I AM SOMEBODY: Raising Hope and Awareness for Children in Foster Care

What if a public awareness campaign changed the foster care narrative from hopeless to hopeful, and from worthless to worth it?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

I want my children to grow up in a world that respects their past, honors their life journey and believes in their future. All children deserve to be valued in their communities.

Our society is learning to embrace children who were previously marginalized. Campaigns like the It Gets Better Project (http://www.itgetsbetter.org/) challenge stigmas and stereotypes of LGBTQ youth, replacing those damaging narratives with stories that speak instead to their sense of self, purpose and belonging.

Numerous surveys (https://davethomasfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/DTFA-HarrisPoll) show that the American public still questions the wellbeing for at least one group of children - those who call the foster care system home. The perception is that these children are broken, unlovable and unadoptable.

As a mom to awesome siblings from foster care, I felt this damaging dynamic had to be changed - not just for the wellbeing of my children, but for the wellbeing of the 400,000+ children currently in the care system, 100,000+ of whom need a family right now.

I designed the "I AM SOMEBODY" public awareness campaign - featuring kids from foster care - to start a conversation that kids in care are worth it and deserve a loving family. Ultimately, I hope the campaign speaks so directly to people that they will either consider growing their family through foster care adoption or be more supportive of foster care issues.

"If not us, then who?
 If not now, then when?”

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Right now, "I AM SOMEBODY" is creating impact in the virtual universe of Twitter and Facebook.

"I AM SOMEBODY" launched as a social media project during National Adoption Month in November 2014. The response was phenomenal (tracking showed global reach) with the campaign generating millions of impressions and thousands of engagements on Twitter.

The cross-sector support for I AM SOMEBODY convinced me that the public was ready for a message of hope and change about foster care.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

"If kids don't know possibilities, they can't dream" - Justice Sonia Sotomayer

The family is where we learn to dream, embrace possibilities and plan our future. If we agree that children's wellbeing starts in the family, then it is vital for the 400,000 children in the foster care system to find a place to call home. But the reality is that there are more waiting children than available families. I believe this is the sad result of a damaging narrative of foster kids as broken, unlovable and unadoptable.

The "I AM SOMEBODY" awareness campaign elevates the foster care narrative from hopeless to hopeful, and from worthless to worth it. Their wellbeing becomes our wellbeing - a positive feedback loop of belonging.

Public awareness campaigns are an effective tool for social change. I'm leveraging that tradition with "I AM SOMEBODY"to find families for kids in care.

Mission Statement

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.

The Inspiration

"I AM SOMEBODY" is more than a foster care campaign, it's a human rights campaign. 

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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.

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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.


The Problem

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.

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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.

A Solution

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. 

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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. 

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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." 

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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.”

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Other Campaigns

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.   

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Foster care / child welfare

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Idea (poised to launch)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

"I AM SOMEBODY" for foster care is a shareable, relateable awareness campaign.

Based on Twitter analytics, a social media rollout for National Adoption Day 2014, reached a global audience and was viewed by millions, a majority of whom were not associated with traditional foster care communities.
Two take-aways
1) a positive foster care message resonates
2) awareness increases engagement

Through Twitter and Facebook, people who had seen the campaign reached out to me for foster care adoption information. I'm just a private citizen. Imagine the impact if this message was amplified and directed.

Children's wellbeing is enhanced by belonging to a family. 400,000 children need families. Let's go find them families - right now.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

"I AM SOMEBODY" continues to encourage engagement by challenging the damaging narrative of foster kids as broken, unlovable and unadoptable. Awareness is measurable through social media analytics and metrics. Engagement (asking for foster care adoption info) that translates into action (adopting a child from foster care) is only anecdotally available at this time in the "poised to launch" phase.

The majority of public and private child welfare agencies focus on budgeting to direct services such as training and events, and staff and support programs like adoption parties and information resources for families. Perhaps that's why the field is wide open for "I AM SOMEBODY" - no one is doing it because no one wants to invest in socially-responsible consciousness raising for children in foster care.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Great question. To date, foster care agencies at both the public/private level, are reluctant to allocate resources from direct service programs to a marketing campaign.

Short of founding a national nonproift (opening access to grants and corporate donations) I believe the public citizen crowd sourcing platforms could be an effective fundraising route.

Foster care issues are rising to the national level making broader engagement possible.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The unique value proposition to the "I AM SOMEBODY" campaign is its portrayal of kids from foster care in a first-person narrative way with positive, affirming and powerful imagery and language. This approach not only challenges the negative perceptions of kids from foster care as broken, unlovable and unadoptable, but it also challenges it with their voice. They speak to their wellbeing.

Shockingly, except for the out-dated Heart Gallery project, there are no agencies or organizations currently doing a large-scale foster care public relations campaign. The field is wide open.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

The most important or promising shift in foster care is that people are starting to talk about it.

Positive foster care messages are trending, lately, including Fmr. President Bill Clinton and other speakers at the Democratic Convention. Gold medalist gymnast Simone Biles and Olympic footballer Carlin Isles showed that kids from foster care can be champions. https://www.ispot.tv/ad/Almm/mini-usa-us-olympic-games-defy-labels-feat-serena-williams

Imagine a world where families compete to foster care adopt, and the idea of 400,000 children waiting in care will seem cruel and unjust.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Twitter

Program Design Clarity

Unlike the other Children's Wellbeing entries, "I AM SOMEBODY" is an advocacy/awareness campaign and not a direct services project.

Think of the impact of Autism Speaks, Ice-Bucket Challenge and the Red-Nose campaigns to raise awareness of their social issue.

My day-to-day work is designed like any other human rights campaign: Changing hearts and minds with a powerful, empathetic and inspiring message.

Community Leadership

I promote the hell out of "I AM SOMEBODY", and actively solicit feedback from stakeholders across the foster care spectrum, as well as from outlying communities.

This outreach is partly evidenced by my 50 evaluations, 26 comments and 47 likes. As a social media and public relations project, I AM SOMEBODY hasn't yet been "means" tested where feedback would emerge related to market reach resulting in family placement of youth from foster care.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Twitter was a toe-dipping experiment to see if the public was ready to accept positive imagery of kids from foster care. The resounding answer: yes.

It's time to bring in partners, sponsors and visionary backers to fund a nationwide campaign for foster care awareness. I'm also storyboarding "Foster Futures" another awareness campaign that targets the prospective adoptive parent and which complements the "I AM SOMEBODY" child-centered message.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

I think it is imperative to build a sense of belonging through empowerment. As an "I AM SOMEBODY" supporter said, "The stories kids are told about themselves make such a huge impression."

We've seen the impact that organizing around "Black Lives Matter" is having on the race and policing conversation in this country. Let's have a conversation about finding families for children in foster care using "I AM SOMEBODY" as the launching off place.

Leadership Story

I started my activism journey as a college campus organizer for "Take Back the Night" marches. From there, I worked for the NOW on the Sexual Violence Against Women Task Force, as well as the annual National March for Women's Lives. These projects schooled me in the art of using public activism to raise awareness and encourage engagement.

I bring those lessons, plus my background as a former staff writer for the Detroit News, to my work. My defining life moment, though, was becoming a mom to siblings from foster care. I do this work for my kids, and for all the kids still in foster care.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Using "I AM SOMEBODY" campaign as their theme, Cambridge Family and Children Services, a MA-based foster care nonprofit challenged donors at their annual gala to "Be SOMEBODY" raising a record-breaking $350,000 for their foster care adoption programs. This fundraising sum validated the message.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


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An example of why direct services and support to foster-adopt families aren't enough to address the waiting children crisis. Despite offering extensive support services to foster-adopt families, agencies in Europe struggle to find families for their clients - the foster children. I believe this is because the negative perceptions of children in foster care is an unchallenged narrative. I AM SOMEBODY is a public awareness campaign that offers a vision that kids from foster care are worth it.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Karla

Your ideas and motivation continue to inspire.  Bravo on building this amazing project that I know has already made a huge difference in many lives.

Photo of Melanie

Ms. Karla Horn!

You are the best!  Thanks to your support, we're raising awareness - and the roof - for kids in foster care.

XO - Melanie and family

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