Foster America’s first Fellows convening of 2021 took place January 19 – 22, with Foster America staff and the newest cohort of Fellows coming together virtually from across the country.
Convenings are quarterly multi-day meetings that bring fellows, faculty and staff together to learn and connect, and are a critical component of the fellowship experience.
January’s convening, which took place three months into Cohort 5’s fellowship, included a mix of reflection time, team building, discussions about leadership and change theories, as well as informational sessions with outside guest speakers who gave fellows a deeper look at the child welfare landscape.
Shannon Scott, Foster America’s director of learning and leadership development, explained that the convenings are an opportunity for the fellows, dispersed throughout the country, to support each other.
“It is key for their own well being and growth for them to reflect on how they’re showing up and what is happening in their system.”
After three months, the fellows have a sense of their agency’s organizational structure and needs, and have begun forging working relationships, despite the additional difficulties that come with remote work during the pandemic.
The latest cohort of fellows are working for agencies in California, Washington state, Oklahoma and Ohio in roles related to financial management, community engagement, and data modeling, all with the goals of uplifting and supporting families, creating more equitable outcomes and better meeting their needs.
During the week, fellows dove into working on theories of change specific to their roles, strengthened their adaptive leadership skills, and learned about the complexities of federal child welfare funding. Fellows also heard about innovative child welfare pilot projects in Colorado.
One of the most powerful events of the week was a discussion with foster care alumni who are now actively working in their professional lives to support foster youth and those who are aging out of the system.
Facilitated by Foster America faculty Shalita O’Neale, CEO of GroCharity Events, panelists discussed their experiences and what they see as the root causes of the harm the child welfare system, as it currently exists, can cause.
“I see there’s a foster care system that fosters our youth, but not a lot of care there,” said Jamar Barnes, a social worker and mental health professional who also works with youth teaching culinary skills.
As they imagined how fellows could be most effective in working to transform the system, all panelists agreed that fellows must involve community members they work with to assess the most effective prevention tools and programs.
Felicia Wilson, who spent 17 years in the foster care system in New York City and now runs What About Us, a nonprofit aimed at mentoring older foster youth as they enter into adulthood, said placing people impacted by the system in leadership positions is imperative to creating lasting change.
“You’ll never be part of a fixed system until the Black and brown people impacted are incorporated into it.”