composed of 21 local governments surrounding our nation’s capital, plus area members of the Maryland and Virginia legislatures, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives.