Family is the place in which a child nurtures their sense of self, purpose and belonging. "I AM SOMEBODY" is a public awareness campaign that changes the foster care narrative from hopeless to hopeful, and from worthless to worth it so that waiting children can find their "forever" family.
"I AM SOMEBODY" is more than a foster care campaign, it's a human rights campaign.
This campaign was inspired by the "I AM A MAN" Memphis sanitation workers strike of 1968. Those men weren't just protesting the lack of their civil rights, they were protesting their lack of human rights. I still find that a powerful message of change.
My work is also inspired by the marriage equality work of the Human Rights Campaign.
Awareness, awareness, awareness.
If people are aware, they are inspired.
When they are inspired, they engage.
When they engage, they are enabled.
When they are enabled, they act.
When they act, children in care find a loving family.
Aware. Inspired. Engaged. Enabled. Action.
I AM SOMEBODY
There are more than 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Almost 110,000 of these children - enough to fill the University of Michigan's "Big House" football stadium - need a family right now.
Research has shown that growing up without a loving, stable family leads to a range of developmental delays, social-emotional problems and a damaged sense of self worth.
The 2013 Adoption Attitudes Survey by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption found that, "There is a long-standing correlation between a high opinion of the foster care system and the consideration of adoption from foster care. The opposite is true as well."
Changing the negative foster care narrative may change these children's current and future wellbeing. Elevating an affirming foster care awareness campaign may encourage more families to be the future now for a child who has been left behind.
What We Do
The "I AM SOMEBODY" campaign leverages the power of social media, plus traditional publicity channels, to amplify a positive foster care message.
How We Do It
Relentless public awareness messaging that children in foster care are "somebody" who belong in a loving, stable home.
When we spark a foster care revolution in this country, we can change futures now.
Why We Do It: Advocacy and Direct Action
So, why a public awareness campaign? Why not put much-needed funds into direct child and family support and services?
Advocacy/outreach is a process distinct from direct action-based support, yet each depend upon the other to be successful. If you can't reach your target families (advocacy), you can't support them (action) and bring them the services they require.
The "if we build it, they will come" thinking, though, drives the funding decisions of many direct services providers, but it's an incomplete model of children's wellbeing. Social support agencies, just like for-profit companies, need to brand their "products" which in this case, are the children in their care.
Another obstacle to child welfare embracing a public awareness campaign is the thinking is that families are more likely to engage the system if post-adoption support and services are available. This mindset was on full display in the Ashoka #Children'sWellbeing Twitter chat.
Yet, in Britain, and many other European countries, post adoption services, including competitive pay packages, are provided to foster care adoptive families. Despite these generous supports and a range of choices, these agencies still struggle to find families for waiting children.
Direct and support services are not the only answer. Forward-thinking child welfare leaders, who see their nonprofit as providing a service (where their client is the child first, then the foster-adopt family), recognize that a total rebranding of foster care is required to engage families for waiting children.
In 2013, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption released the results of their Adoption Attitudes Survey which found that "while the perception of foster care adoption has improved, Americans – even those who are considering foster care adoption – still have a negative impression of the process, the costs, and potential behavioral and medical issues with children in foster care."
CEO Rita Soronen said, “The survey is a clear call to action. Armed with this information, we will continue to share real-life stories of successful foster care adoptions and dispel prevailing myths at every opportunity about the children available for adoption from foster care. We will not rest until every child in the United States has a nurturing and permanent home.”
The biggest national player for foster care adoption awareness is AdoptUsKids, an information gateway funded by the Children's Bureau of the US Health and Human Services, through their "Myths" and "Perfect Parent" campaigns. They are closely followed by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, with their "When I First Met My Child" and "I Am Not" campaigns.
To date, none of these efforts have moved the needle on the number of waiting children. I believe that's because these campaigns pitch their message to the perspective of the adoptive parent versus framing it through the eyes of the children from foster care. Additionally, these laudable efforts were insufficiently promoted, failing to break through to the public domain outside of the existing foster care community.
When foster children, according to the DTFA survey, are still perceived as broken, unlovable and adoptable, changing the narrative of the parents' perspective is like putting the horse before the cart. A national campaign like "I AM SOMEBODY" speaks to the child's worth from the child's perspective using foster-adopt children to convey that message.
The national Heart Gallery portrait project is another unsuccessful awareness campaign. Though hugely popular with adoption agencies, and heavily subsidized by local and national partners, this awareness effort yields disappointing results with barely more than a 1% return on engagement. The portrayals of waiting children without a storytelling context - reduces children in foster care to a static, impersonal and desperate status. Plus, it's a dated, mall-driven concept (a valid, if limited, space to intercept people) that isn't leveraging the shareable, dynamic environment of social media.
A New Model: Why "I AM SOMEBODY" (IAS) Works
If we agree that having a family is a basic human right, then we should all be outraged that 400,000 children are growing up in a care system and not in a loving, stable family.
IAS challenges the myths, stereotypes and misinformation that children in foster care are broken, unwanted and unadoptable - by putting them in the "picture".
IAS raises awareness from a place of our love and their self worth - by connecting their wellbeing with empowerment.
IAS portrays children from the foster-adopt space in an authentic way - by involving them in their storytelling idea.
IAS invites the viewer to really "see" the child behind the label - by normalizing childhood without demonizing their foster care reality.
Awareness, awareness, awareness. If people aren't aware, they can't engage. Let's engage them together by raising this much-need awareness of children waiting for a family.