WASHINGTON, DC —Think of Us, a nonprofit research and design lab for the social sector, has received a five-year $47.5 million commitment through The Audacious Project to accelerate the transformation of the child welfare system by leveraging data and technology and centering the lived experience of those impacted by the system. Over the next five years, Think of Us will work with the child welfare field to build a system that invests in child and family well-being.
Think of Us was founded in 2015 by Sixto Cancel, whose own experience in foster care sparked his commitment to the work. He has worked with the White House, Congress, and federal leaders from the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations and has earned recognition throughout child welfare and beyond, including being named a Forbes Top 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur and a White House Champion of Change. Funding provided through The Audacious Project represents one of the largest investments given to a systems change organization led by a leader of color with lived experience.
"This funding is a huge win for everyone who has advocated for using lived experience to create better social systems," said Sixto Cancel, CEO of Think of Us. "There is a growing consensus that we need to keep families together whenever possible, but we haven’t found a path to get there yet. This is where Think of Us comes in: We are building on the work of the organizations who have come before us to center lived experience and bring unique data and tech capabilities to the field.”
Currently, the US spends $33 billion a year on the child welfare system. Despite this investment, after leaving foster care youth are substantially more likely to experience negative outcomes including to homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, and being sexually trafficked. Additionally, only 35% of youth placed into foster care are placed with a family member or trusted adult they already know, despite strong evidence that living with someone familiar versus a stranger dramatically improves youth outcomes.
While 1 in 17 children enter foster care, only 16% of these youth are suspected as victims of abuse; the majority enter the system due to circumstances intrinsically tied to poverty. Nearly 85% of families investigated by Child Protective Services earn below 200% of the federal poverty line. The system also disproportionately impacts communities of color: one in nine Black children and one in seven American Indian or Alaska Native children will spend time in foster care.
The Audacious Project is a collaborative funding initiative housed within TED that aims to catalyze social impact on a grand scale. Each year, they partner with some of the biggest names in philanthropy to nurture solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges. The Audacious Project selects grantees who have innovative and original visions with a proven concept and clear outcomes.
On April 19th, Sixto Cancel will give a TED Talk in Vancouver, Canada, that discusses how the child welfare field can create immediate and significant impact in childrens’ lives by keeping them connected to their families whenever possible.
“We are thrilled to support Think of Us’ visionary goal to accelerate transformation of the child welfare system,” said Anna Verghese, Executive Director of The Audacious Project. “Think of Us has worked with states and counties across the country to prove that their unique approach combining technology and lived experience to create systems change works. We’re so excited to see the impact they'll be able to create as they scale this work up with the support of the Audacious community.”
In the coming months, Think of Us will meet with and source input from lived experts (e.g., youth in the foster care system, birth parents, etc.), state agency directors, advocates, policymakers, and others to co-create a plan to incorporate lived experience into every level of the child welfare system.
“As a collaborator and advocate in the field of child welfare transformation, Think of Us is unique in the way it designs solutions with the power of technology and the expertise of young people who have experienced foster care,” said Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Sixto and Think of Us to scale innovations that improve outcomes for young people, and as a longtime partner, we could not be more excited about its potential.”
Ultimately, Think of Us aims to raise a total of $100 million in funds to support this historic transformation of the child welfare system. The investment from the Audacious funders, and child welfare funders such as The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Doris Duke Foundation and Aviv Foundation brings Think of Us’ 2023 fundraising total to $47.5 million.
Think of Us is a research and design lab for the social sector. Led and guided by people who have been directly impacted by the child welfare system, we are a trusted partner across the field nationally. We publish groundbreaking research, work with cities, states, and tribes to co-design and implement solutions to long-standing challenges, and advise federal and state policymakers on effective, bipartisan solutions.