Sit down with Takkeem Morgan for just a few minutes, and you’ll realize why he’s successful: his ideas, like his smile, are brilliant.
After finding success in the private sector, he decided in 2019 to bring innovation to the public sector, child welfare in particular. He joined Foster America for an 18 month fellowship in Indiana’s Department of Child Services (DCS), and has already created measurable improvements to the foster care system there.
“I had basically been practicing for this for the past 10 years,” he said of becoming a Foster America fellow. “It was a complete merger of my lived and professional experience.”
At the start of his fellowship with Foster America, Takkeem was charged with creating a new way of conducting foster care recruitment, one that was data-driven, scalable and equitable. His lived foster care experience, combined with his community engagement, marketing, and facilitation skills, have led to the creation of a pilot program, Foster Together Indiana, which launched just last month in Lake County, Indiana, and if successful could potentially expand to all counties in the state.
Takkeem spent the first few months of his fellowship forging relationships with staff, partner organizations and community members.
“Everybody at Indiana DCS was eager to support an outside perspective,” he said. “I’m moving with this intensity that’s palpable. I’m very committed to the mission and trying to help transform recruitment.”
Takkeem knows firsthand how important recruiting diverse, capable foster parents is to children’s wellbeing; he spent eight years in the foster care system in Philadelphia.
“I experienced neglect as a child,” he said. “What happens when you’re neglected is your sense of self worth is damaged. The state is in a position to help these children heal. Identifying caring adults who can provide the love and support they need is a critical part of healing.”
But sometimes it wasn’t clear if the state was helping Takkeem or inflicting further, unnecessary harm.
“I remember going into the system as a teen and being told, ‘We have to place you in a group home because there are no foster homes that want to take young, African American males.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
The racist treatment he experienced as a child is systemic. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, children of color are more likely to be placed in group settings and less likely to be reunited with their birth families, as compared to white children. Takkeem has turned his experience into motivation, disrupting the system as it currently exists.
“That’s a false statement to say there’s no one who will take African American males. Any company that’s well-run can find the employees they need to execute the jobs they need done. The question is ‘What are you doing to recruit African American families?’ There’s not one child we can’t recruit for if we put our minds to it.”
Takkeem interviewed DCS department heads, visited adoptive parent trainings, and met with the Licensed Child Placing Agencies (LCPAs) that place children with families across Indiana.
While many of these agencies compete with one another to provide the best possible services to children and families, he learned organizational competition may be decreasing positive impacts when it comes to foster parent recruitment.
“We need to put a system in place where the child can have their pick of the litter when it comes to great adults who care about them. We need to take the time to evaluate and ensure we’re matching children with the appropriate foster parents,” he said.
Takkeem realized a bold, strategic shift in approach was necessary, and proposed a coalition among the agencies.
Coalition building across the public and private sector is difficult work, made harder by the fact that nearly everything had to be done virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But his message resonated, and he gained the approval of Hands of Hope, the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy, and the LCPAs. Next, he shored up funding with health insurance provider Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, the pilot program’s main corporate sponsor.
As the coalition begins meeting, Takkeem knows how important the success of this program will be for hundreds of children across Indiana. Not only can it increase a child’s sense of value and contribute to positive outcomes as they age, but a successful coalition could also be a blueprint for success for other child welfare agencies.
“Mentorship can change a child’s life,” he said. “It was the relationship with my mentor that caused a shift in my self worth. My goal is to recruit foster parents who resemble my mentor, who show children the care, love, and guidance that changes how they envision their own futures.”
Learn more about Takkeem’s work at http://takkeemmorgan.com/