We do two things: CONNECT the community of alumni together in order to be an extended family for one another, a source of support and information, and a network of people with a shared culture and experience; and we TRANSFORM foster care practice and policy. We do this by working with our allies to change the stigmas associated with foster care, to identify and address challenges in the foster care system, and to identify the best things about foster care and make sure those things happen more often.
FCAA is not a ‘service provider’, but rather an association. We don’t offer services like counseling, foster home placement, or case management. We do offer a network of alumni, allies, and organizations that join together in order to share a permanent community and to use our expertise to improve the lives of people in and from foster care.
First, we create opportunities for our members to participate in the national community. We do this by providing ways for members to interact directly—at events, through interactive sections of our website (coming soon!), through our Chapters, and through our support of other groups and organizations that convene alumni and our allies. Another powerful way of both connecting the community and educating others is through our community art project, Exploring the Culture of Foster Care.
We also provide opportunities for our members to transform the foster care system by supporting them as public speakers and trainers through our Alumni Leadership Institute and through ongoing conversations and the development of materials through our Affinity Groups. We are building both our agenda and our ability to effectively advocate for change both in practice and policy. Our members are involved in advocacy efforts by working directly with administrators and professionals in child welfare, educating legislators and care providers, and creating awareness with the general public about the needs of people in and from care. We share opportunities through the recruitment of members to get involved with board, volunteer and staff positions within child welfare.
By definition, ‘alumnus’ means a graduate or former student. The term is most frequently used to describe a person’s relationship to a school and tends to be associated with feelings of pride and accomplishment. Claiming this term for ourselves was a long process of debate and discussion with people who share the foster care experience. We considered other terms that we’ve seen used to describe our group like ‘survivors of the system’, and those also resonated with us. We did not want to be identified by a victim status, though we do acknowledge that this is part of the experience that leads to foster care and that happens in foster care for a great many of us. We chose ‘alumni’, though, because we wanted to emphasize our strength and resilience, and carry a title we could claim as a badge of honor.
Bringing the expertise of all of our members together helps youth in foster care in a number of ways. First, we decrease the stereotypes about foster care and the sense of isolation and differentness that so many current and former youth in care experience by being a visible group of role models and ‘success stories’. We make it possible for youth in care to imagine their own futures. Second, we improve the policies and practices that affect youth every day by teaching social workers how to be more effective, by showing foster parents ways to support the strengths and talents of the young people in their care, by influencing the laws that dictate what happens to people in foster care. Finally, we provide a permanent extended family community for young people to join as they enter adulthood. Through that community, many of the ‘family privileges’ that are often missing can be found through each other.
We have 3 categories of membership: Alumni, Allies, and Organizations.
Alumni: adults (18 years and older) who have spent time in foster care, kinship care, or other out-of-home placement.
Allies: adults who have not spent time in foster care, but who value the expertise of alumni and who want to join us to improve the lives of people in and from care.
Organizations: agencies, business or organizations that provide direct or indirect services to people in or from foster care or that want to invest in improving foster care. Organizational members endorse the FCAA mission and seek opportunities to engage the expertise of alumni.
The only qualification is that you are a person who lived in any type of out-of-home care and that you are now an adult (18 or older). Your placement might have been foster care, kinship care (placed with relatives), group homes, residential treatment, emergency shelter care—or a combination of these. You do not need to have left care at 18 in order to be considered an alumnus. You may have returned to your family of origin, been adopted, legally emancipated, or continued your placement by the age of 18. Even if you are still receiving services, you are considered an alumnus once you reach adulthood. Even if you lived in foster care for only a short time as a child or youth, you are considered an alumnus.
We know that our allies have an expertise about foster care gained through their own experience, a passion for improving the lives of youth and alumni, and a respect for the voices of people in and from care. We also know that our allies frequently share the experience of feeling isolated, and that they need a community where they are valued and have opportunities to take action. Our allies often have information and resources that wouldn’t otherwise be available to us. By working together, we increase our knowledge and strength, we enhance our credibility, and we truly make a difference.
We know that there are many youth serving, youth engagement, and youth empowerment organizations already in existence. We work closely with these groups given our shared goals, and we have some overlap in membership with groups who engage alumni. Youth are involved in many ways throughout our organization as we take action to achieve our mission. We do not compete with youth driven groups, but complement them. What hasn’t existed before FCAA is an organization specifically for ALUMNI. FCAA is the single national organization committed to and led by adults of all ages that have lived in out of home placement. Our niche is alumni because there is no other home for us.
Our alumni members understand the foster care system from the inside. This is a kind of expertise that can only be gained by having the experience of living in placement. This includes knowing what it feels like to be in foster care, the challenges of growing up away from our families of origin, the sense of being different from our peers and isolated from the world. It also includes insight into ways foster care can be changed to be more effective and nurturing. All of our members—alumni, allies, and organizations, have their own kind of expertise about foster care from their own experiences. FCAA is a community that brings together these different kinds of expertise.
Your membership in FCAA makes your part of the permanent and vibrant community we are building together. You are part of the network of people with shared experience and deep expertise about foster care. Through FCAA you can build your own extended network of support while using your experiences to make a difference. Through FCAA you are able to connect with others, and have many opportunities to influence foster care practice and policy.
In addition, you receive a quarterly newsletter and periodic action alerts, have access to member’s only sections of our website (coming soon), are invited to participate in opportunities you’ve expressed interest in, and have access to the tools and supports that we are constantly developing.
Two-thirds of FCAA’s Board of Directors are alumni and they have charged us with finding the best qualified individuals to make the alumni voice heard. Sometimes that will be alumni. Sometimes it will be allies. The real work of Connecting and Transforming is done by our members. We facilitate this by hiring the most qualified and effective staff members available to create avenues for our members to join together and to create change.
We began our inaugural membership drive at the end of 2006 and have been getting about 25 new members each week, so that number is always growing. We now have members in all 50 states as well as a number of international members. Our membership increases each day and we expect to have approximately 2500 members by the end of 2008. We estimate that there are 12 MILLION alumni of foster care in the United States and over 800,000 child welfare professionals and countless other potential allies. Reaching even a small percentage brings us incredible power—who do you know that would like to join us?
Chapters are groups that exist for the purpose of connecting and transforming in their local communities. Chapters are the local operating units of Foster Care Alumni of America. These groups have formed specifically to meet our mission in their states. Chapters receive a wide range of support, information, and materials in order to help them identify and achieve their goals.
In April, 2007, we established our first FCAA Chapters! These are located in Florida, Ohio, and Arizona, and all three are statewide groups. In early 2008 we added a new chapter in Texas and then chapters in Maryland, Virginia and Tennessee. We are in the process of establishing more chapters. You can get involved by becoming a member of FCAA and letting us know that you want to be part of the chapter. If you don’t live in a state where a chapter already exists, maybe you’d like to work on starting one! We have open applications for chapters each year. Please contact us at 1-888-ALUMNI-0 or email FCAA for more information. You can also contact us to learn about other organizing efforts in your area.