Five Questions with Casey: Rob Geen and the Importance of Family

Posted May 19, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionswithrobgeen 2015

As direc­tor of pol­i­cy reform and advo­ca­cy, Rob Geen is respon­si­ble for design­ing and imple­ment­ing the Casey Foundation’s advo­ca­cy strat­e­gy on child wel­fare, juve­nile jus­tice and evi­dence-based prac­tice. He joined Casey in 2008.

Rec­og­nized as one of the nation’s lead­ing child wel­fare researchers, Geen pre­vi­ous­ly spear­head­ed pub­lic pol­i­cy and child wel­fare work at the Wash­ing­ton D.C.-based research cen­ter, Child Trends. His ear­li­er career path includes stops at the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Com­mit­tee on Ways and Means, the Child Wel­fare Research Pro­gram at the Urban Insti­tute and the U.S. Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office. Geen, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go alum­nus, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pub­lic policy.

In this Five Ques­tions” edi­tion, Geen dis­cuss­es find­ings from the KIDS COUNT Pol­i­cy Report, Every Kid Needs a Fam­i­ly, released May 192015.

Q1. Fos­ter care has always been an impor­tant issue for Casey, and KIDS COUNT has released reports on this top­ic sev­er­al times in recent years. Why is this still a crit­i­cal top­ic for states?

These kids are caught up in a com­plex sys­tem that often doesn’t keep them in the fam­i­ly set­tings they need. States need to ensure that agen­cies that come into con­tact with chil­dren col­lab­o­rate bet­ter to suc­cess­ful­ly serve them.

Q2. You have led research that high­lights the impor­tance of kin in fos­ter care place­ments. Are sys­tems start­ing to rec­og­nize the crit­i­cal role that these fam­i­ly mem­bers play? 

While I def­i­nite­ly see atti­tudes chang­ing on kin­ship care, the sys­tem was not designed with kin in mind. We have had to try to retro­fit it so that peo­ple at every lev­el — admin­is­tra­tors, judges, lawyers, case­work­ers and oth­ers — are ask­ing how they can help a child move toward a fam­i­ly set­ting. What we have found is that when birth par­ents can­not care for a child, rel­a­tives can offer an exist­ing rela­tion­ship and con­nec­tion to his iden­ti­ty and cul­ture, mak­ing an even­tu­al return home eas­i­er. As a result, we see rates of pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences are high­est for chil­dren who live with kin and low­est for chil­dren who expe­ri­ence group placement.

Q3. What is the sin­gle most impor­tant thing a case­work­er for a pub­lic sys­tem can do to get a child into a family? 

The most impor­tant thing is to avoid sev­er­ing the rela­tion­ship in the first place. Even when a child can­not remain with fam­i­ly, kin should always remain involved. If case­work­ers and sys­tem offi­cials took the What would I do if it were my child?” test, they would auto­mat­i­cal­ly under­stand the impor­tance of these fam­i­ly ties.

Q4. Casey is sup­port­ing a unique col­lab­o­ra­tion among orga­ni­za­tions that rep­re­sent the views of kin­ship, fos­ter and adop­tive fam­i­lies. What does the Foun­da­tion feel that this group can add to con­ver­sa­tions about fos­ter care reform?

In the last decade, we have seen grow­ing momen­tum at the sys­tem, pol­i­cy and pro­gram lev­el in serv­ing youth aging out of fos­ter care. This relates direct­ly to lessons learned from the Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive, which engages these youth in advo­ca­cy and lead­er­ship roles to pro­mote pol­i­cy reforms.

We need to have a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism for fos­ter par­ents and birth par­ents. There is a belief that we have too few peo­ple who want to step up and be fos­ter par­ents. Yet, recruit­ment can be very suc­cess­ful when care­givers know that they will have access to vital train­ing, ser­vices and encour­age­ment. We need their voic­es, input and advo­ca­cy in design­ing strate­gies to meet their needs.

Q5. KIDS COUNT reports have his­tor­i­cal­ly aligned with emerg­ing con­ver­sa­tions in the field and pro­vid­ed key data on top­ics that are impor­tant to kids and fam­i­lies. What is your hope for this report?

This report should be a wake-up call for how we care for our most vul­ner­a­ble youth. We should not have to wait until some­thing trag­ic hap­pens to a child in fos­ter care, and enor­mous media atten­tion requires action at the governor’s lev­el. This report demon­strates a clear need for poli­cies that sup­port the fact that chil­dren do best in fam­i­ly set­tings. We want to spark more move­ment toward pre­vent­ing place­ments, divert­ing place­ments root­ed in behav­ioral issues, sup­port­ing kin­ship care and improv­ing short-term res­i­den­tial treat­ment when it is nec­es­sary. We have to be up front that we can do so much more to ensure more chil­dren in the care of the child wel­fare sys­tem are grow­ing up in fam­i­lies. We have exam­ples of excep­tion­al lead­er­ship and inno­va­tion in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors — prov­ing every day that it is pos­si­ble to place more chil­dren with fam­i­lies. If all com­mu­ni­ties fol­low the lead of our best, many children’s lives will improve today and for their future. Every kid needs a fam­i­ly, every kid deserves to have a family.

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