A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Targeting Racial Disparities in Child Welfare

Photo by Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash

The Sauer Family Foundation invests in strengthening the well-being of children so they thrive in their families and communities in Minnesota. After the events at George Floyd Square unfolded not far from our office and home, we decided there is no better time to bring a larger influx of our resources to bear for children and families in our community.

We made the commitment to put $100M in the community over the next ten years, with an intentional focus on targeted racial disparities in child welfare, and diversifying the workforce in our areas of funding, where most of the professionals are white.

Twenty-five years ago, the foundation approached giving by having family members nominate nonprofits who were doing good work. When Colleen O’Keefe came onboard as executive director in 2005, she saw the nonprofits were doing good work, but suggested we could have more impact if we were more focused on specific issues. It took the foundation a while, but she got us there.

Finding our foundation’s focus

The foundation began thinking about root causes for areas we were funding, like homeless youth. We asked ourselves: What’s happening? Why are these young people ending up here? Can we go further upstream to stop it from happening?  For homeless youth, the data showed us that over 50% had been in the child welfare system (child protection or foster care) at some time before becoming homeless. So, we started looking into child welfare.

In 2020, the board and staff engaged in strategic planning, helping create our current focus. We do our best work when we bring together our board members’ passion with the needs of the community. Roughly every couple of years, we reflect on what the foundation has learned so far, and how that might change the way we work going forward.

Addressing systemic racism

We’re not far from George Floyd square. After last summer’s racial reckoning, we went on a steep learning tour concerning systemic racism in Minnesota. It was an awakening for how we focus our work. We found that Native American children are 16.8 times as likely to experience foster care than white children, and Black children are 2.6 times as likely. We have focused our child welfare work on the disproportionality of negative outcomes for American Indian and African American children in our state.

Through landscape scanning and deep ties to the community, we identified four funding areas where we think these resources will make a positive impact:

  1. Building strong family relationships. Funding will support early intervention for families to reduce abuse and neglect and keep families out of child protection, increase kinship care, and prevent youth from aging out of foster care to homelessness. This work is designed to address the higher rate of African American and Native American children being removed from their families.
  2. Supporting efforts to diversify the workforce in education, children’s mental health and social work so that it better reflects our state’s racial demographics.
  3. Building resilience to trauma. We supported the creation of the Minnesota Institute for Trauma-Informed Education (MITIE) which will provide workshops for teachers and fellowships for research on trauma resiliency in schools. We also support school-wide trauma resiliency programs that reduce behavior issues in the school.
  4. Building educational success. This year, we’re starting to work specifically in literacy. We’re funding professional development for teachers to be trained on proven methods for teaching literacy. We are also working to help teachers identify students with learning disabilities in reading, writing and math, so children in low income families have access to interventions.

Sharing power

It’s not only time for us to put more resources into the community, but to SHARE our power with those who know what works best for their community. Otherwise, we’ll always sit in a position of power, while others jump through hoops to try to get what they know they need.

Where we have trusting relationships with grantees, we want to support them with funding, convening power, or whatever resources we can bring to the table. Other than that, we want to get out of their way.

Let’s take a backseat as funders. When the work is community based, allow the community the time, space and resources to do their work.


Pat Sauer is co-founder of the Sauer Family Foundation.

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