Amelia Franck Meyer

Ashoka Fellow
,
Fellow Since 2014
Anu Family Services

Citation

This profile was prepared when Amelia Franck Meyer was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Amelia is guiding a comprehensive turnaround of the U.S. foster care system, effectively reimagining the central approach from one that is reactive in nature to one that proactively meets the needs of youth and breaks the cycle of multiple placements and trauma. There is already widespread agreement that conditions in the U.S. foster care system are appalling. Amelia’s insight is that foster care as currently set up doesn’t solve but actually perpetuates the problem, effectively creating a downward spiral of trauma. Amelia can deliver this tough assessment and actually find allies and win support because she has proven that despite the grim reality, there is hope with a new and more effective approach, and that the new model can be embraced and spread through the existing system, not via an outside or foreign fix that narrowly defines everyone in the current foster care system as the problem and thus further disempowers them.



Amelia has first had to prove that the current priorities and approach in foster care exacerbate the trauma young people face by breaking that cycle with the hardest-to-place young people. Over the last five years she has proven that her approach is nearly twice as successful in finding permanent homes for foster children, is more cost effective, and is safer for everyone involved. She is now championing a new operational model built around the central values of permanence and wellbeing and that is relevant for the whole foster care field. Her overall approach fundamentally restructures foster care agencies by changing how they are organized, where funding is directed, and – most importantly – the very definition of success. Hierarchical bureaucracies inside placement agencies are replaced with highly collaborative teams and an organizational culture where staff are expected to problem solve, seek additional learning, and support their colleagues through the inevitable difficulties. The shift from an overprotective emphasis on physical safety to wider one on wellbeing and from quick fixes to more lasting permanence has reduced trauma, improved permanency rates, and contributed to wider wellbeing among caseworkers and young people in the foster care system.



Amelia has not only been able to prove that it is possible to break the downward spiral of repeated placement, trauma, and disruption (with the hardest-to-place youth, no less), but has simultaneously demonstrated that a higher success rate results in major costs savings that more than cover the initial upfront investment of time and resources in this approach. Amelia’s model is now flourishing in Minnesota and Wisconsin and, through partnerships with state agencies and with national funders, is rapidly spreading to Texas and the District of Columbia. She anticipates expansions into Colorado and Georgia in 2016. Her approach is regarded by many in the field as a new paradigm for high-quality, proactive, youth-centered care that creates a promising pathway for foster youth “at risk of aging out of care with no one.” Although her focus is currently only on the foster care system, Amelia also sees applications for her model in the criminal justice, education and other systems that serve youth.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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