As a home for nonprofits, foundations, and corporate allies engaged in every kind of charitable endeavor, Independent Sector is proud to have a long history of working on public policy issues that impact nonprofits across the board. We are also fortunate that our efforts often entail working closely with many of our own members that are engaged in the public policy arena. One such member, Voice for Adoption (VFA), strives to encourage sound policies that are in the best interest of our nation’s waiting foster children. To learn about this aspect of their work, we spoke with executive director Schylar Baber.
IS: Tell us about the role you play at your organization.
SB: Voice for Adoption was founded in 1996 to educate and lobby Congressional offices and other policy makers on behalf of the children currently in the U.S. foster care system who are waiting to be adopted, and the families who adopt them. We were founded by seven adoption and child welfare agencies who recognized a specific need for children and families involved in child welfare that were waiting to be adopted to have a voice on Capitol Hill. At the time, their decisions were being made without the expertise of the adoption community. Often this left agencies to be reactive, rather than part of the change and political process.
VFA has been part of every major child welfare reform effort of the last two decades including the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increase Adoptions Act, and the more recent 2018 Family First Prevention Services Act.
IS: How did you become interested in working in public policy?
SB: I found my career path by following one opportunity to another. My early career was in higher education access. My internships and time spent serving on the boards for three different child welfare and foster care organizations, and my tenure as a commissioner on the Protect Montana Kids (PMK) Commission all pointed me towards policy and advocacy. In 2016, a close professional colleague left this position, and recommended that I apply. I felt that becoming the executive director of a national nonprofit was lofty, but well worth it. When I was young and in foster care, I would often feel alone and that life was brutally unfair. VFA has given me the chance to make sure that someone is fighting the good fight, and that even the youth in care that feel alone and forgotten are truly not forgotten. They have a voice, even if they don’t know I exist.
IS: How do you engage your constituents and partners in these advocacy efforts?
SB: We work through our member agencies across the U.S. to inspire and educate constituents at the state level, including families, foster alumni, and child welfare professionals. We do this through sharing information and best practices, and our programs. Our major program is the Adoptive Family Portrait Project that is on its 15th year. We pair constituent families from across the U.S. with congressional offices here in DC. The Members agree to display a family portrait and story in their offices during National Adoption Month in November. We also hold a briefing and project display during that month.
IS: What has been the most noteworthy area where you have seen progress lately?
SB: Most noteworthy is the focus on preventing foster care altogether. There are half a million children in foster care and not enough families to care for them. We also know that children in foster care experience trauma, often times even more than if they had remained with their families. The Family First Prevention Services Act opened up the primary funding source for the foster care system known as the Title IV-E entitlement, for the first time preventing children from ever entering the system. Previously, this funding would only be accessible after a child entered the system.
Learn more about Voice for Adoption’s advocacy efforts at voice-for-adoption.org.