President and CEO
“We accept a lower standard for kids experiencing foster care, and that needs to stop,” said Shaheer Mustafa, president and CEO of HopeWell, a nonprofit providing comprehensive foster care statewide in Massachusetts.
Mustafa says part of that lower standard is accepting academic setbacks as a necessary byproduct of involvement in the child welfare system.
“Youth experiencing foster care typically experience four to eight placements,” he said. “With every new placement, they lose about six months of academic progress.”
Those losses accumulate. Only 3% of youth who age out of foster care get a postsecondary degree, affecting their long-term earning potential. That figure has remained static for 20 years.
“Child welfare is starving for innovation,” he said. “Pushing the envelope starts with raising the standards for our systems and our providers around what we accept for youth experiencing foster care.”
Mustafa sees housing-first models — which prioritize rapid (re-)housing in instances of homelessness —and high-impact tutoring — which provides continuous academic support in addition to classroom time — as important tools to get (and keep) young people reading on grade level. He sees the fellowship as a chance to move from pilots to scale.
“The next step is building a road map toward population-level change,” he said.