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Wed, 24 May 2023 14:58
In the US, youth in foster care are nearly twice as likely as war veterans to suffer from PTSD. Placed in foster care at just 11 months old, 2023 Audacious Project grantee Sixto Cancel experienced the faults of the system firsthand. Now, he's the founder of Think of Us, an organization working to reform child welfare by centering kinship care, or placing a child with an extended family member or a familiar adult. Learn more about his plan to help thousands of kids searching for a loving home with one simple, systemic switch. (This ambitious idea is a part of the Audacious Project, TED's initiative to inspire and fund global change.)
Ted Audio Collective You're listening to Ted Talk's Daily, I'm Elise Hugh. Sixth-O cancel grew up in foster care, a roller coaster journey you're about to hear. In his talk from the Ted 2023 stage, he shares how his personal experience showed him a key way to transform the broken foster care system in the US and how his audacious project winning work. Think of us.org uses data to find solutions. When one of the nation's top crime labs discovered a trove of biological evidence stashed away in decades-old case files, it set off a chain of events resulting in 13 DNA exoneration, all connected to one forensic scientist, Mary Jane Burton. Admissible Shreds of Evidence is a new podcast that takes reporter Tessa Kramer on a journey from thinking Burton was a hero to questioning the role of forensic evidence in the criminal legal system. Check out admissible Shreds of Evidence at admissiblepodcast.com or wherever you listen. Support for Ted Talk's Daily comes from US Bank. 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I was giving a new forever family, but it was far from a loving home. I was consistently referred to as the N word. The refrigerator couldn't be touched. She cared more about that check than she did me. By the time I was 15, I was sick of it. I knew that I needed to take matters into my own hands. So after watching law and order, the show, thank God for Olivia Benson. I realized something. I needed to get the evidence of what was happening to me. So I took a recorder and I took some tape and I taped that recorder to my chest and I got the evidence that I needed to get back into the foster care system. Even without abuse, foster care is a tough experience. You don't know what's actually going to happen to you. You're placed with a stranger and you're expected to become family, but if you don't fit in, if you act up a little bit too much, you will find yourself in a new home with new school, new rules, new everything. When I was placed back in foster care at 15, I thought that that was the end of my storm. But it was just the beginning of the next storm. I didn't go back home, went to a few different homes, but unlike many, I was placed in a nonprofit program where I got ready to live on my own. The foster care system is not doing a good job of raising children. Unsupported foster youth are two to three times more likely to have negative outcomes related to homelessness and incarceration, being sexually trafficked. The mental toll is severe. I want you to think about war veterans. Fossil youth are two times more likely than war veterans to experience and suffer from PTSD. This is why I started think of us because this is the current result of the foster care system. It's designed wrong. So we approach problems differently. We actually engage those who are impacted. We ask questions. We listen. We take the collective experience of thousands of people who are impacted and turn that into data and insights that then we know what are the most broken pieces of the system and where we can start to redesign it. We work with leaders across the entire sector, people with lived experience to co-design new solutions. Then we do whatever it takes to implement those solutions. I want to give you an example. We overwhelmingly heard from teenage foster youth that they were being misplaced in group homes. The system was acting like they have nowhere to place these children. Turned around, we sent our researchers out, and what they were able to reveal was that the majority of those children actually had extended family members that they could have lived with. On top of that, that they were having these very traumatic experiences. We collected those voices and lifted them up. The vibration of the truth of what they shared with us was so strong that it helped inform litigation brought on by the United States Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division. It helped inform an investigation into institutional abuse by these four-profit group homes by the United States Senate. It helped inform an amicus brief that went to the United States Supreme Court. That is the power of lived experience. The key to transformation is lived experience. For the past eight years, we've listened to thousands of young people, and it's become so clear that there's one key thing that we need to transform. That is who children in foster care get to live with. Ken, we believe that Ken can transform the foster care experience. Ken's ship care is when a child goes ahead and is able to live with an extended family member, or an adult that they have already known, an adult who loves them. That adult can be a church member, a close family friend. What we now know is that research is showing that when children are in a place with Ken, they fear way better from mental health to stability to graduating high school on time. Yet, only 35% of young people in the foster care system are actually placed with Ken. But it doesn't have to be this way. In one state, in partnership, we went in and we implemented some simple solutions, like let's act young people which adults and their family they should live with. I wish I told you something better. That is one solution. We went ahead and required social workers to get extra approvals if they're going to place you outside of Ken. The result, the initial placement with young people in the foster care system, in a situation where they were living with Ken, rose from 3% to over 40% in just two years. In another state, we looked at a county, we looked at that state, and in one county, they were able to figure out how to place over 80% of those children with Ken. So the idea that young people don't have a adult in their life who can step up is not true. Here's what this shows, that when the system believes that children should be raised in family, guess what? That the children are actually raised in family. For me, I was almost 30 years old when my sister called me while I was visiting New York City. She told me that in just three hours that my father's side of the family was going to be having a family reunion. They didn't know I existed, and I didn't know that they existed. And so I raced over to Harlem, walked through that park looking at every single family, wondering which one was mine. When I finally arrived, words can't describe that moment. They were kind. They were accepting. They were curious about who I was. And then about 90 minutes in, everything changed. I discovered that I had four aunts and uncles who had been fostering longer than I had been alive. In that moment, all I can do was go into my pocket, pull out my phone, open Google Maps, and GPS to my last foster home. 58 miles away. My whole life, I was always 58 miles and a couple questions away from being raised by people who could have loved me, by people who could have been my family. The worst part about this is that my story is actually not unique. That every single year, hundreds of thousands of children are entering the foster care system, and they're not being placed with family. And again, it actually doesn't have to be this way. The system spends over 30 billion dollars on less than one million families a year. That is more than enough to make sure we find family, we support them, and that every child is living in a loving family situation. Right now, there's a big systems change opportunity, a federal decision that would make it super easy to have people who are related to a child step up and say, I'm willing to do this and get that support. If approved, we would see three billion dollars shift from traditional foster care to kinship care. So when we work on these crazy ideas like, let's make kinship care the norm, it is actually possible. And I want to leave you with three things to think about. Number one, I came on this stage with like a very simple idea. Children should be raised in family. How can we replace the majority of foster care with kinship care? Number two, how do we center those who have been impacted, those who have lived experience, and making kinship care the new norm as we design it and implement it? In the last part, I want to tell you, we need some help. We need some allies. We need you to become advocates with us. And you don't have to be a foster care expert to know the power of family, and to know that every child should be being raised by family or someone that they know when it's possible. I'll say this, I truly believe right this pivot point. And then if we push just a little bit harder in this very moment, that we can actually live in a new reality where when children have to come into the foster care system, that the first thing that is looked at is extended family, it's people that they know. And if we are able to achieve that, we will literally be able to ensure that millions of children will come off of that school bus, go into their homes, look at family members, people that they know, and say, I am loved. Thank you.