Why Are We Called Ampersand Families?
The ampersand — & — is a symbol with which we’re all familiar. In writing it connects words and ideas. For us, the & is a constant reminder that our role is to be connectors in partnership with youth. We bring together people, resources and ideas that help young people to keep and build life-long relationships. We make more room at the table for youth to be part of decisions made about their lives. People & Resources & Ideas & Youth Voice & New Relationship & Past Relationships come together at Ampersand Families to restore belonging, dignity and hope.
How We Began
Ampersand Families was founded in 2008 to fill a gap in existing adoption efforts: Teens that had been removed from their parents’ care due to abuse and neglect had a slim chance of joining an adoptive family before aging out of foster care, because few programs existed to help bring teens to permanency. Most programs for teens were developed to help them age out of care.
Ampersand Families emerged from the pioneering work of co-founders Michelle Chalmers (current executive director) and Jen Braun (former co-executive officer) in The Homecoming Project. From 2003 to 2008, Chalmers led the federally-funded demonstration project that showed that permanent families can be found for teenagers labeled “hard to place” in Minnesota’s child welfare system.
Working with some of the state’s oldest and longest-waiting foster teens (not those selected for ease of placement), the Homecoming Project succeeded in connecting 57% of the youth with permanent families. By contrast, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) had estimated prior to the project start that only 4% of Minnesota teens awaiting adoption at age 15 would enter a family.
You can read more about The Homecoming Project (PDF) or listen to the national, award-winning American RadioWorks documentary, Wanted: Parents, that followed Jen Braun and her work to bring a teen brother and sister into an adoptive family.
Since opening in 2008, Ampersand Families has grown from a staff of 3 with a budget of about $300,000 to 10 people and almost $1 million in FY 2016. Our success has been made possible because of the dedicated leadership of the 24 people who have served on our board of directors and the unwavering support of more than 20 foundations and close to 1,000 individual donors.
We have also been in three different offices spaces to accommodate our growing staff. As of October 2015 we are settled into sunny Suite 150 in the Wabash Building near Hwy 280 and I-94 in St. Paul.
Everyone who speaks or acts on behalf of Ampersand Families is expected to uphold these values:
We understand that privilege, systemic racism and economic disparities impact ourselves, the people and communities we serve, and the child welfare field, and we are uniquely charged to advance equity through our practice and leadership.
We believe that being connected to family, kin, community and culture are essential aspects of wellbeing. We challenge barriers that keep youth from building or accessing these relationships, and we bravely advocate for practices that create opportunities for connection.
We know that the adversarial nature of the child welfare system can leave youth, families and professionals feeling unseen, unheard and powerless. We commit to seeing and honoring the diversity of perspectives and intersecting identities each player brings to the table, knowing that the best outcomes are achieved when youth and families are understood to be more than the challenges they are facing.
We demonstrate hope through creative ideas, constructive partnerships, commitment to breaking through barriers, and the fervent belief that youth who have been separated from family need and deserve meaningful human relationships.
We behave with honesty, act with the highest ethical behavior, and strive for superior performance standards, including holding ourselves accountable for the outcomes of our work, offering transparency in our financial management and honoring the public trust conferred upon us as a nonprofit organization.
We champion positive change and proactively advance ideas and innovations that strengthen practices, accountability and outcomes throughout the child welfare system.