With a tumultuous year ending, we all need a reason to feel genuinely hopeful. You may not find it on the news or in the headlines, but you can find it in a growing number of communities across our country if you know where to look.
It starts with a boy named with Marcus.
Marcus’s school recorded him as absent 28 out of the last 30 days of school. Already on the court’s radar screen for truancy, he was on the verge of being expelled.Far more often than not, when kids like Marcus are court ordered to attend school, the assumption is they don’t value education. For kids that don’t—or can’t—comply, the result is they end up advancing in the justice system, not the educational system.
But FFI is in partnership with the court that oversees Marcus’s case, working with court personnel to improve outcomes for youth and families by focusing on wellbeing. So the court officer worked to understand the tradeoffs Marcus faced around going to school. And here’s what she found out:
- Marcus’s mom worked nights, which meant she couldn’t put her kids on the bus in the morning.
- Marcus’s little sister’s bus came after his.
- Marcus felt it wasn’t safe for his little sister to wait alone for the bus, so he stayed with her, then walked to school.
- Marcus hadn’t missed 28 days of school—he was late, but most days, still going.
Marcus wanted to go to school, but he wasn’t willing to tradeoff his sister’s safety, and his mother couldn’t afford not to work. This wasn’t a kid indifferent to education; this was a kid who valued his responsibilities to the people he loved.
From this different understanding comes a completely different response.
Instead of simply explaining to Marcus he has to get to school on time or face additional consequences, the court officer worked with Marcus’s family to find a trusted neighbor who would wait with his little sister until the bus came. Now Marcus can catch his bus each morning, and be on time for school.
This is what it means to shift our focus from fixing problems to fostering wellbeing—the needs and experiences essential for health and hope. This is what takes us from seeing a dropout to seeing a whole person, with a unique mix of challenges and strengths. This is the reason Marcus gets to go on in school, and not in the justice system.
Because shifting our focus to foster wellbeing changes everything. It changes systems. It changes communities. It changes how we see each other and treat each other.
Think what could happen if a change like this went viral. Imagine if fostering wellbeing was the new charge for all the systems working with the quarter of a million juvenile justice-involved youth (systems where kids and families of color are disproportionately represented by more than twofold). Now imagine bringing this focus on wellbeing to the 400,000 kids in the child welfare system, and the millions of families grappling with challenges of poverty, violence, trauma and oppression every day.
Together with a growing cohort of pioneering systems, nonprofits and communities, FFI is spreading this new way of seeing and responding across the country. And with this, FFI is sparking broader change that is replacing poverty, violence, trauma and oppression with wellbeing, equity and justice.
That’s a pretty great reason to be hopeful for the year ahead.
From improved law-abiding rates in juvenile justice systems, to changes in how domestic violence survivors are seen and helped in programs, to state funding in Massachusetts and Missouri specifically focused on increasing wellbeing, to a partnership community in St. Louis working to increase access to wellbeing for children—it’s real, lasting change.
Individuals and foundations—allies like you—fund two-thirds of FFI’s change efforts. You are the reason we’ve been able to continue our collaboration with the St. Louis courts, and make a difference in the lives of kids like Marcus. You are the reason other communities are taking notice, getting inspired and proving what’s possible—for individuals, families, systems and society as a whole. Thank you.
So be hopeful. Be a changemaker. And be generous. Because FFI can’t do its part without you.