The National Movement

Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America

The Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Vision (REFCA)

We envision a nation where citizens of all ages and backgrounds become resources to children & youth living in foster care — a country where nobody “ages out” of foster care alone. 

We imagine a nation in which every child is rooted in family and community. This is how we aim to do that:

  • Create a network of cross-sector collaborations at the regional and national level
  • Bring lived experience foster-care alums into every conversation
  • Inspire widespread public engagement, investment, and positive impact
  • Provide Americans with engagement opportunities in their communities to support children from foster care
  • Collaborate and innovate to identify best practices
  • Invite the expertise and innovation of diverse stakeholders, including the Department of Children and Families
  • Offer a scaleable, intergenerational community model that can be implemented in other parts of the country

The Problem We Address

Our nation’s children in foster care are becoming the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

They are being raised by an overburdened system that was not designed to raise children. The child welfare system is under-resourced, social workers have huge case loads, staff turnover is high - the system has been set up to fail. Unfortunately, the public seems to pay attention only when something goes wrong – a kidnapping, injury, beating or death. 

Young people who have experienced foster care are at high risk for unemployment, substance abuse, becoming teen parents and incarceration.

The statistics tell a powerful story:

  • 58% of foster youth graduate from high school
  • 49% of foster youth have been involved with the criminal justice system by age 18
  • 50% of homeless youth in the U.S. have experienced foster care.  


Most Americans think that there are only two ways they can support a youngster placed in foster care - become a foster parent, or adopt.

This is too much to ask of most people. The result is that millions of Americans turn and walk away from the children in their communities who need them the most.

One way to flip this paradigm is to create a mechanism that invites people of all ages from coast to coast to turn around and become resources for foster children and foster/adoptive families in their neighborhoods. Many people have time, talent, love, and skills to share.

The Child Welfare Pipeline

Every year as many as 25,000 young people “age out” of our foster care system alone, without any family relationships or community connections.

This usually happens on their 18th birthday. Suddenly, after a childhood spent in a system that has made every important life decision for them, they are on their own with no one to count on. The result: 25,000 American youth heading into adulthood at risk for unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, early parenting and lives of poverty. This is unacceptable.

The Re-Envisioning Foster Care Movement

With Hal Grotevant and Jen Dolan of the Rudd Adoption Research Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Jane Lyons, Executive Director at Friends of Children, Treehouse Foundation launched the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America (REFCA) Movement with a regional conference in November 2010.

Through the REFCA Movement, Treehouse helps other states develop regional hubs of foster care innovation and collaborative best practices. REFCA is creating a national vision of child welfare that focuses on thriving and wellbeing in addition to safety.  We believe child welfare should be a place where children receive all they need to heal and lead happy, successful lives.

Since 2010, the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement has resulted in:

  • A regional foster care framework and a common youth agenda rooted in community engagement, shared responsibility, collaboration, and innovation
  • The inclusion of lived-experience leaders to bring wisdom and experience to the national stage
  • The leadership needed to broker critical conversations, key partnerships, and a shared vision
  • Broad stakeholder engagement of social workers, parents, researchers, legislators, foster care alumni, higher education, child advocates, museums
  • Growing partnerships with the Department of Children and Families, as well as other child and youth serving agencies, arts and education organizations, business leaders, healthcare agencies and others dedicated to improving children's wellbeing

HEROES Youth Leadership

HEROES Youth Leadership is an important part of the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America movement. Our talented, committed staff support a group of amazing young people as they become leaders in their own lives and in their communities. Open to youth from across the region, we utilize arts and outdoor adventure as tools to develop life skills, effective communication, confidence, and competence.

HEROES Youth have created their mission.

CHANGE - Work together to create positive change in the foster care system so other children coming in have an easier time.

TEACH - Educate the public and the Department of Children and Families about their dreams, hopes, wisdom and what it's really like to grow up in foster care. 

BUILD COMMUNITY - Create a safe, strong, connected community of belonging. No one ages out of HEROES. 

We welcome youth who have experienced foster care and/or adoption, foster/adoptive parents, foster care alumni and other safe, supportive adults who want to be mentors and volunteers. Learn more.