Rafael López Envisions a Better National Foster Care System

Posted May 30, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog rafaellopezenvisions 2017

America’s fos­ter care pop­u­la­tion has swelled to 428,000 chil­dren — its largest size since 2008, accord­ing to the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter. More chil­dren in fos­ter care means that more fam­i­lies are cross­ing paths with the country’s child wel­fare system.

It’s a sys­tem that Rafael López — the man­ag­ing direc­tor of Accenture’s health and pub­lic ser­vices prac­tice — knows extreme­ly well. Pri­or to work­ing at Accen­ture, López served as the com­mis­sion­er of the Admin­is­tra­tion on Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies with the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices, which has pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty for the nation’s fos­ter care system.

In recog­ni­tion of Nation­al Fos­ter Care month, which occurs each May, Casey’s Lisa Hamil­ton talks with López about America’s child wel­fare sys­tem. Their con­ver­sa­tion explores the sys­tem today, how it works and where it falls short. López also shares ideas — such as lever­ag­ing tech­nol­o­gy and embrac­ing human cen­tered design — aimed at trans­form­ing the sys­tem to bet­ter serve chil­dren and fam­i­lies in crisis.

A huge thank you to López for chat­ting with us!

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What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • Ways that America’s child wel­fare sys­tem is broken.
  • What we can do to mod­ern­ize the system.
  • The role that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment plays in child welfare.
  • How we cur­rent­ly incen­tivize sup­port for families.
  • Why the num­ber of kids in care may be increasing.
  • What fam­i­lies involved in fos­ter care want to see change.

Con­ver­sa­tion Clips

In Rafael López’s own words…

The tools of the 21st cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy are applied to every­thing — from order­ing books on Ama­zon Prime and hav­ing them deliv­ered to your home today, to the way in which one orders pizza…Why is it that we are not more urgent­ly and more robust­ly tak­ing those tools and apply­ing them in ways that mat­ter in child welfare?”

We need to do far more, far quick­er around the way in which we deeply invest in pre­ven­tion — and I think that’s the next era for Amer­i­can child welfare.”

Over and over you hear from young peo­ple in the sys­tem and par­ents, I don’t know’ or I did­n’t know what was hap­pen­ing to me.’… Trans­paren­cy mat­ters immensely.”

Because the way in which the data is report­ed is not real time, espe­cial­ly upwards from the local gov­ern­ments to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, we see trends too late.”

There’s a vari­ety of ways we need to think about fos­ter par­ent­ing in this coun­try, and also use tech­nol­o­gy and inno­va­tion to bet­ter match kids with fos­ter parents.”

Links and Show Notes

About the Podcast

Cas­ey­Cast is a month­ly pod­cast pro­duced by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and host­ed by its vice pres­i­dent of exter­nal affairs, Lisa Hamil­ton. Each episode fea­tures Hamil­ton talk­ing with a new expert about how we can build a brighter future for kids, fam­i­lies and communities.

Enjoy the Episode?

We sure hope so! Go to iTunes to sub­scribe to the series or leave a rat­ing or review.

View Transcript


Lisa Hamilton: Welcome to Casey Cast, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's podcast. I'm Lisa Hamilton, Vice President of External Affairs at the foundation and I'm so glad you've joined us for a hopefully inspiring and interesting conversation today.

The Casey Foundation focuses on giving kids what they need, strong families, vibrant communities and financial stability. In these efforts, the foundation is fortunate to work with innovators who advance solutions to help kids thrive.

Each month, we'll bring you an in depth conversation with one of these experts, right here on Casey Cast.

Since it's founding in 1948, the Casey Foundation has worked to improve the lives of children involved in the nation's foster care system. At our core, we believe that children deserve to be raised in families and that when foster care is required, that it's a beneficial that helps kids move in a positive direction. Therefore, I'm excited to welcome Rafael Lopez to the podcast.

Rafael is the Managing Director of Accenture's Health and Public Service practice in North America. In this role, he works with governments and non-profits to develop innovative human services solutions. Until recently, he served as the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the US Department of Health and Human Services, which has primary responsibility for the nation's foster care system.

He also worked as a senior policy advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as a Domestic Policy counsel in the Obama White House.

Rafael has dedicated his career to improving the lives of children, youth and families at all levels of government and in the non-profit community. In fact, he previously worked in leadership development at the Casey Foundation. Welcome, Rafael.

Rafael López: It's so great to be here with you, Lisa.


Lisa Hamilton: Thank you. So let's start by talking about how the foster care system works in this country. The systems are primarily administered by state and local jurisdictions. How would you describe the role that the federal government plays in child welfare?

Rafael López: That's such a great question, Lisa, and one of the easiest ways but most controversial ways to answer it is to note how important it is to follow the money, and quite frankly and in the modern American child welfare system, the way in which the money flows from the federal government to the states to cities and counties and tribes across our country is deeply tied to federal child welfare policy. And one can think about it in the context of how child welfare is incentivized or not, and right now, the way in which the funding flows from Washington, DC to every jurisdiction in the country who's winning the child welfare system, it flows by the fact that a child must be removed or in the care of a child welfare system before health is given essentially.

And that kind of federal incentive is not the way in which we should be thinking about child welfare moving forward within the 21st century. So the federal government has, in some cases, an outsider's role in incentivizing what has become a very broken system in America, and we have to reimagine how we can incentivize the prevention of the need to remove a child from the home and the way in which we can deeply invest in serving children and families and parents who are struggling with things like substance use disorders or domestic violence or mental health issues so that we can early on invest in them, such that their child hopefully never has to be removed from their family.

Lisa Hamilton: So it seems like the federal government has a significant financial role. What type of regulatory role do they play with state and local jurisdictions?

Rafael López: Exactly, Lisa, and so the financial piece is one very important one, and it needn't be ignored simply because of the way we talked about the incentives. Second are the regulatory, so there's an entire, there's legislation that has passed right at the federal level that tries to advance the way in which the country thinks about, supports and finances child welfare systems, so there have been very important pieces of legislation over the last couple of decades to try to address things like the trafficking of children, for example, or the way in which we think about group home facilities. So there is both continued pending legislation that's trying to think about how we could more robustly serve and to live better results for children and families in care. That's a legislative piece.

The second is the sub-regulatory influence that the federal government has in everything that happens across the nation's child welfare programs. For example, things like how data is collected through the adoption and foster care analysis reporting system. The way in which counties and states run the case management at the local level and actually are supposed to track what happens to a child, if in fact they are removed from their family, and how they receive the right kinds of services and supports, ranging from education to housing issues and to how many times the child welfare worker is engaging with the young person as a family. All of those pieces that I've just lifted up sort of the tip of the spear related to regulation and sub-regulatory guidance.

And the people who hold the role of commissioner, the role I've formerly held, or other roles and who are leading and helping work with the federal career civil staff and providing guidance to the states and counties matter around being able to actually work in partnership to advance in a much more results driven way to serve our kids and families. So once again, federal government has a very important role. It's not the obviously only role because our child welfare system's ultimately are operated on the ground in local communities that are driven by local leaders, so it's this trifecta, if you will, of the local systems, the non-profit and private organizations that are working with the local systems and the federal government who are ultimately responsible as a series of partners to really ultimately serve children, youth and families in America's child welfare system.

Lisa Hamilton: With all of these different levels of decision making and financing, do you see wide varieties in the functioning of the systems on the ground?

Rafael López: We do. In fact, one could make a legitimate argument that we don't have a single child welfare system in this country and in fact they are micro-systems that are operated quite differently across our tribes, counties, states and across the country. There are clearly elements that are consistent across the country for the very things I mentioned a minute ago related to reporting, for example.

What happens to the child who is removed from a family or if a family is brought to the attention of a child welfare system in a particular given city or county through, for example, a hotline, is the case opened or not? For example, of the roughly over six million calls that come in across the country to hotlines, only about half of those calls, half of those calls are represented by some 3.2 million children and people oftentimes think that a child who is in the child welfare system is there because of physical abuse, and that is actually not what the data has shown us over time.

The data tells us that the vast majority of cases over and over is ultimately what is called neglect and neglect oftentimes is a shadow indicator for families who are struggling, everything with poverty to mental health issues, domestic violence, substance use disorders and so how we think about how we can more accurately and more clearly and with greater urgency and timeliness understand what is happening with the family so that we can better assist them and better support them at the local level.

So we see differences of how programs are structured at the local level How an individual commissioner or an individual secretary at the state level, if they make a decision that ultimately changes how a particular case is opened or the age of a child as a result, for example, of a child death in a state, could dramatically change the way a system is operated at an individual state level, and that could have a national impact in terms of the numbers that we see and trends across the country as well, so we're seeing a variety of local systems as well as some elements that are consistent across the country.

Lisa Hamilton: Well, that's a powerful takeaway from your comments, Rafael, that we have a huge opportunity to figure out how to shift our nation's approach to child welfare so that it focuses more on prevention ...

Rafael López: Absolutely.

Lisa Hamilton: ... than just trying to assist families after they have had significant challenges, and also seems like the federal government has an opportunity as well, given the role it has in relationship ...

Rafael López: Absolutely.

Lisa Hamilton:... to these local jurisdictions.

So as you were appointed commissioner late in President Obama's term, you had the opportunity to think about what you might want to do from that really special perch. How did you approach that opportunity, knowing that you had just over a year to serve in the position?

Rafael López: I had the honor of serving in the Obama administration first in the White House, and that allowed me the opportunity, not only to continue working on issues related to children and families nationally, but better understand the way in which one can pull, build and catalyze the various levers of government. And I had interestingly been, twice now, made to serve in the role, but many of the President's nominees that did not ultimately reach confirmation, those that required a Senate confirmation hearing.

And when I finally was confirmed after a hearing, that process took a significant amount of time, so I didn't come into office in my former role as commissioner until August of 2015, and I had roughly about a year and a half around that time to try to do as much good as we could for every child, youth and family in America.

And one of the things, just a sort of a quick story, on my very first day in my office, one of the first things I did, quietly, was I printed out actually the number of days that we had remaining in office through inauguration day of January 20, 2017, and it was a physical reminder that every single day mattered. Every single second counted.

And what we did with those seconds and those hours and those days would have an outsized impact on the way in which we would treat and serve children, youth and families in America, and ultimately that sort of print out led to my whiteboard and I would change it every single day, so that it was a physical reminder to me personally but also to every single person that walked in the office that we were going to act with urgency, not simply because I or we came into the role late in the administration, but because that is the kind of action and respect that the children, youth and families in the child welfare system deserve because what is happening to them at the moment has sometimes life and death impact and consequences for their future and their livelihoods.

So there were tools that we used around information memorandums providing guidance to the states around a way we thought, for example, around the courts. We were working through the last day in the administration, releasing guidance to the state and to the country around things like the importance of high quality legal representation and why that matters in every single child welfare case and would have an impact, and there's a burgeoning body of research that notes that when one has high quality legal representation, outcomes for families oftentimes are better or the way in which we were thinking about the intersectionality of homelessness and foster care. Why is it that a young person who in foster care should have to age out of foster care, not have ties to a family or to a network of people who love and support them and end up homeless in our streets, how we integrate those systems.

So we tried to use every single lever, every day to try to advance child welfare, to advance our thinking in this country and to provide examples and models of how best to do that.

Lisa Hamilton: Did you have a particular set of priorities that you and your team worked on?

Rafael López: We did, and one of them was deeply tied to the question of timing, so we knew we wanted to, for example, make sure that we used time to deeply look at issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Indian Child Welfare Act became into law in the Nixon administration and in 38 years since the law has passed, the way in which we were thinking about child welfare specifically related to Native American children needed, if one could argue, a refresh. And we deeply integrated issues of the Indian Child Welfare Act into all that we did including some of the rules that we left as a legacy of the administration. A couple of them were trying to modernize the approach to child welfare as basic as the way in which data is collected at the micro-level on children, youth and families so that we can better understand trends for example, things that are happening, so that we know the stories behind what happens to a child when they are in the child welfare system.

So updating and modernizing AFCARS which is the way in which the nation reports and understands the data that everyone talks about and quotes in newspapers, so the Adoption, Foster Care and Analysis Reporting System rule which governs how data is collected and rolled up from the local to the federal level. That had not been changed since 1993. Similarly, the way in which case management information was collected on basic things like number of siblings, if the child had connected education, whether or not the kid has had sibling visits, all these things that matter about the individual case of the child and what is happening to them in the child welfare system. That had not been changed since 1993. Those are but two of the examples of ways in which we left a set of rules that are not only going to guide the policy and the way in which data is collected and reported but hopefully influence moving forward how we think about more robustly a very different system for child welfare in America.

We wanted to integrate technology and innovation into everything we did because, as I've just noted, things hadn't been changed in some of these areas for over 23 years when we finally finished them, and we built, of course, and stood on the progress of countless predecessors of a variety of administrations but it was important to get it done at this moment in time in history because the particular president that we were serving, President Obama, modeled the kind of leadership around the way in which we should use all of the tools of the 21st century to better serve all of the people in the country.

And so we had an extraordinary leader who modeled the way in which we should approach our work. It was important to integrate innovation and technology and science in everything that we did to better understand and how to drive better results for kids, and we used all of that in everything we did up to the last days of the administration.

Lisa Hamilton: So I noted in your intro that you were a senior policy advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. What from that experience did you bring into the work you were doing to advance the use of technology by child welfare systems and it might help our listeners to understand something about the kinds of technology local jurisdictions use to gather the data you were talking about.

Rafael López: Absolutely. You know, it's actually ... I can't think of what the right word might be, but other than the extraordinary honor, but I had just the privilege of being surrounded by an extraordinary set of colleagues, and I was a bridge between two different White House offices. Once was the White Hous Office of Science and Technology Policy and the other was the Domestic Policy Council, and the work that I did and the bridge that was built between them was around children, youth and families. So on everything from how we ultimately launched the first every White House foster parent technology hackathon to show that the advances that have happened in other sectors across the country and the tools of the 21st century technology that are applied on everything from ordering books on Amazon Prime and having them delivered to your home today to the way in which one orders pizza. And one can see who is actually putting the toppings on your pizza and who's delivering it.

Why is it that we are not more urgently and more robustly taking those tools and applying them in ways that matter in child welfare? Why is it, for example, that our nations AFCARS reporting system, which is again, the data once it's collected, if it's to trickle up until it becomes federal numbers. That happens almost a year after that data is collected and we are working off of essentially old data right when the press release comes out. These kinds of trends don't make sense in an environment and world that is vastly changing, is volatile and is constantly evolving, and so how do we actually use all of the levers that we have to bring to bear for not only child welfare but human services write large.

Why is it, and there are clearly ethical concerns here, that if a child is in foster care that we aren't able to use basic data systems to have a live read on what is happening? Let's say the kid has to move from one part of town to another in a multiple foster care home placement, or if they have to go to a different school, why is is that alarms can't be triggered automatically and virtually such as the way in which case workers engage with an individual child's case changes?

And what I know for a fact, and I saw over and over, and I know countless people who will listen to this podcast will understand who do this work in the field, it is a deeply paper driven system. It is one that is still using pencil, pen and paper, and maybe Excel spreadsheets from time to time, to ultimately collect information, and that is no way to run a child welfare system. So if I learned anything in those roles around technology and policy and bridging the worlds of children, youth and family, it was how do we understand and better connect what is happening in some many sectors across the world and apply that insight and that learning with urgency to child welfare, not just because it's the new thing to do, but because it's the way in which we should better serve our children, youth and families.

Lisa Hamilton: Great. So technology is absolutely one of the things you'd recommend the country focus on, but what other pressing challenges do you think there are for our nation's foster care system? And maybe what some of the possible solutions are?

Rafael López: Yes. Yes. Well, I think one of the most significant ones is something that we worked on in the administration and it's still an ongoing, if you will, political conversation, which is actually the way in which the nation's child welfare system is funded and there was a piece of legislation known as the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 that would have for the first time in the nation's history turned around the financial incentives, if you will, and the way in which money would have flowed from the federal government to local jurisdictions.

At it's core, while imperfect, I have yet to see, read or understand a perfect piece of legislation, but this piece of legislation which had broad bi-partisan support, would have allowed for the reimbursement to states, counties and tribes for deep investment in prevention services, for some of the very things that we know to be causes for what happens to families when they struggle and the causes for removal. Chief among them, things like domestic violence. Substance use disorders. Mental health services. And it would have allowed for things like if a mom was struggling substance use disorders or maybe it came from the use of opioids at first, right? And maybe it led to other uses of drugs, but in fact, people often just simply assume that if some woman's struggling that they are incapable of loving their child, and I have met, I have sat at a table with extraordinary parents who've struggled, finally got clean and sober and that's because they reached out for help, they were able to receive that kind of treatment, and in partnership sometimes with child welfare agencies, were able to keep their children.

And now they have full time jobs, they're working hard to provide for their families, and it's the belief that that mom or that dad has in them the extraordinary power to be amazing parents. And at the federal level, when I think about your question, I think here's an example of what could have happened had we actually, ultimately had the Congress and the Senate ultimately approved some version of the Family First Prevention Services Act and it could have been signed into law by President Obama.

For the first time United States history we would have changed the way in which money flowed and the way we incentivized policy and the way in which we incentivized support for families. So I think that, we have to keep our eyes on the prize as a country on that, which is when we look at things like the growing opioid epidemic, when we look at things like the continued increased numbers and the rise of kids who are entering foster care yet again, we don't want to go back decades to see the kinds of spikes that have once been seen. We need to do far more, far quicker around the way in which we deeply invest in prevention, and I think that's the next era for American child welfare.

Lisa Hamilton: Wonderful. Thank you. So May is National Foster Care month. It's a time to honor those who are working to help kids and families and to raise awareness about the needs of kids in care. If you could share one insight into the foster care experience with those who might be unfamiliar with it, what would it be? I'm sure you had an opportunity to meet so many families who've been touched by the foster care system. Could you share an example?

Rafael López: Sure. I think if I had to choose one of things that most profoundly impacted me and changed me personally, it was meeting children and families across the country. I traveled the country in the role because obviously it is a national role and I went from very rural parts of our country, I visited a significant amount of tribes in our country, from big cities, north, south, east, west. I just had this extraordinary privilege to meet, interact and spend time with, children, youth and families in America's child welfare system, and over and over and over again, the thing that I would walk away with, no matter how many minutes I would spend with someone - it might be a very quick interaction, or it might literally be sitting at a table for a couple of hours - and it was this notion that the children, youth and families who are in these systems, whether the child welfare or homelessness or any number of these other programs, that they're extraordinary, that they are beautiful, they are powerful, in and of themselves.

And that they aren't simply broken, but the systems that serve them are broken. When you look at a child, whether it's a seven year old child or an eleven year old child or a nine year old child or a seventeen year old, and to this moment, I can't close my eyes and not have one of their faces pop into my memory because so many people discounted them and the insight here is that what happens if we looked at that child and that family from a place of deep and profound love and we said "I see in you, Lisa," seventeen years old who's struggling and might look like she acts out because she has behavioral problems but behind Lisa's shy demeanor is a young woman who is deeply sad because she has been in seventeen foster care homes, and has each time had to make new friends at high schools and what Lisa wants most is to be the X, Y, Z of a particular industry and how do we support Lisa to achieve her dream. That's the way that we should look at young people and the families in the system and to figure out how do we better serve them.

And that insight is something that I'm deeply grateful for because while people struggle and for a variety of reasons, rather than to stand in judgment and blame, we should stand in a position of how can we help so that they can thrive and reach their potential in life.

Lisa Hamilton: You know, one of the things we often talk about is engaging families who are affected by the issues we're working on in figuring out the solutions and so I'm even wondering in the mini-interactions you had with these families, were there things that they recommended that systems do that we could all learn from?

Rafael López: Absolutely. I think there are a couple things I took away which aren't going to be surprising because they sound so basic, but they are not typically elements, if you will, of the child welfare system. And one of them is a basic thing called transparency. Over and over you hear from young people in the system and parents, I don't know or I didn't know what was happening to me. I didn't get told why I was moving from place A to place B, or I was picked up from my high school and didn't go back to my home, so no one explained to me what had happened, so transparency sounds so basic but is fundamental to the way in which we should drive all of our systems, and that's not just transparency in terms of let me explain to you Lisa, why we're going to move you to school X or home A, but in fact to imagine that whatever age a young person is, that you can, in an appropriately developmental way, explain some version of what is happening, right?

And you're not going to explain to a three year old the same way you might explain to a seventeen year old. It's not going to happen. But transparency matters immensely. Second, urgency. I heard that over and over which is why is it that I, the young person, or I the mom or dad, waited so long to get clarity on movement on an issue? So the way in which families are served to be served with a greater sense of urgency and movement. Third, the ability to read what was actually happening in their cases. The number of people I met across the country that said if I could just understand where things were headed or like why it was that I was going to court for this particular date or why it was that I was going before this particular county worker. If they could understand that, it would make an enormous difference.

And so I think those are just a couple of the kinds of things that I heard, but I think the other thing is when you think about, for example, the concept of human centered design, that the way in which one serves people, whether it's in a hotel or in a restaurant or in a particular industry, people expect a level of customer service that at it's core, respects that client or that customer. And how we design our systems moving forward so that the child or the family is the center of that system, right, is all about the future, and how we use human centered design to make sure that people better understand how they are a piece of that system and how they can navigate with a kind of intuition and with an ease and efficiency that we have not quite seen yet in America's child welfare system.

Lisa Hamilton: Thank you. Those are extraordinary recommendations. Finally I think I'll ask, we have seen over the last several years that more children are entering foster care. What do you attribute this increase to?

Rafael López: It's quite fascinating. There are a variety of takes on why these numbers have changed. So I'll give you a couple of examples that are driven by insights in the data itself and trends and what is widely available regarding to AFCARS, which is again the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System, which is how we as a nation take a look at trend in foster care across the country. So one of them is, there's thinking out there, that the rise in opioid use is putting more families at risk, and there are a variety of thoughts about direct causation, but I happen to believe that because the way in which the data is reported is not real time, especially upwards from the local governments to the federal government, that we see trends too late, which is that if we had sort of a data analytics to better understand, at the local and federal level, we could actually more robustly target our services.

And that would make an enormous difference and the use of analytics in a way that has never been used before in child welfare in this country. So one of the reasons that we are seeing a spike, if you will, is the rise in opioid use and there are, some would argue that there isn't a direct causation, in some parts of the country, there is and I have met child welfare leaders at the state and county and tribal level that could anecdotally tell you that multiple generations in a household sometimes are struggling with opioid use. So that is one of the factors.

A second factor is oftentimes what we're seeing related to differential response and what is happening with particular systems in terms of how they're serving and supporting at risk families rather than bringing children into care. That is another one of the thoughts out there in the country and that may be one of the reasons why more children are coming into care rather than during their initial CPS review.

A third component and is also the way in which the courts are engaging older youth in the system and not placing them in juvenile justice facilities but actually placing them in child welfare facilities. And this particular last piece is really important because oftentimes people misunderstand that particularly older youth are in child welfare because they have misbehaved and that is simply not the case. I have yet to meet a young person in the country who says, yes, please, sign me up for disruption in my life and move me around multiple times. But the way in which the courts are working more closely with the child welfare system matters, and it's also putting pressure on the child welfare system. That's another reason.

We also know, for example, that sometimes, sadly, a death in a particular jurisdiction at the county, tribal or state level can have an outsized influence on immediate changes in policy that bring more kids into care because they are being more cautious, so these four issues I've lifted up combined, if you will, are some of the reasons we are seeing an increase in the number of kids coming to care, and connected to an earlier question about sort of the future of the child welfare system in America, I would argue yet again, that we have to be much more diligent about the way in which use technology and innovation to drive the data from a stagnant piece of paper on a dashboard or a PDF to driving in real time how we are allocating resources, how we are deploying our staff, so that more people can do the work of human services and social work and ultimately better understand in real time why it is that kids are going into care versus having to wait a year and a half after you get the AFCARS data at the federal level to begin to build insights. Those insights should be building over time, driven by real time data and driven by real time analytics in a way that again, we have not yet seen in child welfare.

Lisa Hamilton: So as we celebrate Foster Care Month, I know that foster parents are perhaps the most important intervention that child welfare systems use to help stabilize children's lives. Could you say something about the types of foster parents you met in your journey and the important role they play for children?

Rafael López: Absolutely. I think the first thing we need to all say to foster parents is thank you. Thank you for stepping up. Thank you for loving and caring our children. I think that people come into foster care as parents in a variety of ways. And ultimately not only do they provide an outsized role in shaping what's happening to a young person in their life, but also, if you will, they're helping us all better understand how we can open up our hearts and our homes to kids who sometimes need it the most.

And I think to myself of the many foster parents I met across the country, the importance of how we share what we know, what we learn also by word of mouth, that there are so many ways in which we can give to our community and our country and there are so many opportunities to help kids in foster care and one of them is by being a foster parent and learning that there is in fact, that it's not as hard as people have sometimes made it seem because parenting is the hardest thing to do when there isn't a manual.

I'm a father of two boys and it is the most beautiful and the hardest job I have, and that is no different for foster parents, so this notion that one can't foster parent because I don't know exactly how I'm going to serve a kid who's struggling. Well, guess what? We are learning that together as humans, as Americans, as citizens of the world, and so when I met foster parents across the country, it was simply sometimes thanking them and supporting them and talking them through the reality that we all struggle in how to be parents. In fact, the Children's Bureau launched this ad campaign that was talking about you don't have to be a perfect parent, and the fact is none of use are perfect parents, but we all have the ability and the capacity to love more deeply, and so as we celebrate this month in May and highlight the importance of foster care, we also must support and lift up the parents and the networks that are supporting all of the children who are ultimately in foster care.

And it's also important to lift up kin care. One of things we think about the data on children and the results that they achieve or not when they are in care ties to their placements and ultimately achieving permanency, and we know that from the data over time that children who are placed in home with kin oftentimes do better, and some of this isn't rocket science, it's simply the idea that kids know that it's an auntie or it's my neighbor Lisa who's watched me grow up and she's now going to be my foster parent. There's a variety of ways we need to think about foster parenting in this country, and also use technology and innovation to better match kids with foster parents.

There are so many ways that we could catalyze and expedite the matching of children who are waiting to be adopted, and in this country for example, not just in the fostering, there is over 100,000 kids who are waiting to be adopted. Sometimes fostering is that pathway and it's a foster to adoption pathway. So I think that there are lots of ways we can think about this during this month as we celebrate all of the ways that we can better support kids and families and ultimately it all comes down to saying thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for loving our kids and thank you for stepping up to help them.

Lisa Hamilton: Well, Rafael, I think you have given us a powerful vision for what the future can look like for the nation's foster care system, thinking about ways we can focus more on prevention that keep families together, how we can better utilize technology to make better decisions and more timely decisions for the youth in our care, respecting those families who are involved in the system and providing them with the transparency and information they need in order to be better served within these systems and finally, your call for all of us to respect and support and show appreciation for the foster and kin parents who are helping children who are in really important times of need. Thank you so much for your service to this country. Thank you for giving us a call to action for the future, and thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

Rafael López: It's been lovely to be with you Lisa. Thank you so much for inviting me.


Lisa Hamilton: Thank you. So thank you for joining us today, Rafael, and I want to thank our listeners for joining as well. If you've enjoyed today's conversation, rate our show on Apple Podcasts to help others find us. You can also ask questions and leave us feedback on Twitter using #CaseyCast. To learn more about Casey and find notes for today's show, visit us online at aecf.org/podcast and follow the Casey Foundation on Twitter at AECFNews. Until next time, I wish all of America's kids and all of you a bright future.

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