Foster Care: The Upgrade

How do we create a foster care system that we can actually be proud of? A more intelligent and humane approach of caring for our vulnerable youth in all 50 states – one that invites us all to participate and empowers each of us to be the change.

The Obama campaign certainly provided us with a template for how to upgrade the system, using technology and community organizing techniques that brought new definition to the term “old school”. The Obama Team’s brilliant engagement strategy married technology and entrepreneurial spirit with the social change process and look how many people jumped on board the Hope Train.

At its core was a transformational vision that calls for an informed and involved digitally actualized group of people to become an integral part of the solution. As Marshall Ganz of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government said after the election, “You don’t just put that genie back in the bottle. There are millions of people across the country who were part of this campaign, and they aren’t just going to disappear.”

That’s just what we need to upgrade the way we as a country approach child welfare. We need those millions of people, who were active in supporting President Obama, to take all of that fabulous Yes, We Can energy and aim it at the public foster care system. Imagine what a difference that would make to the lives of 800,000 stigmatized young people who are typically considered unworthy of our time and investment. It will be a piece of cake if we use the brilliant new electoral model that the Obama Team and engaged Americans co-created.

Check out the February issue of San Francisco magazine. In an article titled, Democracy: the upgrade. It describes how the Bay Area’s news-breaking bloggers, visionary VC’s, Web 2.0 geniuses, and ordinary citizens helped Obama remake U.S. politics. As a native of the Bay Area who moved to Boston in the 1970s, I read about my west coast counterparts with pride. They are thinking and acting out of the box, that’s for sure. Just look at Craigslist, Google, Salon, Moveon.org, Facebook, Next Agenda, Barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com and all of the other smart tools and engagement options.

We all know that it takes a thoughtfully crafted idea, a good strategy, clear vision, a passionate leader, and an experienced management team to successfully begin to bring about social change. It also takes dedication, determination, and a willingness to walk in the desert upon occasion. I have certainly felt that hot sand underneath my feet over the past 10 years!

As venture capitalist Andy Rappaport says in the February San Francisco magazine article, “So what are we going to do to change that? If you’re here in the Silicon Valley, the answer is, you try a bunch of experiments. Then you invest in the ones that work, scale them up, kill the ones that don’t. I’ve just described venture capital to you. So a few donors and activists – some here and some elsewhere – figured let’s throw a bunch of money and energy and ideas at the problem and see what we can come up with. Let’s see, for example if we can figure out how to get young people engaged.” Ah, Andy Rappaport, you are my kind of philanthropist. A man who is willing to take a risk to bring about the kind of change this country needs. Look what you helped transform…. Please contact me so we can create a dynamic team to transform our approach to foster care.

While we move forward to solidify our funding options for this endeavor, here are some key actions we need to take:

• Create a synergy between online and offline engagement options.
• Communicate our core values and ideas again and again.
• Encourage freewheeling, interconnected social networking.
• Tap into the creativity of artists, musicians, actors, educators, the advertising world, writers, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs
• Fuel citizen journalism to educate the country and promote participation.
• Use innovative technologies and web applications.
• Use multiple social networks.
• Get America blogging about foster care solutions.
• Circulate hope, new ideas, and inspiration.
• Promote a spirit of empowerment that doesn’t require anyone’s permission.
• Generate a cascade effect: use online organizing to break through old ceilings.
• Create a local and constantly connected Re-Envisioning Foster Care campaigns.
• Work outside the system to enhance the work of child welfare.
• Partner with the system to support change.

Thanks San Francisco magazine for making my day. Great article!

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