Fostering Futures Op-Ed Gains Virginia Lawmaker’s Attention

Client: UMFS Fostering Futures Op-ed

Strategy: sharing statistics about what happens to youths if they age out of foster care and how it affects state budgets

It’s a real crisis – a teenager in Virginia’s foster care system turns 18 and is forced onto the street with no help. The solution? Adding to the state budget to provide funding support for teens until they reach age 21, as long as they remain employed. When multiple organizations pulled together to advocate and lobby for the budget amendment Fostering Futures, it was education provided by a local CEO, known for advocating for teens, that created the much-needed education for lawmakers. The education came through the CEO’s op-ed that ran in the state’s largest daily newspaper.

Primary research was gathered through conference calls with organizations advocating for approval of a budget amendment called Fostering Futures, to provide support for foster teens until age 21. The game changer for this project came when research revealed teens who age out of foster care are likely to become homeless, school dropouts, incarcerated, and need long-term public assistance, a service that costs the state millions. By addressing the issue now, future public assistance dollars might be saved.

Additional research was conducted via Internet searches to learn how other states advocated to support teens aging out of foster care. We studied how other markets positioned issues with the media and found a combination of statistics followed by personal stories of these teenagers made the best impression.

With the goal of using an op-ed to educate lawmakers on the need for this budget approval, we leveraged our research and used the

strategy of sharing statistics about what happens to youths if they age out of foster care and how it affects state budgets. The result was developing an op-ed that positioned state lawmakers as “evicting” foster teens from care. It also communicated the example of a parent having to tell their child that when they turn 18 they had to move with no support. After we conducted an initial reporter-type interview with the CEO, we ghostwrote the op-ed and got an approval.

 

We strategically pitched the op-ed to the state’s largest daily newspaper, based in the state’s capital of Richmond, VA. This gave it the best opportunity to reach lawmakers while in session. We emailed our pitch and the op-ed, then followed up by phone to explain the issue at hand and timing since lawmakers were considering this budget amendment.

We saw an immediate reaction as the state’s Department of Social Services shared a link to the op-ed with its entire staff noting a call to action to contact their local legislator. We also received an email from the public affairs director from one local organization we conducted research with saying that legislators read the op-ed and it was bringing greater attention to the topic. The final piece of evaluation was the state legislatures approval of a budget amendment to fund foster teenagers until age 21, if employed. A budget of $3,000 was provided for this project, which we were able to say within.