28 Nov Nonprofit Highlight: Giocosa Foundation
December’s conversation is with the leadership of the Giocosa Foundation, a foster care/adoption organization that operates across the state of Texas.
Secret Sauce Ingredients
- Niche Identification
- Early Inroads With Donors
- Employee Flexibility
- Freedom to Dismiss Volunteers
- Full Leadership Benches
What problem exists?
America continues to experience a foster care crisis – in 2015, more than 425,000 children were part of the national foster care system. The results are typically worst for those that are emancipated and sent out on their own – one in three foster children that age out of the system become homeless within one year after turning 18 years old, and nearly 25 percent of the entire prison population has had experience in the foster care system. A 2014 study also found that half of foster youth fail to complete high school by 18 and just 2-9 percent of former foster children even go on to attain a bachelor’s degree.
Half of foster youth fail to complete high school by 18 and just 2-9 percent of former foster children even go on to attain a bachelor’s degree.
The situation in Texas is quite bleak as well. Roughly 18,000 children are removed from their homes and enter the Texas foster care system every year. Most of these children are removed because of trauma they’ve experienced – in Texas, nearly one in three of these children were removed because of abuse. Moving from home to home within the foster care system can exacerbate this past trauma. In fact, nearly one in three children from the Texas system will exit with a PTSD diagnosis.
How is Giocosa tackling the problem?
Started in 1988 as an independent foster home with 5-8 boys in Austin, TX, Giocosa now has five branches across the state of Texas and serves roughly 200 vulnerable children in foster care every day. Many foster children feel powerless over their lives because of the abuse and neglect they have experienced in the past, and Giocosa seeks to encourage these children to develop self-reliance as well as positive self-esteem by enabling them with the motivation and coping skills necessary to live productive lives. To do this, the organization fights to create safe, nurturing environments for every child. “If I can go home at the end of the day and know that every child we served was safe,” Giocosa CEO Glenn Scruggs noted, “I can know that our organization was successful.”
What makes Giocosa unique in the foster care space?
The Giocosa team seeks to set themselves apart in a crowded foster care space by developing a reputation as an organization that doesn’t cut corners. “We work really hard to abide by all the rules, however complicated they may be,” Michael, the Chief Operating Officer, said. “We have good relationships with the Department of Family and Protective Services and our foster families. We know that the process can be difficult to navigate, and we want to help our families through every step of the process.” Because Giocosa is respected for their transparency as well as their commitment to helping foster families through the necessary hoops, the organization’s current foster families serve as “ambassadors” for the agency to prospective parents when they share their positive experiences.
Because Giocosa is respected for their transparency as well as their commitment to helping foster families through the necessary hoops, the organization’s current foster families serve as “ambassadors” for the agency to prospective parents when they share their positive experiences.
Giocosa is also committed to recruiting and assisting families that are willing to adopt and care for children that are traditionally considered “hard to place.” Because most foster/adoptive families want to bring home infants or young children, older kids are often perceived as undesirable or difficult. More than a quarter of children waiting for “forever families” had been in foster care for more than 3 years, and more than 30 percent were age 10 or older. By actively identifying, encouraging, and supporting foster parents willing to invite these kids into their home, Giocosa hopes to champion some of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society.
I can only imagine how emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing the foster care space must be. What do you do to create a healthy culture?
Model Missional Values
“If our foster families are to have balance, we have to model that with our staff. If our employees have children, we want our office to be a place where they are welcomed and not nuisances. We give them a lot of time off and benefits to signal the value we put on family life,” Glenn stated.
Give Agency to Staff Members
Giocosa empowers staff to do their work as they do it best. “We don’t do ‘knee jerks,’” Glenn said with a smile. “If there’s an individual employee struggling, we’ll pull them aside and straighten things up. But overall, we want to give them the freedom to do what they need to do. We’re big into trusting the professionals that we hire.”
Christina, the Director of Community Relations and Development, said that Giocosa gives employees the freedom to explore their passions. “We are an open administration of sharing ideas, and we aren’t micromanaged. They guide us if we’re feeling stuck, but they give us a lot of autonomy.”
Keep the Organization From Being Built Around One Person
“I don’t put a whole lot of ceilings on people. We also don’t want to put square pegs in circular holes,” Glenn shared. “We need the flexibility to move people around for several reasons. We need to get results, and we also want people to get gratification from the work they do. We want to raise people up inside. We try to cross-train folks, because if I’m gone tomorrow, I don’t want Giocosa to miss a beat.”
“We try to cross-train folks, because if I’m gone tomorrow, I don’t want Giocosa to miss a beat.”
When asked how this happens practically, he emphasized the importance of equipping employees across the board with the tangible skills, certifications, and relationships they’ll need to succeed in leadership roles. “We want people competent at every level,” he said. “We have ten licensed administrators ready to go – more than many agencies that are even bigger than we are.”
What is a big misconception people have about the foster care space?
Sadly, many foster parents demonize the biological parents of removed children. Although many of them have made poor choices or may still be disagreeable at times, Giocosa still fights to see healing, reconciliation, and restoration for biological families. “The ideal is that the bio family can speak into planning for the child’s future,” Michael said. “In the midst of healing, we believe that foster families can serve as amazing examples for the bio families they work with. Some foster families have served for more than 25 years, and they have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with bio parents.”
So someone at your church calls you and is determined to become a foster parent. What do you tell them?
Check Your Expectations
“As good as people’s intentions are, many just don’t know what they’re looking for,” remarked Leigh, the Home Developer. “Some prospective parents may THINK they know what they want because they saw a foster child on TV, but when people have unrealistic expectations, they’re setting their children up for failure.”
Encouraging prospective parents to “dip their toes in first” can help them get a better sense of the challenges (and joys) that are encountered when fostering. To do this, Giocosa suggests families start with something less intense. “The first thing I ask families about is their openness to starting off with respite care,” suggested Jessica, the Director of Compliance and Project Management. “There are so many ‘what ifs’ when it comes to adoption and fostering, and it’s a great starting point for people.”