Although an extended hiatus has prevented new posts, it has allowed more site visitors to answer the poll that was posted about the degree to which people think that the aging out process needs improvement. The results are captured in this graph below:
As can be seen, the vast majority of site visitors who responded to the poll (87.5%) stated that the aging out process needs a complete overhaul or significant improvements. As this is only an opinion poll, the reality of how much the aging out process needs to be improved is not reflected in this data – it may or may not need dramatic changes. However, what is clear is that the perception of people who have some familiarity with the foster care system is very negative.
In business circles, the company brand is not just the logo and tagline – it is also the overall perception of customers’ (or potential customers’) opinion of the company services or products. (See http://documents.corpu.com/research/CorpU_Astounding_Value_of_Learning_Brand.pdf to learn more about perception and brand.) A strong brand is one in which most people think highly of the company services or products. A weak brand is one in which most people think poorly – or are unaware of – the company services or products. If we consider the aging out process as a service of the government’s foster care system, what we have here is a very weak foster care aging out brand.
People’s opinions about a company’s products or services is a result of three things: the brand promise, brand marketing, and brand experience. The brand promise is the claim that a company makes to its customers or potential customers about their products or services, such as how fast they will be shipped, how good they will taste, or how low they will cost. The brand marketing is how and how well the company communicates the brand promise to its customers and potential customers. Finally, the brand experience reflects the quality of the customer’s interaction with the products or services. For example, if a customer purchases a product from a company that claims to have the lowest prices, but then finds one or more of the same product for less money elsewhere, the brand experience is not very good. However, if a customer returns a product to a company that claims to have amazing customer service, and indeed received fantastic customer service while they resolve the problem, then even with a glitch in the product experience, the brand experience may be quite good. It is when the brand promise and the brand experience do not line up that customers’ opinions worsen.
I go into all this to make the point that the government’s brand marketing and promise about aging out and what people actually experience are completely disconnected. I’ve seen articles claiming that the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program is making huge strides in improving the aging out process (brand promise and marketing). However, if that is true, it seems that the sample of people who filled out this poll do not see that positive impact.
If it is true that the Chafee program is so great, then the government and/or foster care advocacy groups need to do a much better job of marketing the Chafee program and its benefits so that everyone involved in foster care will be aware of and can adopt its aging out methodology. The challenge is that the states run their own foster care aging out programs, so having some kind of centralized brand promise and marketing effort will be extremely difficult. I believe that more work needs to be done to collect and communicate effective aging out strategies in some kind of centralized fashion. Then, when these strategies are confirmed as effective across state lines, they can be adopted by state programs. Over time, when the majority of state programs are using these proven strategies and are seeing positive results, then an aging out brand promise can be crafted and marketed nationally. This is kind of a cart before the horse approach, but it may be the only way to build a new, strong brand promise and brand experience given the disjointed approach to foster care programming in the U.S.
Wouldn’t it be great to be known as having the best foster care aging out results throughout the world? And other countries would be looking to us for answers as to what strategies are the best and most effective for foster youth aging out of a foster care system? Definitely, and the Aging Out Institute is optimistic that this lofty goal can be reached, but it first requires a central repository for not only aging out programs across the country, but also aging out strategies that are working well in every state.