The Connection Between Environment and Homelessness with Foster Care Counts’ Jeanne Pritzker

October 23, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’ve got Jeanne Pritzker on the line with us. She’s the founder of Foster Care Counts. Welcome to Green is Good, Jeanne Pritzker. JEANNE PRITZKER: Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Jeanne, you have a really unique organization and we’re going to get to that and for our listeners out there that have their tablet or laptop or something open, I’ve got it open on my iPad. It’s www.fostercarecounts.org. Before we get into that, Jeanne, can you talk a little bit about yourself, your journey coming up to this, how you even ended up here creating this amazing and wonderful and very important organization? Share your story a little bit so our listeners can learn about you. JEANNE PRITZKER: I fostered a child who actually was a child of a friend and took her into my home during a time when she couldn’t live at home and that’s how I really got introduced to the whole notion of fostering and then how I really got involved was through an event that I had at my home, which was actually a recycling event, where we took all of the equipment we used for a private party and through an idea given to me by a green event planner, we turned all the equipment and used it the next day to have a beautiful Mother’s Day event thanking 2,000 foster parents and their foster kids for what they do and after that I began to get more connected to various foster care agencies who brought their clients to our event and from there, it snowballed into the full blown organization that I have now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, let’s talk about this. I want to go back. You fostered this child who needed a home at this point. You had your own children though. JEANNE PRITZKER: Yes, I did and since then, I actually have fostered another child who also needed a place to live while she was in school in the U.S. and I found that the experience was not only really great and helpful for the foster kids but also, it was an amazing experience for my own children as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, you know, Jeanne, I’m 50 years old, and I’m so thankful you’re on the show because I’m embarrassed to say that I thought I was a media junkie and I watch and I learn and I try to understand what’s going on in society. This is an issue that somehow has gotten swept under the rug and I don’t know much about it. Can you share with our listeners how big is this problem and how big is this issue that you’re tackling with your great organization, Foster Care Counts? JEANNE PRITZKER: Well, there’s approximately 400,000 foster children in the system today and what that means is when, for whatever reason, a child cannot remain in the home, the local government agencies, the city or the county, will go into the home and take the child and start to get involved in creating a situation where the child can be cared for while the family of origin does what it needs to do to get itself back in the position where they can have their child back and the city and the county work very closely with the family while the child is in foster care and the child is taken in and placed with a foster family who has been trained and licensed to have the child in their home and raise the child while the child is out of their home and then hopefully, the family will be able to address whatever issues arose that caused the child or children to be removed or the children can be reunited with their families and in cases where that’s not possible, the parental rights are terminated and those children then become eligible for adoption and are hopefully only adopted by foster families and/or families looking to adopt children. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Jeanne, just to understand the magnitude of the problem, so you say there’s 400,000 or so foster care children out there. What’s the gap? How many families are really helping here and how many families are needed for these 400,000? Do we simply just not have enough families that are knowledgeable about this or understand how important a topic this is? JEANNE PRITZKER: We definitely don’t have enough families that really have the capability or possibly the knowledge to take in foster children. It is quite a complicated situation because once you become a foster parent, a foster family, then you’re dealing with lot of different government agencies who are working with the children and the biological families. You’re dealing with the court. You’re dealing with all kinds of therapists and lawyers and there is a tremendous amount of work involved but, like having any child, there’s a tremendous amount of work involved with children and fortunately, we do have in our country many, many wonderful families willing to step up and say, ‘I raised my own kids. I’m raising my own kids. Children are here. I’m going to help,’ and they do step in. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Jeanne, at the top of the show, we were talking about how you founded this organization. It was through a second day event and that’s a form of great recycling but you also have some very interesting takes on other important reasons why recycling interconnects with Foster Care Counts in terms of fundraising but also in terms of parents that can recycle their lives and their times. Can you share with our listeners your take on the intersection of recycling and Foster Care Counts? JEANNE PRITZKER: Yes. I think that one very critically important skill that might be available to be recycled would be parenting skills and I myself know many, many, many families where their children are going off to college and the parents have spent 20 years becoming professional parents, raising their children, and now they have all these skills and for people who are interested, they would be able to recycle those skills in helping to raise children who can’t be in their homes at the time and even for people who are not able to become full foster parents, I think that one of the most important things that any person could do for a foster child is to become a mentor and, in particular, I’m interested in virtual or electronic mentoring where by a member of the community connects with particularly a foster teen because they’re so involved in the technological world and with the internet and can help mentor a teen through emails and texts and phone calls and Facetime and Facebook and really help to give those kids some of the extra attention and knowledge that they need to grow up. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Jeanne, again, for our listeners out there, we’re on the line here with Jeanne Pritzker. She’s the Founder of a very important organization, Foster Care Counts, and she’s teaching us about and educating us with regards to how big a problem this really is in the United States and how we all can get involved and please go to her great website, www.fostercarecounts.org. Talk about some solutions and possibilities, Jeanne. First of all, if there’s a listener out there, this show airs across America on Sirius XM thankfully and then gets uploaded across the world and I’m sure foster care is not something that’s endemic to just this society that we live in but around the world where people can relate but if people want to support your great work and your great platform, how can they do it? I’ve read and you’ve shared with me there are some recycling ways they can do it in terms of recycling some of their goods but also, is there donations or other ways to interconnect? Because I’m on your website now. It’s amazing and you’ve got lots of partners. You have an email list. You also have ways to contact and events so can you just share how people can become part of the solution if they’re feeling motivated after listening to you today? JEANNE PRITZKER: Well, two things that we’re working on that we could use direct help with and the most important one right now is that we are buying computers for foster teens who would like to go to college because most of the foster youth who are going to college do not have computers and particularly those who have already aged out of the foster care system, which can be either 18 years old or 21 years old, those kids are in school and they’re trying to get a post secondary education and they just don’t have the technology available to them so they’re waiting in long lines so we have this really, really incredible program where for 175 bucks, you can buy a computer for a foster youth that’s fully loaded with software, that has 24/7 tech support, and that really will help them change their life and get through college and try to make a difference for themselves and for their own biological families and so we’re doing that and you can learn more about that on the website and also, we are working on development of a videogame that will teach foster teens independent living skills that they need as they age out of the system and grow into adults and we’re attempting to do it in a really fun, engaging, entertaining way that is more comprehensive and holistic than trying to learn things out of textbooks and papers and workbooks and so we’re taking donations as well to help us develop that videogame. Those are our two main projects that we’re working on at this moment but in terms of recycling, any family or anybody with household goods or clothing or toys or books or supplies can donate those items to their local foster care agency and the agencies will get them to the families that need them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, and then if people want to donate to your great organization, they can also do that online. JEANNE PRITZKER: It can all be done online. JOHN SHEGERIAN: In the readings and on your website and in some of the readings about the great work you’re doing, you have a fascinating interconnection between there’s an environmental impact and homelessness and if we don’t get these kids brought into the bigger tent of society and socialized correctly and raised correctly, obviously on the other end, they can come out and be on the wrong end of this, potentially homeless one day, unfortunately. Can you explain how you view the environmental impact issue with regards to homelessness, Jeanne? JEANNE PRITZKER: Yes. Well, we know that the rate of homelessness for former foster youth is very, very high and there are many studies that suggest that the percentage of former foster youth who have spent time homeless is at least 50% and we know that there’s a large problem with the effects of homelessness on the environment. There was a big study that was done by the Center for Problem Oriented Policing that showed that homelessness negatively impacts the environment through many means and one of the big ones is through increased incidences of fires, which resulted in destruction of plant and animal life as well as buildings, neighborhoods, surrounding area where the homelessness is occurring and they also pointed out that homelessness creates excessive improper disposal of hazardous materials, biohazardous materials, of inadequate human waste disposal, and also garbage disposal, so being homeless does create a negative impact on the environment and we do believe that if there were more foster families available to help raise foster children that the homelessness numbers due to this situation would diminish and that the effect on the environment would be improved. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Jeanne, for those who don’t know much about this whole system, can you explain? When you step up and contact your organization and like you say, get licensed and want to be a foster parent, what’s the commitment for it? Is it for a month? Is it for a year? Is it for the total length of the childhood of that particular child? Practically speaking, how does it work? JEANNE PRITZKER: Well, most licensing and training occurs at either the city or county level in whatever state it is and there’s a training program that potential parents go through and the number of hours required depends on the state and there’s a home visit that the state will make to make sure the home is safe and there are background checks and many measures to make sure that the family the children are going to is suitable and safe to be involved in being a foster family and then the families then, once they’re licensed, then they’ll work with an agency or social worker to accept suitable placements and there’s actually a lot of flexibility in the kind of placement that a foster family can have. They can specify. Some families just take foster kids for a couple of weeks or for a short emergency time while more permanent foster family is chosen. Some foster families take children in and will wait one or two years with the child to see what happens with the family reunification program and see whether the children can be reunified with their families. Some families are exclusively looking for foster children whose parental rights have been terminated and then they may foster them for an undecided amount of time while thinking potentially of adopting so there are many, many different opportunities and solutions. JOHN SHEGERIAN: There’s lots of ways to win. JEANNE PRITZKER: Absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Jeanne, we’re down to the last three minutes or so and you are so inspirational and it’s my belief that really, truly, we’re going into a new era right now. It’s a woman’s world and there’s going to be more women activists like you. I’m hoping we’re going to break through the next glass ceiling if we end up with a woman president. I have a daughter and that’s my true hope. Can you share backwards a little bit with other young ladies in the United States and around the world that want to make a difference? Can you give some just of your pearls of wisdom on how they can go about making a difference, not just making a living anymore but making a difference in whatever they do? JEANNE PRITZKER: One thing that was really helpful for me is I was trained as an investment banker and I’m actually also finishing a doctorate in psychology right now and so I think it’s really helpful to take the skills that one is learning in school and as they grow and try to really see how those skills can be used in making the world a better place because there’s applications for every kind of training that a person could receive, not only to earn your living and raise your own family but to look around and see what entity or sector needs help and assistance and apply those skills to those areas as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. Was this how you were raised or did this consciousness come as you evolved through college and upper master’s programs and things of that such? JEANNE PRITZKER: I think it evolved as I grew up enough to be able to start looking at the world around me and as my life became settled enough so that I wasn’t solely worried about what I was going to do and who I was going to be, once I got that settled, and I really think that getting that settled for yourself is important because then you have more energy and to be able to look around and see how you can help, I think it’s something that evolved over time for me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so fascinating. We’re just so honored that you came on the show today. You platform a very critical and important issue and I want our listeners, again, to go to your great organization, www.fostercarecounts.org. Please, as Jeanne pointed out, you can give money. You can give computers. You can donate other materials to the local foster care agencies that are in the partners of Foster Care Counts on her great website and just get involved and if you don’t do that, go make a difference in something else. She laid out a great plan for you today. Jeanne Pritzker, the world needs more wonderful and generous people like you. You are a foster care champion and truly living proof that green is good. JEANNE PRITZKER: Thank you so much.