Our mission: Together with communities, Foster America transforms systems that serve children, youth, and families by innovating for a more just, equitable future.
Foster America was founded in 2016 as a fellowship model, drawing inspiration from programs in education, health, and immigration that serve as an entry point for welcoming skilled professionals to their fields. Across 17 states and territories, we recruited, trained, and supported diverse, experienced leaders with skill sets not traditionally represented in child welfare to lead 63 innovation projects.
Building upon our fellowship model, Foster America in 2023 expanded our approach. We’re now taking an active role in driving innovation as an on-the-ground, multi-year partner, fully focused on transformations that reduce child welfare system involvement.
Co-founders Sherry Lachman and Marie Zemler Wu established Foster America in 2016 to build an alternative to a system in need of fundamental change. The child welfare system places too many children, especially children of color and low-income children, into foster care when they could be kept safely at home with the right support. It causes fear and isolation – rather than fostering connection and support. And it shuffles children among multiple foster homes and institutions, further traumatizing them at each step, with little evidence that the lives of most children or parents were meaningfully improved by interaction with the system.
Foster America’s founding goal was to develop leadership capacity and attract diverse talent to tackle the sector’s most challenging problems and prevent the effects of its failures – among them, intergenerational poverty, chronic homelessness, and ongoing child welfare and criminal justice systems involvement. Starting in 2016, Foster America recruited, placed, and supported innovative “fellows” to lead innovation projects while embedded in state and county governments and nonprofit organizations across the nation.
As Foster America completed its fifth year of operation, we celebrated our rapid growth and many organizational successes – and committed to doing even more.
With that, Foster America embarked on a strategic planning process to grow our offerings and launch our next chapter of impact.
Since our inception, 63 changemakers have completed the Foster America Fellowship Program. They worked alongside community and government leaders in 17 states and territories, partnering with 38 agencies that share in our vision. Reflective of the communities we serve and our values of justice, equity, and inclusion, 59% of our fellowship alumni are people of color and 29% have experienced the child welfare system firsthand. These diverse professionals brought skills that are critically needed but in short supply in the child welfare sector, bringing expertise in data, technology, design, marketing, finance, and strategic planning. Nearly all of our alumni remain in the social services sector, with many leading on behalf of children and families in government agencies, national organizations, and communities across the country.
In October 2016, we launched our first cohort of fellows, who accepted full-time positions at the child welfare agencies serving New York City, Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, PA, metro area), and Rhode Island.
In January 2018, we launched a second cohort of fellows in our original sites and six new jurisdictions, including in child welfare and early childhood agencies serving Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Missouri, Santa Clara County (CA) and Washington State.
In January 2019, we launched our largest cohort to date with fellows in 15 host agencies nationwide. For the first time, this cohort included four fellows in Los Angeles County and five fellows in the state of Colorado who collaborated on their reform efforts.
In October 2019, we placed a cohort of fellows across 10 jurisdictions. As part of this group, a team of fellows joined across multiple regions in Minnesota to collaborate with each other on ways to prevent child maltreatment.
In October 2020, Cohort 5 became the first cohort to begin the fellowship virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite challenges of a virtual start, fellows were quickly brought into the fold in their placements in California, Washington, Ohio, and Oklahoma.
In May 2021, the sixth cohort of Foster America fellows began work in California, Washington state, Oklahoma and Colorado. For Cohort 6, Foster America expanded its team model to strengthen collaboration and scaling of positive results.
Foster America’s 2023-2026 strategic plan will accelerate and amplify our impact. Our new strategy integrates lessons gathered across six fellowship cohorts. It also represents our response to an unprecedented opportunity for systemic change in service of children, families, and communities and in pursuit of a more just, equitable world.
With like-minded governmental agencies, organizations, and communities, we design and implement community-based, prevention-oriented solutions.