The root cause of foster care is poverty. If you look at the key factors that lead to foster care placements you will find poverty’s fingerprints on each one: hopelessness, despair, dismal educational experiences and outcomes, untreated physical and mental illnesses, joblessness, homelessness, incarceration, abuse, neglect, teen pregnancy.
When I first became a foster parent it struck me as odd that so many people did not seem to make the connection between poverty and foster care. I remember comments people made as I carried my absolutely beautiful five-month old foster daughter in her baby carrier. Comments made by well-educated, middle and upper middle class women. Many of them were meeting a child experiencing foster care for the first time. “Don’t those women know about birth control?” was a frequent question. “I’m glad you’re doing this but I wouldn’t” was another. “I couldn’t give them back” was also a common statement. I would have these very interesting conversations with people who should have made the connection between poverty and foster care. I learned so much in a very short time. These women were a gift to me. They illuminated some of the core reasons for the invisibility and stigma children experiencing foster care face. I knew that a new national conversation needed to take place. One filled with possibilities, community based solutions, and new ways for people to become informed and connect.
After those encounters I began looking for some inspirational mentors and role models to guide me forward. I was looking to other social entrepreneurs, visionaries, and leading edge thinkers in the non-profit world. That’s when I discovered the Robin Hood Foundation and became a Robin Hood Wannabe. Thank you Paul Tudor Jones!
The Robin Hood Foundation targets poverty in New York City. Since 1988 it has raised more than $1 billion from wealthy donors who trust the Robin Hood to spend their money to fight poverty in NYC. Their approach is simple. First they gather an impressive board that is deeply committed to investing money in programs designed to attack poverty in all its forms. Then they protect and leverage their investments by helping visionaries and social entrepreneurs become more effective. The board takes care of all staff salaries and operational expenses for the Foundation so that every cent that is donated goes directly to programming. Finally, Robin Hood rigorously evaluates every program it funds.
There are other groups around the country that surround visionary leaders and promising programs with dollars, expertise, board members, and the kind of technical assistance required to improve the odds for the people and communities they serve. I would be grateful to be involved with any of these fine organizations. Maybe it’s the fact that Robin Hood was my first taste in hedge fund philanthropy. Maybe it’s simply what Robin Hood stands for. I don’t know. But I do know that there are definitely days when I dream of being in NYC surrounded by their expertise, financial resources, and A+ thinking.
Check out their website. They have a gift for visually engaging visitors. The numbers for each statistic swiftly tally up right before your eyes:
* 50% of youth who age out of foster care end up homeless or in jail.
* 60% of boys in NYC don’t graduate high school. (I wish they said “graduate from high school” but that’s another discussion..)
* 34,000 people slept in NYC shelters last night. Nearly half were children.
* 40% of families living in poverty in NYC have a working head of household.
* One third of women return to abusive partners because they can’t find housing.
* 4 teenage girls out of every 10 in the US become pregnant by the age 20.
* 1 in 3 people at NYC soup kitchens and food pantries is a child.
Robin Hood shows how much they value people in their presentation. Their work is about saving lives. You get a sense of the importance of your involvement. Words like “Target” and “Donate Now” flash before you. It’s a results oriented approach that’s working. We should be replicating Robin Hood everywhere.
What I wouldn’t do to have an investment team like Robin Hood partner with me so that children who experience foster care in America could have access to all of the resources they need to succeed – individually, at home, in school, in their neighborhoods, and as they prepare for life as healthy and engaged adults.