Stuart Foundation and Walter S. Johnson Foundation
The Challenge: Leveraging the Results of a Multi-Site Initiative to Influence Child Welfare Practice
Every year more than 4,000 young people age out of California’s foster care system and far too many exit without the safety net or life skills they need to succeed. To address the barriers that transitioning foster youth face, the Stuart Foundation and Walter S. Johnson Foundation created the California Connected by 25 Initiative (CC25I) to transform county child welfare practice and improve outcomes in key areas of the lives of foster youth ages 14 through 24. Grants were provided to child welfare departments in Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Orange, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Solano, and Stanislaus counties to develop community partnerships, engage and empower youth, and collect and evaluate data. Through the course of the initiative, the county sites were able to improve education, permanency, housing, and other critical outcomes for transition age foster youth, ultimately increasing their opportunities and ability to succeed in life.
In 2010, California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act was enacted, which allows foster youth to continue to receive child welfare supports and services past their 18th birthday until the age of 21. It was clear that the lessons learned and promising strategies from CC25I could inform the implementation of this landmark legislation. The foundations needed a consultant that not only understood child welfare practice and policy issues, but also had experience in synthesizing both qualitative and quantitative research into well-designed, reader-friendly materials. They also needed assistance in creating a strategic media and distribution strategy to share the results from the initiative.
In 2011, the foundations hired i.e. communications to document and share the lessons learned from the initiative with policymakers, practitioners, and peer foundations.
- Research – In addition to an intensive review of CC25I reports, data, technical assistance materials, and grantee reports, we also interviewed grantees and other key initiative stakeholders to inform the development of materials highlighting the lessons learned.
- Executive Summary – To support the adoption of the successful strategies from the California Connected by 25 Initiative, we developed and distributed an executive summary, Promise and Premise of the California Connected by 25 Initiative. Written for policymakers, philanthropy, and community stakeholders, this report provides a brief overview of the initiative, highlighting its “five big results” across county sites and sharing insights to inform private and public investment in child welfare.
- “Toolkit” Report – For those implementing the extension of foster care to age 21, we wrote a longer report, Promising Strategies from the California Connected by 25 Initiative, which presents useful learnings and strategies from the initiative and includes links to technical assistance materials and resources.
- Materials Distribution – To effectively distribute the reports and increase awareness among local and state target audience, e. researched relevant stakeholders and created a database of 1,000 contacts for materials distribution. To ensure that the reports could be accessed electronically, we coordinated the creation of a landing (www.californiaconnectedby25.org) and wrote descriptive web copy.
- Media Strategy and Training – e. communications created a media strategy that included the development of key messages and talking points, earned media angles, media outreach, and media training to encourage grantees to share the results of the initiative and increase media awareness of AB 12 implementation. We conducted the media training for CC25I grantees at the final initiative summit and provided technical assistance materials, including an anticipated Q & A, tips and brainstorming on creating a local media strategy, local media contacts, earned media recommendations, and tips on fielding calls from reporters.
- Promising Strategies Shared – The California Connected by 25 Initiative was able to successfully share successful strategies with a broad spectrum of relevant stakeholders. The reports were distributed to more than 2,000 foster care advocates and stakeholders at conferences and emailed to a targeted database of 1,000 policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders.
- Received Media Attention – The California Connected by 25 Initiative was highlighted in an op–ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle that was co-authored by Teri Kook, director of child welfare for the Stuart Foundation, and Mark Courtney, professor at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and national expert on child welfare issues. The in depth article “Foster youth get a voice,” was published on the widely read Thoughts on Public Education blog and highlighted results from the reports, as well as the voices of foster youth involved with the initiative. Several other prominent child welfare blogs and online news sites shared the reports, including Youth Today, California Foster Care News, Youth Transition Funders Group, and California’s Children.