Grantee Spotlight: Foster Care Funding Collaborative

Collaboration among nonprofits leads to recruiting more homes for foster kids

The goal is to increase foster care recruitment to reach 1,500 new homes in Washington state by 2020, and already the collaborative effort has licensed nearly 500 new foster families.

By Andrea Estes, Portfolio Manager - Washington

Washington state is facing a critical shortage of foster care families. While the state manages most foster homes, a substantial portion are recruited, licensed, and managed by social service agencies. These agencies have shown willingness to adapt to meet the needs of children and families, yet they often face challenges to innovating and sustaining necessary services. If something doesn’t change, they risk competing for the same families, operating without sufficient resources, and, ultimately, not meeting the needs of children and families in Washington.

When service providers struggle, children in the child welfare system suffer. When too few foster homes are available, children risk being placed in the first bed that opens up, even if the family is not an ideal, long-term match. When no home is available, children can end up in hotel rooms with their case workers, adding to the inherent trauma of being removed from their homes.

At Ballmer Group, we believe alignment among government, philanthropy, and the social services sector is crucial to help give children a safe and stable place to live. We partnered with the Seattle-based Thomas V. Giddens Jr. Foundation in 2017 to enable this alignment by creating the Foster Care Funding Collaborative. Together we support 13 local agencies in a three-year project to strengthen their ability to recruit foster families, on the condition they create sustainable ways to address the supply of foster parents, improve advocacy expertise, and leverage more effective collaboration among providers.

Early results include recruiters aligning their outreach rather than competing to secure homes. Doing so has sparked innovation and sharing of best practices for training and retaining foster families. Where agencies once used fliers and billboards, for example, they are marketing through social media channels and managing and tracking their outreach. The effort has now formally centralized many of these collaborative activities through the Washington Association of Children and Families, a provider association that advocates for better resources and partnership from the state.

Geographic alliances are also forming to keep children within their communities. For example, in the city of Kent, Friends of Youth, Catholic Community Services, and Bethany Christian Service are now collaborating rather than competing. In partnership with The Mockingbird Society, which creates an extended family community around foster families, they have prioritized keeping kids within Kent to avoid the added disruption of changing schools.

When vulnerable children don’t have a stable, supportive home, they are not afforded access to the supports – family, food, safety, education – they deserve and are likely to experience lasting consequences.

The goal of this collaborative effort is to increase foster care recruitment to reach 1,500 new homes in Washington state by 2020, and already it has licensed nearly 500 new foster families. We believe these early results and the growing number of licensed homes indicate a tremendous cultural shift toward innovation and collaboration in a field where limited resources are the norm and effective and sustainable services are so critical.