The Child Welfare system is failing, causing greater harm for, both, the youth and families they’re supposed to be serving. Think of Us, a Research and Development Lab for child welfare, is dedicated to transforming the foster care system so that people with lived experience stand in the center of creating efficient change.
Founded by CEO Sixto Cancel, this organization is a personal passion that came about from his own personal experiences.
“I was adopted at nine, and it was a pretty abusive and racist adoption,” said Cancel. “At fifteen I was able to prove the abuse and go into [foster] care. I thought that was the end of the storm, but it ended up being a second storm that made me realize how broken the system is.”
This realization is what led the CEO to launch his organization while in college. Cancel believes that the foster care system needs to be centered around the lived experiences of those in it, whether it be foster youth, foster parents, caregivers, caseworkers, judges, or funders.
“The number one thing that lacks is having a voice in the system,” stated the Cancel.
Many things within the foster care system are “things that happen to you – where you live, what type of health services that you’ll be required to do – and these choices are all made based off people’s opinions. You’re not allowed to make a lot of decisions by yourself, and these things have consequences.”
Cancel told the LAWT about a time when he’d reconnected with family on his paternal side at the age of fourteen. As someone who “aged-out” of the foster system, which means he was never adopted, never went back home or to family, but stayed in the system until he was too old, he mentioned that no one asked him about his family or where he wanted to live.
“A couple years ago I went to a family reunion just to find out I had four uncles and aunts who were foster-adopted parents. So, this whole time I could’ve been raised by family, but instead I was in stranger’s homes because this wasn’t explored,” said Cancel. “This wouldn’t have happened if I had a voice and choice.”
As a system, people need to rethink the way they consider foster care families. The child welfare system was created off a believed that they [the system] know what is best for you. However, Cancel and his team have discovered over the last couple years that “people know what is best for their own lives.” His organization drives to empower others to use their voice, especially in regards to their own foster care.
“We live in an antiquated system,” stated the CEO. “So, what we need now is for people to be a lot more client centered.”
Think Of Us stands on the mission to “transform parts of the system at a time.” They are a research and development lab for systems of transformation and dedicate themselves to projects that ensure systematic changes be created.
In the city of Los Angeles, Think of Us runs a “warm line”, where families of foster-care children can get support.
“Whether it’s a housing voucher, food, or a crib…we run a warm line where you can engage with us directly. We help you find those resources and refer you to them, rousing that connection.”
Cancel shared that the greatest reward of creating this organization is genuinely creating systematic change. Think Of Us has participated in twenty-six engagements with the White House to elevate the priorities and expertise of child welfare advocates and directly inform their Build Back Better plan as well as a Foster Care Listening Session.
They’ve also helped thirty-eight thousand young people, representing them in the only centralized network of people with lived child welfare experience, while making over 300 connections to resources for kinship caregivers and transition-age foster youth through their virtual support service getvirtualsupport.org.
For those who want to follow in Cancel’s footsteps of insinuating change, his advice is to “be creative. Center everything you do and the data that you get directly around the people that you want to impact. If you want to make a difference in people’s lives you have to listen.”
As 2022 continues, Think of Us is working to improve elder-youth services and are working on kinship-care, which would help families get licenses to take care of their relatives and get the right supports.
Sixto Cancel is changing the world with his initiative for change within the foster care system. For more information on Think Of Us visit their website https://www.thinkof-us.org.