How can we create joy and connections while innovating and advancing the child welfare field? That’s the question that Foster America alumni came together to discuss for two days in mid-June, at the first ever alumni conference.
Although alumni are invited to the quarterly convenings organized for current fellows, the goal for this alumni convening was to specifically create opportunities for them to reconnect with and learn from each other.
“We owe it to them to create experiences and opportunities that are designed for them and by them,” said Shannon Scott, Director of Learning and Leadership Development.
Some sessions were organized and led by alumni to discuss innovations in other fields like public health that might add value to the child welfare system, as well as opportunities for connecting and networking across alumni cohorts, of which there are four.
Outside speakers also held discussions covering the greater child welfare landscape, including youth and family news organization The Imprint, and the National Family Support Network, which supports family resource centers across the country.
As the theme of the conference was “joy,” there were also plenty of opportunities for brainstorming, socializing, and embracing movement through yoga and meditation in honor of Juneteenth.
The convening’s keynote event was an innovation exchange, where Foster America alumni and staff came together with more than 50 other leaders in the child welfare field to discuss the opportunities and challenges in systems change.
Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg narrated her leadership journey, from the New York City Council to senior administer for program oversight in New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), to the White House this past March.
“My priority is advancing racial equity in child welfare,” she said. “I find myself up in the middle of the night thinking about how to move this entire country toward equity.”
As event attendees engaged in dynamic discussions around the possibilities of broad concepts from data to power sharing, the energy around and support for radical change in child welfare was palpable – even through Zoom.
“You have to believe in it,” Schomburg said. “If I don’t believe we can make transformational change, then I shouldn‘t be here.”