Bass, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Foster Youth Mentoring Act

Two Businesswomen Working On Computer In Office

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass and Rep. Bacon both serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.

“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges youth in the system face,” Rep. Bass said. “In all of my years working with children in the child welfare system, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, the number one thing I hear is that they want a consistent source of advice and support.

They want someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary, but for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue.”

“As the father of two adopted children who came into our home through foster care, I understand the need for foster youth to have the consistent support of a caring adult,” said Rep. Bacon. “I am thankful to join Rep. Bass in co-leading these efforts, as they will ensure adults will be able to be successful mentors who have a positive impact on the education, personal and professional challenges our foster youth go through every day.”

“Mentoring provides young people with the social capital, confidence, and support they need to thrive,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Far too often, young people in the foster care system experience adults coming in and out of their lives, without having a consistent presence of someone focused solely on them and their journey.

Research confirms that young people in foster care benefit from quality mentoring in a range of areas including mental health, education, peer relationships, placement, and life satisfaction. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act centers the critical role relationships can play for foster youth and provides proven mentoring programs with the resources they need to serve young people through evidence-based and culturally relevant practices.

MENTOR is thankful to Representative Bass and Representative Bacon for their bipartisan leadership to create policies and resources that incorporate the power of mentoring relationships into the child welfare system and ultimately, the lives of our young people.”

The bill comes one day before the 8th annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, an event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in which current and former foster youth from more than 30 states ranging from Alaska to Maine come to Washington, DC to shadow their Member of Congress. This year’s Shadow Day includes 130 delegates aged between 18 to 30. They have spent a combined 725 years in the child welfare system. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.

Bill Summary

The bill authorizes funds for mentoring programs that are currently engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards in screening volunteers, matching process, and successful mentoring relationships. It will ensure that mentors are trained in child development, family dynamics, cultural competence, the child welfare system, and other important factors that enable long-lasting and strong relationships. The bill also increases coordination between mentoring programs, child welfare systems, and community organizations so that the systems serving young people are working together to help foster youth flourish.

New Field Placement Model With Crittenton Earns Award from CSU Fullerton for its “Teaching and Mentorship” Culture

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Fullerton, Calif. – Crittenton Services for Children and Families (CSCF) is proud to announce the agency’s nomination and selection as this year’s recipient of the Most Committed Partner award by both the CSUF Social Work Department and the CSUF Center for Internship & Community Engagement (CICE).

Each year CICE hosts its annual Community Engagement Awards as a way to highlight students, faculty and community partners in their efforts to strengthen the bonds of engagement that connect the University and the community. CICE’s main mission is to bring faculty, students, and community partners together to create high impact practices for student success.

“Our collaborative partnership with CSUF extends learning from the classroom to the community, giving students experiential learning opportunities that will build their skills, their resumes, and their ability to positively impact the world around them. It is truly a win-win,” said Joyce Capelle, Chief Executive Officer, CSCF, “We are honored to have worked alongside outstanding faculty and staff of CSUF for more than a decade, in order to provide students practical work experience while at the same time making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable youth.”

Under the “Stellar Support of Students” category the CSUF Department of Social Work nominated Crittenton as an organization that has made a difference in the career trajectory of students via mentorship.  As part of the non-profit’s mission, Crittenton, has made it a part of its strategic plan to make the idea of a “teaching institution” a reality and part of the overall agency culture. For its efforts in guiding and mentoring students, Crittenton has been recognized for going above and beyond its duties as an experiential learning host site.

In addition, as of 2015 both Crittenton and CSUF celebrate a 10-year anniversary of working together to serve vulnerable children and their families curtail the effects of child abuse, neglect, and trauma.

Since the inception of this evidenced-based field placement opportunity for social services, human services, and social work students have been able to take ample opportunity to earn academic units, licensing requirements and gain valuable work experience at a nationally accredited agency.

In fact, throughout this 10-year partnership period, roughly 121 undergraduates and 35 graduate students from CSUF have been given the opportunity to take part of a non-profit’s mission with a connection to a proud national child welfare legacy that goes back to 1883. Nearly 30 CSUF students have been hired as Crittenton employees via this partnership.

At the helm of this internship program collaboration with CSUF is executive team member and CSUF Alumna, Denise Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Crittenton Services.

Cunningham has been a strong advocate of community partnerships between Crittenton and higher education institutions, and has also served in the capacity of a mentor. Her commitment to student success is such that as of this year the CSUF Social Work Department has appointed her Chairperson of the department’s advisory council.

To build tomorrow’s workforce in the human services fields it takes the acquisition of knowledge in the classroom in tandem with developing skill-sets in the community. Crittenton’s partnership with CSUF is an excellent example of this collaborative approach to developing effective practitioners and future change agents.

Capacity Building for Communities of Color: The Paradigm Shift and Why I Left My Job

When I first got out of grad school with my Master in Social Work, I was a bright-eyed kid full of hopes and dreams of doing my part to make the world better. Completely broke and desperate to find work before the student loans people released their hounds, I applied to countless jobs and found that no one would hire me because I had no experience, a vicious “Experience Paradox” that many young grads go through each year.

Frustrated and dejected, I secluded myself in my room (in my parents’ house), sending out my resume all day, coming out at night to raise my clenched fist to the dark skies and screaming “I may be inexperienced, but I am still a human being! A human being!!!” Then I would eat some ramen and watch Spanish soap operas on Univision.

building-capacityWhat is the point of that story? The point is that communities of color, and the organizations led by these communities, often feel like these recent grads. We are stuck in this debilitating and demoralizing “Capacity Paradox” where funders do not invest sufficient funds in our organizations to build capacity because we don’t have enough capacity. Yet, we are constantly asked to do stuff, to sit at various tables, to help with outreach, to rally our community members to attend various summits and support various policies.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that major efforts to effect systemic change are missing the voices of communities of color and would benefit from having those voices. Everyone also seems to be in agreement that communities of color that have strong organizations behind them are much more involved and effective at all levels of service and policies. Building the capacity of these organizations, then, is critical to all systems-change efforts: Housing, homelessness, climate change, education, neighborhood safety, etc.

What many of us fail to recognize is that the current efforts to increase the capacity of nonprofits led by immigrant, refugee, or other communities of color, which I call “nonprofits of color,” are not sufficient. Funders who provide significant, multi-year, general operating funds—the holy grail of funding and the thing that will help any organization develop its capacity the fastest—operate under systems that leave most nonprofits of color behind. These significant capacity building grants are almost impossible for nonprofits of color to attain. We usually don’t have the same relationships. Or grantwriting skills. Or board members who can strongly articulate the vision. Because we don’t have capacity, we can’t get support to develop capacity.

With significant, catalytic funding out of the question, funders provide small grants to nonprofits of color so they can do things like hire a consultant to facilitate a strategic planning retreat, or to send them to workshops on board development, fundraising, personnel policies, or myriad other capacity building topics. These grants can be very helpful to keep an organization going. But in the long run it doesn’t work because there is a critical missing element. Staffing.

You can send an organization to a thousand workshops and do a thousand strategic planning processes, but if they do not have staff to implement their learnings, they are not going to build significant capacity. We have many, many nonprofits that are doing good and much-needed work, that are constantly asked to do more work for free, without receiving any of the trust and support to hire qualified staff to sustain and grow their operations.

The paradigm has to shift. I don’t say this lightly, because there are few things I hate more than jargons like “shifting the paradigm.” But the reality is that what we are doing is not working, and we have to change our mindset completely and do things differently. If we value the voice of our diverse communities, we must build the capacity of organizations led by those communities. But we must do it differently than how we’ve been doing it. We must invest strategically and sufficiently. We must take some risks. It to society’s benefit to help these nonprofits break out of the Capacity Paradox.

For the past couple of years I have been working with a group of brilliant and passionate people on a project called the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), a model designed to increase the capacity of immigrant/refugee-led nonprofits by providing this critical missing element of staffing. The project recruits emerging leaders of color from within immigrant/refugee communities, trains them in a cohort on capacity building and nonprofit management, and sends them to work full-time at nonprofits of color to help those nonprofits develop their infrastructure and effectiveness.

Now, we can send these nonprofits to workshops and do strategic plans, because now there is staffing to implement stuff. These emerging leaders get a stipend, healthcare, and a bonus to support paying back student loans or furthering their education. They will get mentorship and support and encouragement to stay in the nonprofit field and rise up to become leaders within their communities.

RVC addresses several needs, among them the vital staffing that is required for capacity building to be successful. But it also addresses a scary challenge that many of us are not even talking about: The gap in leadership among the immigrant/refugee communities will widen further because kids are not entering the nonprofit field. Most immigrant/refugee kids are pressured by their families to go into jobs with higher pay and prestige.

Many nonprofits of color are currently led by elders, who will in 10 or 15 years retire, and if we don’t start to develop the pipeline for new generations of leaders of color soon, we may not have many in the future. This will jeopardize all sorts of systemic-change efforts.

So, Rainier Valley Corps will increase capacity of nonprofits of color, improve services to immigrant/refugee communities, build up new generations of leaders of color in the nonprofit field, and foster collaboration between diverse ethnic groups to address inequities. If we do a good job, lessons can be learned that can be applied to diverse communities all over the US.

The project itself is ambitious with nearly $700,000 per year for seven years to support cohorts of 10 to 18 emerging leaders/organizations each year, but if we genuinely want to build the capacity of nonprofits of color, then we must be willing to invest sufficient funds to make it work.

This year, RVC received some start-up funding, enough to hire a full-time Project Director who will focus on raising the $700K/year, develop the infrastructure and curriculum, and strengthen relationships among the various nonprofits, funders, and capacity-building organizations. I firmly believe this model holds promise to greatly increase our immigrant/refugee communities’ effectiveness and voice which is why I left my job as executive director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) to become RVC’s project director.

It was bittersweet leaving an organization that I love and one that has given me so much in terms of skills and connections as well as relieved some existential angst about the meaning of life. But, VFA is doing great, with an incredible board, amazing staff, and dedicated supporters. I have nothing but gratitude and pride for VFA and all we achieved over the last nine years. I still remember when we had an operating budget less than $20,000, no staff, and one program. I remember staying at the office until midnight to get work done, and then come to my car to find it had been broken into. VFA have grown a lot. We strengthened our capacity. We now have several staff, many great programs serving thousands each year, and we’re being more and more involved in cool stuff like working with other ethnic groups to push for education equity.

VFA is why I so strongly believe that Rainier Valley Corps holds the key to capacity building for immigrant/refugee communities. Ten years ago, when I could not find a job because I had all this passion and no experience, I was accepted into a unique program. It recruited us emerging leaders, trained us in a cohort on capacity building and nonprofit management.

Then, it sent us to work full-time in small Vietnamese-led nonprofits across the US to help those nonprofits develop their infrastructure and effectiveness, and I was sent to VFA. I know this RVC model and how effective it can be because I personally went through it and have seen the results. The program drew us inexperienced-but-passionate grads into the field, and many of us stayed and continue to contribute. Several of us became leaders of our organizations and within our communities, which is great.

Without this program that kept me in the nonprofit field and inspired Rainier Valley Corps, I probably would have ended up on another career path: Writing for Spanish soap operas.

Be Anything You Want to Be and Learn How To Define What You Want

White House Summit on Working Families-Panel on Career Ladders and Leadership
White House Summit on Working Families-Panel on Career Ladders and Leadership

From the time we had our first memories, many of us can still remember what we wanted to be when we grew up. Childhood was a time when dreams did not have boundaries and were not obscured by societal challenges and barriers many of us would come to know as we got older. Somewhere along the journey from childhood to Adulthood, we stopped asking ourselves “What do I want to be”, and we began asking ourselves, “What can I do” under the circumstances.

Recently, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of listening to a panel of powerful women discuss their journey in climbing the career ladder and the challenges they faced along the way. I hung on their every word while trying to gain some insight into my own path and future career aspirations. What was it they did, what were their commonalities, and what were the resources these women had access to that catapulted them to the top of their fields?

There were lots of nuggets and jewels of profound wisdom that were left on the ears of the participants in the room. However, one of the statements that resonated with me the most came by way of Debra Lee who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Black Entertainment (BET). Debra Lee stated as a child, she was always taught that she could be anything she wanted to be, but she didn’t know how to define what it was she wanted. Lee stated that she had always accepted what was given to her as a result of her hard work. Unlike her male counterparts, she didn’t seek out opportunities to advance her career.

She had reached the ceiling of her current position as Chief In-House Counsel for the network, and there was no higher position for her to aspire as an attorney. It wasn’t until the former CEO presented Lee with an opportunity to move into a newly created Chief Operating Officer position that the ceiling she was previously under was removed. Before the position had been offered to Debra Lee, three men had already gone to the CEO seeking the position to be created for them.

There are several things I garnered from this anecdote and other insights from the panel of women that I would like to share with you, and here are the most important:

1. Know Your Value

We live in a society where we are trained to want more for less. Jobs want to offer part-time work or unpaid internships for the possibility of earning full-time employment. Even though you are set to work a certain amount of hours, the expectation is for you to work in excess to prove your worth. This makes sense when its a symbiotic relationship where the employer is investing in your development instead of only extracting your skills and abilities as cheap labor. How many of us stay on abusive jobs because we fear a worse outcome or a bad recommendation to keep you there? How many of you are waiting for someone to acknowledge your hard work, worth, and value with a raise, time off, or promotion? What is this doing to your self esteem? Self-esteem and self-worth, is the difference between “what I want to do” versus “What I can do” under the circumstances.

2. Identify Your Challenges and Barriers

Challenges and barriers are very real no matter where you fall on the socioeconomic scale. However, those challenges may be exacerbated by the lack of resources, opportunities, and education at your disposal. Before you can change your situation, you have to identify the barriers and challenges you are up against. Admitting that your skin color or being a woman is a barrier in obtaining leadership positions is not playing the race or gender card, but its the unfortunate truth. Once you acknowledge your barriers and challenges, you can develop strategies, create partners and allies, and skills to reduce the impact of those same barriers.

3. Mentorship Is A Necessity

After listening to the women on the panel and other speakers, there was a re-occurring theme of mentorship and re-investment into creating other leaders that rang throughout the day. Not one person took sole credit for their own success. They all acknowledged someone or several someones who invested into their growth which inspired a symbiotic relationship of loyalty and hard work in return. These days, mentorship is harder to find as we continue to evolve into a “What’s in it for me” society.

More and more people who are in leadership positions aren’t necessarily there because they have the requisite skills and abilities rather than the availability of more access and opportunity at their disposal. In the past, we have expected mentorship to happen organically and naturally occurring from jobs, schools, and internships. Today, you must be more purposeful in seeking out mentors to assist your career aspirations. But, there are some pitfalls you may want to avoid on your quest to find mentorship.

Breathe…success may not happen overnight, and there may be many barriers on your path to success. However, you must keep in mind that your journey is preparation for when your moment arrives.

The Practitioner’s Lament: I Don’t Have Time for Research

Practising social work teaches good bladder control. Social workers run from one bushfire to another, juggle complex, urgent demands and multitask. Lunch is often a sumptuous feast eaten to the accompaniment of one-hand typing and a receiver lodged between the ear and shoulder. Reading, let alone doing research, is the last thing on the mind of most practitioners.

researchSocial workers agree that practice-based research is important but it is really hard to squeeze research into daily work schedules. I practised social work for three decades and it took two to start doing my own research. I wasted a lot of time. As a practitioner, I saw so many core, taken-for-granted aspects of social work knowledge and skills published as new ideas in the publications of other disciplines. This, of course, isn’t the only reason to do research. At the end of the day, it improves practice, benefits our clients and provides evidence that supports what we do. It is also tremendously satisfying. Social work is important and we do have things to say.

Time isn’t the only barrier. Organisational support, expertise, lack of confidence and mentorship are often problems. Social workers are innovative and imaginative when it comes to finding solutions for clients. There is no reason why we can’t use these same skills to generate research as part of our everyday professional practice. Here are some of my ideas.

  1. Find a mentor. If there are no research mentors in your work place connect with social work schools at universities. Social work academics are very supportive of practitioner research and may work and publish with you.
  2. Think about research grants. There are grants for practitioners that might provide the means to backfill your position giving you time off-line for research.
  3. Start small. Test the waters with a small project that is achievable and will result in a publication.
  4. Pick something that really interests you. Thinking about what eats away at you – that annoying aspect of practice or something you see in your practice that is contrary to what you have read (or not read) – is a good way of developing a research question.
  5. Don’t work alone. Research with your social work colleagues. If you work in a multi-disciplinary setting think multi-disciplinary research.
  6. Develop a research culture. Get together with colleagues and put research on the agenda for team meetings and supervision.
  7. Manage up. Identify key people within the organisation and get them on board. Conducting research of benefit to the organisation helps.
  8. Be imaginative. Be open to possibilities and develop strategies to make time. One example is a buddy system – an agreement between colleagues where you can cover each other’s work for a day to allow time off-line for research.
  9. The harsh reality. The harsh reality is you will more than likely have to sacrifice some of your own time. I can only say – it’s worth it.

I would love to hear what has worked for you.

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