Chet Hewitt: Changing Public Organizations: Putting Children First Webinar
0:13 Chet Hewitt: It’s really an honor to be here today. I find that as someone who has kind of been working at the nexus of leadership, public policy, system change and social justice for more years than I care to remember now, that it’s always great to come into rooms where I can see the next generation of leaders and social innovators who will take up a cause that I am certain my generation will not resolve. And that really is a – this idea of creating a more just and equitable world, particularly as it relates to those who are poor and disadvantaged in any number of ways. Lack of access to opportunity, poor education, victimization or exposure to violence, many of the things that young people suffer.
1:08 CH: I know that this cause is really important to this institution, because of the long and impressive Jesuit history as it relates to knowledge and service and education. And that it’s kind of fundamental to its particular approach to changing the world, and it views education as kind of a key strategy for making that actually happen. Not just education in the sense of kind of technical knowledge, which is important in many of the environments in which I work, but as the Dean said, this kind of “heart in hand”aligned with the skill sets required to really make change happen. And rewards that one can derive from doing that particular work, and seeing someone else’s life improved. Someone else’s potential enhanced, some community’s aspiration achieved can be more rewarded than anything we could ever be compensated for for doing in our lives.
2:36 CH: And I’ve had the privilege, and I do consider it a privilege to have been engaged in a number of institutions who had that as its mission, who saw that as it’s purpose, and who afforded me the opportunity to apply my skills, my talents and my passion to those particular causes.
3:00 CH: I want to start with a question in many respects, and you know, can we talk about social justice, we talk about caring for people and as someone who spends a fair amount of my time in rooms with elected officials and senior public administrators, I can tell you that when someone in that room says “social justice”, you know, kind of eyes roll back in peoples’ heads. I mean, really. And the expression that I often see on the faces of those officials, I won’t be calling anybody out, is often one that kind of translates into, “Ok, here comes that utopian request for something that we know can never be achieved.” And it’s a kind of a polite acceptance of whatever that comment happens to be, and then a kind of moving on quickly to whatever’s up next on that particular agenda. And somehow this notion of a more just and fair and equitable world is kind of relegated to the sidelines. You know, not taken as a kind of serious, intellectual construct. You know, not having the ability or capacity to be implemented in some serious way.
4:29 CH: You know, it’s always polite. There’s never any kind of overt pushback. It’s just passed over. Not responded to. And it’s very interesting, because there’s kind of a groupthink around this. Because the whole room can understand, see, experience that and collectively kind of move right on, is what’s going on in that particular space at that particular time.
5:00 CH: Now, I’m not one of those particular individuals. I tend not to believe that, you know, social justice is some abstract concept. I think that what’s going on in the world today suggest to me that it is too important and too connected to this notion of how public institutions go about their business, who they serve and how they actually serve them. And I think this has been exacerbated most recently in terms of the economic downturn. Now, I’m a former county welfare director, and I can tell you that there’s often been this disdain for folks who come into welfare offices. I would often tell my staff in Alameda County that no one comes into a welfare office on a good day. I mean, you show up at nine o’clock, you take your ticket. You’re number 89, and the little clock says they’re on number 3. You know, and you just kind of know it’s a long day and a lot of intrusive questions that you’re going to have to experience through that particular process, often less dignified and I thought I ran a pretty good shop. Fifteen kind of centers in Alameda County, right across the Bay. Thought I ran a pretty good shop.
6:18 CH: But it’s not the most dignified experience. What we have happening now is vast numbers of folks who have no experience with that particular system now needing help and support. Over 50 million Americans have no healthcare. 50 million. Over 100 million Americans are poor or near-poor. Extraordinary numbers. The social convict that tells us how we relate to one another, what society owes to those who find themselves in some misfortune. Not those who we can casually dismiss as being undeserving, though there are no undeserving poor. Being poor is a hard life. It’s a hard life. Try existing in California on $536 per month. Not an easy thing to do.
7:25 CH: But you have new entrants into that system. Some who have worked hard their whole life. And because of changes in the economy, global changes to the economy, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of some help and support. And the pejoratives associated with this kind of resonate across, you know, many, many areas. You hear folks referred to as the “Food Stamp President” because so many folks are suffering food insecurity. It’s not a political statement, but I think that from a social justice perspective, in a country that produces more food than its residents could ever consume. In a state like California, provides 25% of all the food that we grow in this country, that you wouldn’t expect a third of our children to be food-insecure. It doesn’t have to be that way. So this notion of kind of social justice, its relationship to management and administration and leadership, public policy for me is very real, not because I’m prone to simply accepting, you know, amorphous intellectual constructs of some type, but because of a very real, kind of personal connection to what families are experiencing. Now some might question, “Chet, that’s not your plight.” But you know, if you worked for me in Alameda County, you know, I was a director who would show up in a waiting room in my jeans and a sweatshirt, just to see what was going on. And often times could not be recognized by people who worked for me for years. Another face, another person in need. Right? Another number. Another ticket to be served. You can learn a lot about your institution and how it cares for people when, even in that false scenario, you know, one endeavors to try to gain some of the experience, learn firsthand about the experience that people actually have, you know, moving through those particular systems.
9:50 CH: Nonetheless, the outcomes associated with many of the folks that we say that we serve. Now, I’m going to use that as an example tonight. I’m going to talk about child welfare, something that I’m well known for. I like to say that I am loved and loathed for it, depending upon who you actually talk to. But that’s ok because I think the things we did for children and child welfare around Alameda County, which became a national model and I’m actually five years out of that job, I’m still asked to go around and talk to a number of jurisdictions about some of the change we actually made that I’m actually quite proud of because it is nested for me in this notion of social justice.
10:30 CH: But let me talk about – you know – or at least offer up to you a rationale for why I think this is really important. And I actually went – as I was preparing for this talk- and I found a piece I haven’t read for you know, quite some time. It was written by Fr. William Ferree in 1948 and it was titled, “Introduction to Social Justice.” It was re-released in 1997. I actually read it probably shortly thereafter. And in it, Norman Kurland, who actually wrote the forward, offers up the Good Father’s definition of social justice.
11:11 CH: And he says, “it is work done in association with others to restructure institutions and laws, to advance the perfection of every person and family affected by that institution.” I so wish I would have written that. He goes on to state that, “social justice, in turn, can be measured for each institution in terms of its success in elevating the dignity, status, power and well-being of every person it serves.” Beautiful. Beautiful. In these straightforward statements, he answers two very important questions. “Why social justice?” The advancement of the perfection of every person and family you work with and for. And, “What can it help us achieve?” The kind of elevation of the dignity, status, power and well-being of those in need.
12:22 CH: Now, as someone who works around health, this concept or notion of well-being is very, very important because it’s an all-encompassing – kind of an index of health. Alright? It’s about your self-efficacy. How you feel about yourself. Your ability to kind of deal with the traumas and challenges that life will put before all of us who sit in this room. The loss of a parent. The loss of a loved one. A sick child. Part of what helps you get beyond that is your internal sense that you can deal with that as well as your relationships with people around you. This notion of fidelity to relationships. Human beings are social creatures. We don’t want to exist on our own. There’s a deficit in the experience of life when in fact, that is the case. And so we should think about how our systems kind of organize themselves to provide a level of dignity and respect, empowerment and comfort for those that they actually serve, particularly institutions that are in the business of pursuing the public good. In many respects, it is the basis for their creation. And so whether you’re a fireman or a policeman, or human service agency director or health director, you’re working on behalf of others.
14:10 CH: Now, I’m a story teller and I want to share with you a story. And it’s a child welfare story. And then I want to offer some comments on how I worked to create change. And I’m going to borrow your mantra. Your how – “change the world from here.” And I know that it’s a metaphor because “here” is different for all of us. So as I tell this story, my “here” is working first as the Director of Children’s and Family Services in Alameda County, and then subsequently as its Agency Director. It is an integrated public institution as well.
14:53 CH: There are two caveats I want to offer up early, and that is that I don’t want you to suffer too much the details of the story. I chose it because I think it’s a compelling one, but the lessons that I pull out of that particular experience, I have found to be applicable to other areas of work that I have actually engaged in. But as I said, I am a story teller, so it just makes it easier for me to kind of share my experience with you. And second, I just want you to kind of assume as I have from the start that you’re not working by yourself because, you know, social change is not a solo activity. This is not like, you know, figure skating. Individually, because you could be in a team. It’s, you know, more like collective action. At its very roots, it’s about, as Ferree says, “working in concert with others to perfect the lives and livelihoods of those that we actually serve.” And you know, I believe that, you know, when you give these kind of talks, you should leave people with something they can actually take away. They say it’s easiest for us to hold three things in our head at a time. I’m going to leave you with six. This is a university. You’re smart people. You could double that. You can double that.
16:15 CH: And I call them my six maxims, just general rules, expectations for leaders interested in facilitating change from wherever your “here” happens to be.
16:31 CH: Maxim Number One. Change will always be an imperfect art because challenges to it often arrive unannounced and from the most unexpected of places. About 10 years ago, actually 12 years ago, I was working for a large foundation in New York City. I had previously been a foster parent, and I had about five young men who are now grown men, that I had the privilege of raising for part of their lives. They each were able to go back to their families over time. For some, it worked. For some, it actually did not. I’d been a fellow at another large foundation back East, and during my fellowship year, I had actually worked in Alameda County, and thus the relationship between my time, my subsequent time there. And while I was traveling back and forth between New York and San Francisco, I used to run the Foundation’s offices here in the City, I received a call from one of the young men that had lived with me for about seven years. I’ll call him Andre.
17:46 CH: Andre actually called me the social service agency here because he had turned 18, and he was about to be released from care. And if you know anything about child welfare, at 18, if you’re not going to graduate from school in a year, you’re asked to leave your group home or foster home.
18:12 CH: And so he was about to be literally put out in the street, and he was calling me because he was trying to find whomever he could find to help him. He said, “Pop,” which was what he always called me, “probably going to end up homeless if, you know, things don’t change.”
18:32 CH: I hung up the phone from [Andre] after telling him I’m on my way back. I’ll get back late tonight. Meet me at Social Services tomorrow morning at about 10 o’clock. And in maybe five minutes, or three minutes or seven minutes, I really don’t know because I was waiting in an airport, my phone rang again and it was a gentleman whom I had worked for during my fellowship at Alameda County. And he says to me, “Chet, my Child Welfare Director’s retiring. Would you take that job?”
19:09 CH: So I said to myself, “I’ve got this phone call, three, five, seven minutes ago, and then I get a subsequent phone call about an opportunity, and you know, sometimes you find a job, sometimes the job finds you. Some things are kind of prophetic in the way they actually happen, and I said to him then, and we had talked previously, I said, “Roger, I think I’ll take that job. Maybe we can make some changes.” He said, “Chet, change would be great.”
19:43 CH: So I took the job. I showed up on my birthday as the first day. November 30th was my first day as the Child Welfare Director in Alameda County. I was told there were some challenges to the system, as there are some challenges to all child-welfare systems in the country. We had a corrective action plan, and I was supposed to take it up to Sacramento, you know, to the State and deliver the corrective action plan and introduce myself to all the state leaders, you know, as the new Director of Child Welfare. I drive up, I walk into the room, I hand them the envelope with the plan in it, and I’m feeling excited, and they said, “Could you come with us, Mr. Hewitt?” I said, “Of course.” They said, “We’ll take you into Counsel’s Office.”
20:21 CH: Counsel’s Office? You know, we have a counselor sitting here. Often, not a good thing. Particularly for the new guy. Larry Bolton. Never forget his name. General Counsel, Health and Human Services, State of California. I walk into Mr. Bolton’s office, and he hands me an envelope. I said, “Is it a subpoena?”
20:44 CH: He says, “No, but it’s something that you’re really going to want to read.” It’s what’s known as a “10-605 notice.” It was a threat of state takeover from the state. The system had been performing so poorly for so long the state has decided that the county should not be running its own child-welfare system anymore. So it was a very interesting two weeks on the job. And I remember my supervisor back at Rockefeller, who warned me about taking the job calling me up after it was kind of front-page news in the Chronicle, and saying, “Chet, do you want your old job back?” I said, “Julio, no. I think I’ll stick this one out.”
21:24 CH: Fifteen years of field audits, threatened state takeover, a system that operated with, you know, a lack of accountability, despite it being the parent, legally, of five thousand children in the county. And we knew we had to do something different. We had to make some change. A week and a half after that, the person who recruited me decided they were actually leaving, and took a job in San Diego, where the sun shines more often and it’s a little bit warmer. I thought he was trying to get out of the heat myself but maybe he was just trying to change jurisdictions.
22:12 CH: So as I said, you know, if you’re in this business, you know, expect things to arrive from unexpected places. It’s an artform, change. It’s not a linear process. And sometimes challenges can really be an opportunity to make things happen that perhaps otherwise, you know, would have not happened. And we did great. The quickest turnaround in the history of the State of California for a so-threatened county child-welfare agency. We put together a new type of corrective action plan. I actually told the state theirs actually didn’t work so well. We put in timelines and outcome measures, built an evaluation team to determine whether we were making progress. Had focus groups with parents about their expectations of the system. Decided we would be a more inclusive and engaged system. And we talked to Behavioral Health. And we talked to the Income Support side of the program to get families what they actually need. And in 18 months, the state retreated and we had full control over the system.
23:20 CH: We were, as they described, compliant with the regulatory framework that was developed by the State. And then we began to look at what we were doing. And we were not satisfied. And I can tell you that’s where Lesson Number Two comes in because if you’re serious about social justice, if you’re serious about systemic change. If you’re serious about helping the poor and disadvantaged, then you’ll realize that change will likely require for you to do much more work than being compliant. Compliant is important and insufficient at the same time. All of our “i’s” were dotted. All of our “t’s” were crossed, but we still had some serious problems. There was a kind of ongoing misalignment between family needs and the services and supports we actually offered. Now, we got our court reports in on time, but perhaps we didn’t visit Johnny on time. Or afford his mother perhaps the opportunity to receive the benefits of good social work. That’s not part of the regulatory framework. My staff would say, “You don’t have to worry about that. No one’s measuring that.”
24:51 CH: We had a strong focus on process, not on outcomes. And we had a severely limited capacity to discuss one of the things that was most troubling about the way the system operated. In a county where 15% of its 0-17 population – that’s who Child Welfare serves – was African American, over 70% of the kids were African-American. 70% of the kids, but nobody’s measuring that. That’s not a regulatory violation. That’s ok.”
25:35 CH: No. It’s really not. Something’s wrong. And we should be comfortable enough as professionals to ask ourselves the serious questions about what is driving that. We directed a study of over a thousand blue sheets, just – for every call that comes in gets a blue sheet. And we found that 75% of our kids came from three communities: East Oakland, West Oakland and South Hayward. We looked at the reasons that they were brought into care and we compared them to communities that were not of color from the eastern part of our county, where – that had similar allegations. We found that less than four to five percent of those kids came into care. We knew that this connection between poverty –alright? – and abuse was being misinterpreted by staff. They would go into a household that perhaps didn’t look as nice or a community that wasn’t as fancy and would seem or believe that it was somehow more appropriate to bring those children into care.
27:00 CH: Now if you know about the long-term outcomes for kids who grow up in foster care, it’s really not a good thing. Over 50% of them, if they age out of care, will be homeless within two years. Half of the young women will be parents. Between 50 and 70 percent will never finish high school and about 40 percent of the young men will be in jail. A study done in California found that some 60 to 70 percent of inmates serving life terms were actually former foster youths. So, you know, it’s not a system that you want children to grow up in. And as far as not being regulatory violations, I said we knew we had to do something about that. So you know that this notion of simply being compliant is just, you know, not aligned with this notion of social justice.
28:00 CH: Now if you know about child welfare, people will say, “Chet that’s changed. We have new laws. We’re focused more on outcomes,” and that is true. And it is late in coming and a great thing to have happen at the same time, but I will still say that many of the problems that the system has had for a generation are still very present.
28:27 CH: Number Three, which is also very important because, and it says simply that change requires more than a vision and a pithy mission statement. It requires a clear and consistently applied set of core values. This is really, really important because at the social service agency, we had a nice vision statement, had a clear, kind of pithy mission statement. We didn’t have a values statement. And values are important. Core values are essential because you have got to be able to understand and test whether the things you actually do are aligned with the values that you say you actually have. Mission statement are often kind of vague and don’t speak to process. They speak to this usually aspirational statement of something that you want to achieve. That’s wonderful, but insufficient in the kind of mechanics, the management side of making change happen. You’ve got to be very clear.
29:38 CH: We decided that our kind of orientation would say “Children and families first.” And that our values would be applied by testing what we were proposing against this notion of does it put children and families first? And we made it short and sweet because we said to folks, “You know, you could test it before you bring it to us, and if it fails your test, you can kind of keep the idea to yourself because we’re going to be very clear about the type of institution that we really want to be.”
30:21 CH: We’re going to be clear about how we’re going to go about this work. We also said that for us, you know, child welfare or social service was going to be developmental, which was at the heart of, you know, social justice. This notion of development. Human development. In the world of social work, there’s always the challenge between whether the system is residual or developmental. Residual systems are systems that actually seek to help people, when you have fallen to a point that the system has a legal responsibility and legal authority referred to as probable cause to intercede in your personal life. SO we didn’t help families until they had gotten to a point where we could go in and legally remove a child from the parent. That was the standard.
31:21 CH: Our value, or our new value said that, “No, we’re going to be a developmental system. And that meant that if we’d seen someone suffering and struggling, and we became aware of that, we were going to help them before they got to that particular point. We said that communities and families were going to be essential partners in our work. We made the statement and we kind of admitted that there was no substitute for families. There is no substitute for the kind of personal relationships and connections we need to develop as healthy human beings. Love, empathy, compassion, those things are learned. You know, I started my career in juvenile justice and some of the scariest folks I’ve ever met are folks who don’t have that. It’s not something you take from a child without really being concerned about what the long-term implications of that could actually be.
32:23 CH: We knew that no matter how good we were at our work that we were no replacement for that relationship. And I say “family” in the broadest of terms. Fictive relations, we all have aunts who aren’t quite related to us by blood but who are our aunts. Folks who will show up and take care of you. That’s how communities organize themselves. I see heads nodding; you know exactly what I mean. You know, those are the people that you have got to bring into a system. It can’t be closed and leave people out.
32:53 CH: We said that leadership and commitment was going to be essential to our success and we were going to value that. We were going to value the expression of that within the system. And not just simply by executive staff, but we wanted peers to hold their co-workers to that particular standard. A good idea is a good idea. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. If it’s the janitor in the back of the room and that’s the best idea of what a good manager can do, let’s surface that idea, right? Work it through. Make it happen. And so, you know, we had this kind of value-driven, core framework that served us, you know, quite well, and from that we were able to move on and actually begin to put a set of actionable and testable strategies into place to ensure that there was a good alignment between our practices and our alignment.
33:51 CH: And we did some very interesting things, often with external funds, and I’ll talk about the importance and limitations on that, you know, going forward. And then, you know, the science behind it. Actually evaluate whether these things had any effect or the hoped-for effect. But you’ll see, as I describe them, how they represent our values.
34:13 CH: We put into place a thing called structured decision-making, the first county in the State of California, and it is a validated assessment tool for the scientists in the room, that actually allows you to determine whether you should bring a child into care. Now I had folks who told me – because I’m not a social worker by training that I was taking away the discretion of the social worker. And I showed them the thousand blue sheets. I said, “That’s the discretion of the social worker right there. 75% of the kids come from three communities.” So if you’re telling me that’s what I’m taking away, you’re exactly correct.
34:48 CH: What I want is a more objective assessment about whether that child is at risk, not if that child is poor. Because some of us who have grown up in poor households know that that doesn’t mean that you’re not loved or cared for, alright? They may not look as nice as some other places people may be exposed to, but let’s not, you know, get too far out of bounds about what that actually means when you’re thinking about interceding at that level in the life of a child. That tool actually helped reduce intakes into the system over the first two years by 50%. And people could not justify it.
35:33 CH: And it actually has an override in it. You can actually override the system, but you’ve got to say why you did that. And it was very interesting to us that people couldn’t come up with justifications for doing things that we knew by – from the data they probably shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.
35:50 CH: We built an alternative response team. I talked about this and that was a system that was really to help families before we had to remove the children. We also put into place a thing called team decision making, which when we put kids in a court, we talked about what was going to happen to a kid that had to come into care. That you could bring anybody into that room that a family wanted. You could bring your pastor, you could bring your neighbor. You could bring your sister. Your brother. Niece or nephew. Because one of the things that we found that rather than putting kids into foster homes and group homes – a traumatic experience for a six-year-old that’s pulled from a home at night, taken to sit in a police station for four hours and then shows up at a home of a family he’s never seen before. Or she’s never seen before. That these individuals were resources. We kind of empowered that family to have some choice. Have some input into how you interceded.
36:34 CH: We built an assessment center and we kind of raised a lot of money to do this quickly. It – there was some benefit to having come from the world of philanthropy. Because when I – I went out one evening and I – and I witnessed the removal of a child, and I said, “Where are they going to go?” And they said, “Well, we’re going to sit in a police station,” I was appalled. I was, actually, I was shocked. And then I was appalled. I couldn’t believe that’s how we organized our system. And so we built a system, a beautiful center for kids that was child-friendly, with video games and sleeping stations and other things. And by holding kids there, you could actually go out and find family members who could perhaps provide, you know, a place for that child to go. So rather than going to a group home, you could actually go to your auntie’s house. You know, or to grandma. Or to somebody else who you knew. Who you would feel safer with.
37:41 CH: We expanded mental health services. We built kinship support centers. We were shocked the number of seniors who were raising their children – their children’s children. Grandmothers who had kind of stepped up and stepped in, and were doing this all on their own. These are not folks who are looking for simply a handout. These are folks who are looking for some help, and we should endeavor using our particular framework to figure out a way to do that, to offer to them with dignity and a level of respect.
38:20 CH: I will tell you one of the most important or deplorable things about this because we argued a lot about whether we should be helping with resources these families, who some argued had the responsibility to do this, you know, without our intervention. I can tell you that whenever I sent a child to a group home, one of the worst places you can grow up as a child, we wrote a check for almost $9,000 per month per child.
38:57 CH: Grandma would take them for $500 and some support. Now we were called to provide assistance to folks who had found it within themselves to take on responsibility that we were prepared to pay extraordinary sums of money for, as long as it wasn’t a family member. As long as it wasn’t a relative.
39:33 CH: We also built the largest housing program for emancipated youth in the State of California, working with a good friend, Amy Lemley, who was then – who founded the First Place Fund, a well-known group that actually houses emancipated youth. Who raised some money and gave it to the county that we used to leverage some state and federal resources and gave it all back to them because we understood that when you’re 18, you’re not ready to live on your own. You know, most of us – those who were fortunate enough to go to college remember, you know, being in dorms with TAs because half of us lost our mind when we first got on that campus, right? You can laugh because you know it’s probably true. But we also know that we had people who cared enough about us that when we found ourselves in some difficulty, they were able to help and support us. Because it’s not unusual for someone at that place in life to not always be making the best decisions. They might have seemed like the most fun at the time, but sometimes they’re not the best decisions for folks to actually make.
40:36 CH: We didn’t believe, giving our framework, that somehow our responsibility ended because you had reached your majority. That somehow, we should expect you to be prepared to deal with all of the challenges life would present, and that we would see ourselves as having fulfilled our mission and responsibility because you had reached your 18th birthday. Forget the fact that you were – half of our kids didn’t graduate from high school or that a third of them had no family members to go to. The compliance criteria was, you turned 18. The social justice criteria, the fair-just-world criteria was “Yes, and we’re still responsible for your development.”
41:33 CH: So, Number Five for me. You know, change requires a focus on sustainability and scalability from the start because they are often the biggest threats to preservation. And by that I mean, when you do change and build up these wonderful programs, we did it by raising money. Short term money. Money from foundations. Money from special programs. We tested them. We evaluated and they were all successful. And if you work in a world of kind of social policy, you see lots of pilots come and go. Because if they’re not built into the kind of policy structure, they don’t have a sustainable funding stream to them, then when that temporary money that you actually raised goes away, so does your most effective programs. They’re like appendages of sorts. You know, they get cut off when the dollars go away. And I’ve seen this happen many, many times, particularly having worked in philanthropy. And we were committed early on not to have that happen.
42:40 CH: And so, you know, we started thinking about, well how could we get around this? How – you know, what could we do? How could we move from the knowledge we had gained into the kind of policy environment to actually build a much more sustainable model? One that really represented a deeper level of change. One that would be systemic. That would last beyond my leadership or my time, my tour of duty and actually represent a real commitment not only to social justice but – that’s kind of an intellectual cantle [?]– but a real commitment to the children that we actually served. And a real commitment to the families that we served. And so we took what I consider to be our biggest risk. And this is one – and I said this earlier, that I – about my work in child welfare – about being loved and loathed, depending upon who you speak to. And there has been a cost to this, and we won’t go into that but it’s really, really true. And I just want to say that, you know, these kind of six maxims, kind of work, not – this is not a linear thing. They kind of work interactively because I said earlier that, you know, sometimes a challenge to change comes from unanticipated places, and I can tell you, a lot of my best friends challenge me deeply about what I am – what I will tell you about, you know, next.
44:10 CH: I have a very good friend and mentor who is very well known and will remain nameless, in Washington, DC, who called me up and asked me if I had lost my mind. Actually, she said my good sense to be more accurate, because what we did next was in the world of progressive politics in so many respects sacrilegious in so many respects. We decided that we would rethink the entitlement. Child welfare entitlement program. The Federal government would pay half of the cost of removing any child, any number of children from their homes. Five thousand, ten thousand – they don’t care. It’s not about numbers. The thing that’s a problem with that is that they only support and fund programs after you remove the child from the home. So we had built this huge infrastructure about prevention. Kind of a public health model. Prevention-early intervention. Our case load that was at 5,000 was now at 2,400. Kids were staying home in families. Safe. Families didn’t have healthcare and that was the reason for the call. We enrolled them in subsidized health care. Families didn’t have food. We enrolled them in food stamps. Families didn’t have income. We enrolled them in the welfare program. We found families willing to struggle with all of those challenges to keep their families intact. And we’d seen as our charge the offer of help and support in the most dignified way that we possibly could.
45:48 CH: And what was the result of that? We lost half of the money. We said the world operates on incentives. That’s a big disincentive to doing good. And so we agreed we would take the biggest gamble that we had taken yet. And through the State of California, linked to the Federal government, we applied for what’s known nationally as a “4-E waiver.” And we cut a pretty good deal with the Feds. We said for limited growth, 2% per year, we will be responsible for any growth in our case load beyond that. 100% on our dime. A risk should we have to bring any number of new kids into care. And in return, what we wanted from you was complete flexibility with whatever money we had now and we would grow over time.
47:00 CH: And the Feds said that sounds like a pretty good deal. We’ll take that. We took our pilots which we had been using in different communities, primarily [unintelligible] in the communities that most of our kids came from and we ramped them up so they would be available to everyone. Social justice? That’s equity. Good program. It’s effective. Everybody should have access to it, right? And we found that our caseload continued to decline. The caseload now in Alameda County today is about 1,400 and it’s still declining. We made every one of those pilots permanent features of the child welfare system. The savings after four and a half years is 100 million dollars. So you can not only do well, or do what’s right, you can actually do good in the kind of fiscal sense of that particular word.
48:14 CH: Now in that agreement, we were wise enough to ensure that all the money had to be re-invested in child welfare. So I’ve been around county politics long enough to know that if you save that kind of money, someone will want to spend it on something else. But we took the risk. We said we’re going to spend it on children. That’s exactly what has happened. And all the folks who said that we were tampering with the entitlement – and in fact, we were – you know, we said back to them that no system is entitled to do harm to children. And if that’s what the entitlement was causing us to do, I know this is a Jesuit school, but be damned with the entitlement.
49:01 CH: And that’s my sixth lesson. Change requires that neither the fear of failure or the voice of opposition should ever result in your loss of courage or your willingness to do what you know to be right. And that’s a big one because many of the people that I admired for a long time had some very unpleasant things to say about us. They said we were foolish. Too big a risk. The last few days I’ve been on the phone with a large foundation – the nation’s largest that does child welfare work – and 30 states want to do it. They’re all considering how they too can figure out how to do better by their children, better by the folks who finance that particular system, and in the process, because I think that this is one of the things I think social justice really affords you, is that you think about working the nexus between you know, public policy, social justice and systems change and this notion of good management is a very good feeling about yourself. Because while it was perhaps one of the hardest things I did professionally, and at times really questioned whether it was the right thing to do, it may well in fact be the thing that I will be most known for for the rest of my life.
50:47 CH: Now half of my role as the president of a foundation is just to figure out how to give away money, and folks think that’s very easy. And I say, you think that’s easy until you plan to do it well. Because you can just give away money. It’s actually to earn money because the foundation model is really around having a corpus, investing it and giving away some of the benefits of that. Legally, 5% a year is what you have to give away. And in doing that, you know, we always talk, about the risk-reward premium, right? And that is you will take a higher risk if the reward, the possibility for return is greater. You get paid for your risk. And while this isn’t – it doesn’t completely apply when you talk about the lives of people, we did in many respects believe that the risk of having to pay for new entrants into the system ourselves was worth the possible rewards we could get if we could build a system that was really able to help children. I mean, designed to help children. Designed to support families.
52:00 CH: That was a worthy experiment and one that has proven to be very successful. My successors at Alameda County have done a tremendous job beyond that which I was able to do in terms of our initial, you know, plan for implementation. I said when I started my remarks that it’s always great to be in a room with young folks who aspire to do great things. And Lorie Jones, who is the Director in Alameda County, she was a protégé of mine, she was my “4-E waiver” director, she is now director of the agency.
52:39 CH: Sometimes a little bit of courage, if you’re willing to take a little bit of risk, thoughtful risk. Not just risk, thoughtful risk, to use the parlance of the world of investment, can pay big dividends. We cashed that coupon in. We did quite well.
53:01 CH: So, you know, is any of this transferrable? Does it mean anything else? Let me quickly just kind of move through my next assignment. I left the county in 2007. Went to Sacramento. Managed a healthcare foundation. Now, moved into the world of health, and I found that, you know, everything that I’ve learned and experienced and the lessons that I’ve shared with you were as important in my next job as they were in my last. And I’ll do this quickly.
53:35 CH: The first one was that change is an imperfect art because obstacles are impolite and often arrive unannounced. So I start my job in 2007, new job. Foundation. We give away money. I’m coming out of the world of public sector. I love public sector work. It is hard. But it can be very, very rewarding. And so I think I’m in for another experience, right? And then comes 2008. The Great Recession. Some foundations went out of business. Where’s our money? In the stock market. I’ll never forget March of 2009. The stock market when I started was 14,000. March, 6,600. Did anybody have a dime? Unexpected, new challenge. You know, what do we do?
54:36 CH: Two. Change, particularly if you want to address it through a social justice orientation, requires more than compliance. Well, we could have been compliant. I told you what that was earlier. 5% giveaway, alright? We lost half of our corpus. But in the tax code, there’s a thing called carryover. Small technicality. If you’ve given away more in previous years than your current value, you can get credit for that particular money. We were in a position to go for three or four years, and we didn’t have to give away a dime. We would have been very compliant. Insufficient for a $100 million institution in a community struggling with the great downturn that we would sit on our riches. It was interesting. And we thought about what was happening in many communities, and the reports we would hear because of the parts that we dealt with, so many individuals. And they would often come in somewhat kind of anecdotal wayz. We had – I met with a group of food bank directors, and they said, you know, one of the things that we know that’s really different about this recession, Chet, or this downturn is that we have some very nice cars driving up into the food bank. You wouldn’t believe it. We’re used to seeing people come in sometimes on bikes. We’ve got folks in cars that, like, I can’t afford driving up. People had lost their jobs. Didn’t know where to turn. All of a sudden, those systems of support seem a little bit more friendly. Seem a little bit more necessary. Compliance wouldn’t have cut it.
56:26 CH: I said that change requires more than a vision or mission. It requires a clear and consistently applied set of values. We didn’t have a mission statement or a values statement. One of the things I did when I first arrived was to actually create one. And it actually proved to be pretty valuable because now in this period of challenge, we had to kind of go back to that. We said that we seek opportunities to support innovation and ideas and solutions. We impose high ethical standards. We accept our responsibilities as stewards of the foundation’s resources. We hold ourselves accountable for what we set out to accomplish. And as a  health foundation, our mission was to provide for a healthful life for all of Northern California. Would carryover allow us to do that? If we just stopped giving? The folks who told us that the food banks were bare, we would not support them? IRS couldn’t say anything. We didn’t have to do anything. We decided that we would live by our values. We maintained our grantmaking. We developed a ramp-down strategy. We knew we had to spend a little less. Turned around a million dollar campaign to actually restock food banks and safety net programs across the 26 counties in Northern California. We decided we would help people. That’s who we were. That’s what we were designed to do. And our values, not the regulatory environment, would determine how we would behave.
58:17 CH: I said that change requires actionable and testable strategies. Well, we did that through our safety net programs. I said that we should probably focus on sustainability and scalability. We knew that we were a foundation half the size we were two years earlier. We decided that we would change our model of philanthropy. We’re a private foundation. We don’t usually accept money. We have our own money. We give it away. There’s a very –there’s a real kind of empowerment experience from that, right? Because you don’t have to listen to anybody else’s ideas, you know. You kind of fund what you think is important. Well, in the community, we knew we couldn’t resolve all those issues. We needed outside partners, other foundations. And when you make deals like that with people and you’re working in collaboration – I said earlier about child welfare – it can’t be your own idea. Other people have ideas as well. If you’re going to sit in a room, you have to negotiate things. You have to try to figure out – you have to give up some of that power. You have to share it with other people. In the way we shared power with those families in child welfare. You have to allow their ideas to take some root. And in that, you can find better ways to do those things.
59:34 CH: We changed our program directions to look at the social determinants of health. That’s what we fund, is clinical care. We looked at health disparities and health equity. Fairness being what we’re after in the health space. In those same three communities that most of the kids from child welfare come from, they have some of the highest health disparities in the Bay Area.
1:00:00 CH: Rich talked about – my colleague who was the health director. In a study that he actually did in East Oakland within a two mile distance the average lifespan is 15 years’ different. That’s 20% of a human’s life. You can actually tell in this country how long you will live by your ZIP code. And the most powerful intervention for that? Does anyone know what the most powerful intervention for reducing that disparity is? Education. It’s not access to health care. The more educated you are, the longer you will live. The healthier you will be. It determines the food you eat, the community in which you live. Your sense of self-efficacy.
1:01:11 CH: My last was that, you know, your fear of failure should never cause you to lose your courage to take on that big, risky idea. Seven months ago, I convinced my board to found a new 501(c)(3) called the Center for Health Program Management. I have the pleasure of serving as the President of that as well. We develop a new set of public-private partnerships. We’ve given up some of our power. We shared it with communities who inform us about what they need, like the food bank example. And the impact has been similar. I talked about what has happened in child welfare. Our corpus is half of what it was four years ago, but our giving has increased 300%.
1:02:04 CH: So as you think about change, and you think about new models, and you think about what it means to really engage in collective action, I hope that some of what I shared inspires some of you to not only know or believe that you are quite capable of doing extraordinary things, if you’re willing to really think about change. I’ll also say that what you have to bring that I didn’t talk a lot about today is a level of commitment and passion for this work because I fundamentally believe that it’s not about a job or employment. This has got to be your vocation. There are days when it’s quite difficult. I didn’t talk about some of those nights when you think about when some bad things happen to children. My wife knows that there’s many nights when I sat up worrying about what was going to be in the paper the next day, or how things were going to be perceived, or who was going to call me, or call me out, or say some things that were probably not appropriate.
1:03:19 CH: I would also say that, you know, don’t underestimate where your opposition will come from because when we did the change in Alameda County, and I’ll just share this – this is the last thing I’ll say because I do want to take some questions – and we were going to the Board of Supervisors to approve the 4-E waiver, the folks who opposed me the most were the folks who actually took care of children. It’s a census system. They get paid for the number of beds they fill. I was depopulating the system. Providers, all of whom were good friends of mine, the rest of the folks organized an advocacy group and said that you know, what we were doing was bad and wrong. Our response to that was to organize a faith group. We actually talked about the moral responsibility we had, not the financial one. And I’ll never forget the day that we were going for final Board approval, and I often – there’s a good friend of mine, Reverend Langford – we often talk about this story. My wife has heard it more times than she probably cares to. But I remember the day we were getting final approval. We were at the Board and we were all set to go and the group – the opposition group were outside of the hall, the Board of Supervisor’s chamber. They were prepared to come in and you know, say whatever they were going to say. And on the left side of that hall, we had 10 pastors from various religious institutions who were prepared to talk about the moral responsibility we have to children.
1:05:03 CH: I remember a woman who’s become a friend, again. She was a friend before actually, who was going to be the lead spokesperson, was kind of peering into the room as I was sitting behind the bar where all the appointed officials sat, and when she had seen them, she just walked back out. I remember when the item came up on the agenda and the Board approved it and then opened it up for comments. She walked down the center aisle and said, “We support Director Hewitt’s recommendation.” And I share that because sometimes you work from this kind of place of faith and you think about those values and they mean more to you than just words on paper. It can be a powerful force for change. And sometimes when the forces line up against it, they too realize that there are certain things that you know, opposition alone can’t stop, because what they had was opposition, not an alternative idea. Keep things as they actually were. And that was for no benefit for the kids. So I hope this has been helpful. I hope my story has been meaningful to those of you in this audience this evening. And I want to thank President Privett, the Dean, my good friend Rich for affording me the opportunity to speak with you this evening. Thank, you.