Betsy Krebs

Ashoka Fellow
New York City, United States
Fellow Since 2005
My work: empowering youth in the foster system with self-advocacy skills for adulthood


This profile was prepared when Betsy Krebs was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Betsy recognizes that teens in foster care aspire to more than adults in the system realize or expect. About 90 percent of the 17-year-olds in foster care are optimistic about their future; and 70 percent want to attend college. Since the foster care system does little to prepare teens to be self-reliant adults, Betsy’s idea is to help these young people become powerful self-advocates and take charge of their lives. Through the Youth Advocacy Center, Betsy helps youth in foster care learn new ways of thinking and communicating and of finding and grasping opportunities. Further, she helps connect them with successful business professionals who can guide their education and career choices.
For decades, child welfare debates have focused on how best to serve young children. Now the discussion is starting to include teenagers in foster care and their lives after they are “emancipated.” Although policy is moving in this direction, the practices are not. To align practices with current thinking, Betsy aims to give people working in the child welfare system the practical tools they need to support the teens’ efforts to achieve independent and fulfilling adult lives. With the support of her cofounder Paul Pitcoff, Betsy created a program, “Getting Beyond the System,” to help teens gain a voice and the self-advocacy skills they need to achieve the future they seek. When foster care providers see the results of this approach—teens who go to college pursue careers and “make it” in the adult world—Betsy expects they will be more open to adopting these methods in their programs. When her self-advocacy program becomes standard practice, it will impact the youth, the agencies that serve them, and the entire system.
Betsy believes that all citizens are responsible for and can contribute to the success of foster care teens. The first step is to break down the walls between the teens and the community, positioning young people as the powerful, untapped resource that they are. Given the chance to promote their own interests, they can engage the larger community in changing the field so that child welfare is not just a custodial system for “wards of the state,” but a springboard to a full, productive life.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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