The Future of Foster Care

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Ambroz, a national poverty and child welfare advocate and author of the memoir ‘A Place Called Home’. David shares his first hand account of growing up in the American foster care system, his experience becoming a foster parent, and how he learned to practice forgiveness.

This episode is presented by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national nonprofit public charity that is committed to dramatically increasing the number of adoptions of children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. For more information visit



Gloria Riviera, David Ambroz

Gloria Riviera  00:06

Hello, welcome to Good Things. I am your host, Gloria Riviera. How is everybody doing? How am I doing? I’m okay. I’m pretty good, okay. I would say I know someone you will soon meet him, and he in my experience is always downright chipper. Do people still say that as a way to describe positive and happy? I hope so, I think so, let’s go with that. Let’s go with chipper. He is the perfect person to bring this series to a close. He always sounds so positive when talking about the foster care system, his experience in it and how it shaped who he is today. David Ambroz author of the memoir A Place Called Home joins us. The first question I asked him is not unusual. You will hear it. I asked him how’s your family? And he immediately answers hmm, family. What an interesting word. And he’s right I mean, I would argue it means a lot. David and I talk about redefining the way that word is traditionally understood how the word government can and should be understood as a collective effort to solve problems. How the Dave Thomas Foundation approaches those problems, and practicing forgiveness, how freeing that can be. It is the conversation I enjoyed very much. And I hope you will too, now David Ambroz.


Gloria Riviera  02:59

David Ambroz, it is so good to see you.


David Ambroz  03:01

Wonderful to see you as well. Wonderful to be seen.


Gloria Riviera  03:04

Yeah, and I am, so looking forward to this conversation. We have spoken to a few people on foster care and foster care adoption, and you are the perfect person to bring this series to a close because I know how deeply you think about moving forward. You are one of the biggest Child Welfare advocates out there, and of course, through your book, a Place Called Home and your many events in which you’ve read from the book and spoken about the book you are this really a success story. And we will talk about all that, but first, I just want to ask what is your family look like today? Your son, your family, your siblings?


David Ambroz  03:43

Oh family, isn’t that an interesting word? I think family is many things. So I could sit here and talk all day about different components of what family has become to me, and who’s a member of that and what they’re wearing today. I would say if I were to triage on the battlefield, my mom is thriving. She’s still mentally ill and I’m still her guardian, one of them. And thanks to having a grumpy lawyer for her son. She’s getting the full services she’s legally entitled to.


Gloria Riviera  04:12



David Ambroz  04:12

She’s housed and relatively okay.


David Ambroz  04:17

My brother and sister that I grew up with thriving happy healthy Families both with advanced degrees. I’m an uncle many times over because of them, which is very expensive during the holidays. My foster siblings, two in particular that I that I stay close with are Breanna and Allie are also thriving. They’re in the book. And then I have many other components to family Holly and Steve, which were one of my foster families. I’m super close with. I am also a foster father and my foster son Vincent is thriving. And as I tell him all the time, as he pursues his PhD, he is my retirement plan. And then I recently became a father through surrogacy and I have a newborn, who at some point, I’m sure will interrupt this recording and demand my attention. He is with a wonderful trial caregiver. And I could go on but I think family is beautiful and as a queer person in America, I believe we have redefined it. And I’ve curated and cultivated a family that is my village.


Gloria Riviera  04:17



Gloria Riviera  05:21

I love that and I have a big smile on my face when we spoke last I did not know of your plans to become a father through surrogacy. That’s exciting news. And don’t worry if there is an interruption, we welcome that we welcome interruptions yes.


David Ambroz  05:35

Breaking news on this podcast.


Gloria Riviera  05:37

Breaking news, maybe some breaking little gerbils and you know, Squeaks and squeals from a baby. That is all fantastic news. I was going to ask you if you are still one of the guardians of your mom, what does that process been like for you? Since you became one of her guardians? Is that how it worked? Is that the right language to use?


David Ambroz  05:58

Sure, gosh, language so important. This for a little context, my mom being mentally ill when I lost track of her during foster care, I found her intentionally when I was in my early 20s. And I found her to be homeless and devolving. And like so many people, we award them their civil rights, which they don’t have the faculties to exercise appropriately. So they slowly die. And we look the other way. And I refuse to have my mom extinguished us. So I kind of leaned in in my early 20s. And it’s been a decade’s long journey in through multiple jurisdictions and states and courts to gain guardianship, and custody, if you will, for simplicity sake, and working now in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to have shared responsibility with a state agent to care for her. And what does it look like it has evolved, but I will tell you, because of our ability to make health care decisions for her, she is getting the care she needs. She’s thriving, and she’s as healthy as she’s ever been mentally and physically, so it is hard. And it’s not cheap, both emotionally and financially. And that is a damn shame that we make it so hard for families to take care of their own. So it’s, it’s really been something and what it has meant has evolved over time. And right now, we’re in such a good place that I, every day, I’m like, oh, gosh, this is great. She’s not what some might call normal. But she’s as good as she’s ever been. And I’m lucky to have the resources to have made that happen with with the help of Massachusetts.


Gloria Riviera  07:39

And she close to you, are you in different states.


David Ambroz  07:42

She’s in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I’m in the state of California right now. And talking about language. I once called it the state of Massachusetts and I had my I had my hand slapped it is a Commonwealth.


Gloria Riviera  07:51

It is a Commonwealth, yes, I did know that, I did know that. Well, that is fantastic, and again, congratulations, your your positivity is just radiating through the screen here. And all of this sounds so good, but so different from the way that you grew up. And in your memoir, a Place Called Home. There is story after story of again, we’ll talk about language a lot in this conversation, but to use the word harrowing, these harrowing experiences that you had, one of them that’s predominant is this idea of homelessness, and I’m looking forward to our conversation on the ecosystem of poverty. But I do want to ask you if there’s ever a moment in which you remember not being homeless, and when you look back, I’m including all the various amusing air quotes now homes that you did live in, was there a feeling that you were ever in a permanent home?


David Ambroz  08:44

So interesting, you know, when I look back and reflect New York City was my home and more specifically Manhattan. I grew up with an entire city as my my four walls. And they were imperfect walls that didn’t quite often block the wind, but they were mine, and I got to know the city in a way that I think most people don’t. So there was no before time I was born into homelessness, my earliest memory. Our memories are living at Grand Central and begging with my mom and my brother and my sister, and I was probably four. But there was never a consistent place that we called home. It was a few haunts that we would go back to until the police shoot us away. But more often than not, it was just my family’s mobility. And my home were these people, or the public library or the Port Authority Bus Station, or McDonald’s or the subway car. And you could ride it back and forth when it was hot or cold or wet. And stay out of those elements until someone showed you off of them. So no, there was there was no place we call home other than these three people that surrounded me and they were my family.


Gloria Riviera  09:56

There’s an early scene in your book in which you describe darting In between people, your mother ahead of you, it was that cold night that opens the book. And she kept saying walk straight. And I just the image that I have of you, in my mind is of this small child, dashing to the right, dashing to the left navigating around people to keep up. And it strikes me that that can be a metaphor for the rest of your experience as you grew up, like navigating around through in between to keep up. I really loved that story. And I know that you share your stories really to leverage change right now. And you’ve spoken about your mother as this imperfect guide. So I have two questions. How did her illness impact the way you and your siblings, you know, moved, navigated darted through life? That’s the first question.


David Ambroz  10:54

I can ask the question that, how did you make it? How did your brother and sister you all have advanced degrees? And I normally reject that question. And I’ll tell you why. Because people think if they can photocopy it, we can apply it to other people, and that’s just not true. The hill that I went through to be forged into the person I am is no hell that any child should be forced to go through. But my mom is the only common denominator with her three children. We had vastly different lives once we entered foster care. And even before different experiences. My mom is my most important teacher, even to this day, I opened the book with a dedication to my mom, who taught me to forgive and to conquer one impossible thing at a time. And that impossible thing is always my mom, you may not reach the summit, but you keep climbing. And my mom has taught me so many important lessons, forgiveness is me darling, you can sit there and fill up with hate and resentment and grumpiness and take a drug to ameliorate the immediacy of something or skip school or do whatever. But my mom taught me that I had to move forward that I had to conquer this impossible thing. And to forgive the universe, the individual, the system, whatever it was, that was that was upon me, and oppressing me or hurting me or not protecting me. And quite often, that was the apathy of the public. And if you sit there and marinate in that, that hate and that that resentment, I would not be sitting here talking to you, my mom taught me to forgive as she hurt me, the person who was to have cared for me, the person I was supposed to trust and love was the very person who nearly killed me through action and inaction multiple times. And I had to learn that she, she’s my mother, and the system is the system and there is gravity and you can be mad about those things. Or you can learn to move forward. Honor what you’re upset about the move forward. And my mom taught me that lesson. And that has been me darting around every obstacle in my way, either around or over.


Gloria Riviera  13:00

Yeah, and was that when you reflect on it, something that you learned by her example? And was she the first person that you forgave? Oh, that idea of forgiveness is is so powerful?


David Ambroz  13:14

Yeah, I call my friends laugh at me. They, they make fun of me for saying the following. I do something other than yoga, right? We practice yoga, we do yoga, I do something I call practicing forgiveness, where someone cuts you off in traffic, you’re mad the whole day, that other person has not thought about you at all. And so you walk around with this, like bucket of resentment, and it taints your whole day. And there’s a limited number of days we have in this beautiful blue rock of ours. And we just walk around grumpy. So I practice forgiveness. And that’s a silly example, but it’s not silly. I walk around and I’m not perfect, it’s called a practice not perfection, and say, okay, I forgive you like a colleague that that doesn’t do you, right? Something unfair, a surprise tax bill, which I just got from a state I didn’t know how to pay taxes it what do you got to do? So I practice forgiveness. Did my mom teach me that? Absolutely, did she role model that for me at times? Absolutely, whatever one wants to say about my mother, and people have said a lot about my mother. She never gave up on us. My mom never stopped fighting for us. And how many parents don’t when you interact with kids in the system, my mom fought and fought and fought and fought, despite everything that she was going through to get us back. I’m glad we didn’t go back. But no, my mom taught me so many times to persevere. She taught me dignity in the face of poverty, just unbelievable poverty. My mom would like do her best to clean up and present this face to the world to represent dignity, and she would monitor how I spoke because we should, we should speak a certain way. And it’s not to say that people speak another way or different or worse, it’s that my mom had this concept that if you wanted to access different, you had to present the world a certain way, she definitely taught me many lessons and modeled those lessons at times as well.


Gloria Riviera  15:17

It brings us to this idea of the ecosystem of poverty, right? Because there are so many things that come out of that homelessness, food insecurity, I could go on and on and on and on and on. And you experienced many of those. But can you talk to us about the criminalization of poverty and how that showed up in your life? Talk to me a little bit about how we tackle the criminalization of poverty.


David Ambroz  15:40

So in talking about my book, people in general trying to say, oh, it’s about homelessness, or it’s about being gay, or it’s about foster care, or it’s about abuse, or it’s about whatever. It is about the ecosystem poverty in our country that trapped my family, and nearly groundless into non existence, all of those things are symptoms of that larger issue. And there are absolutely solutions to this. Not since 1999, has the phrase child poverty been uttered at a presidential debate? We have 8.4 million children living in abject poverty in our country, that is more than the population of most some European countries. What are we doing? We don’t talk about it, we flow around it like it doesn’t exist. So first and foremost, we need to look at it square in the face and say, we’re better than this as a country, this is not the moral or economic thing we should be doing. Second is realization that other than the laws of physics, everything is a choice. Everything is a choice. We make the choice every day, by the way we act or don’t act or vote or don’t vote, every every moment of our day, is a choice that we’re making. And collectively, the choice we’ve made as a society as a country as a people is that we’re okay with this permanent underclass of 8.4 million children living in abject poverty. That one, I believe it’s one in seven kids are starving every day, in the United States of America, we hack away at public education, and we’re shocked at the poor outcomes. We hack away at foster care, just hack away at it and say, look how terrible this is. And then we cut more. So we can make different choices. But we have been taught through our collective delusion, that governments the enemy, we are the government, there is nothing else we are it government, is the collective effort that we have as a people to work together to solve big problems. And I don’t understand how we went from sending a person to the moon as a country to permanently having 8.4 million children in poverty, where is that? gusto? Where’s that belief in ourself? So second, we must reinvest in our collective ability to do big things together, we need to go back to the moon. And I don’t mean with a ship, I mean, we need to end child poverty within 10 years. I think that’s what President Kennedy said, we’re going to do this in 10 years, and we did it. Why don’t we do that with child poverty? And there are obvious things we can do. So for example, why does not every school in the country public have a full clinic where kids can get all their health care needs met? Why does every school not open from 6am to 9pm? We’re like, how do we help with childcare in this country? I don’t know these big buildings that we close at three o’clock with highly educated people that we just sent home because we poorly paid them. What if we fully paid them? What if we made them the centers of community that they are? What if every school had music and art and culture? What if it became the community center? We’re scratching our head? Like, why are kids getting into trouble in the summer? I don’t know. Because there’s nothing to do and they can’t get a job. I think there’s solutions for these problems. It’s just we have to believe in each other and then get away from this delusion that that government is the problem governments, we’re not gonna have a bake sale to end child poverty. We don’t have a bake sale to fund our military. Why do we think ending the plight of 8.4 million children is any different. We must act strategically working with nonprofits and religious institutions and educational institutions. But those are those are complimentary. Those don’t take the bulk of the work. We must reinvest in our collective ability to do big things. And again, that it’s choice we make and I want us to make that choice. I want to remind us of our own power, to shape the country we want to live in. And I don’t believe with 8.4 million children that anyone wants to live in a country with 8.4 million children living in poverty like I did, we can do better. We must do better.


Gloria Riviera  19:42

We’re going to take a quick break, but we will be right back with more on Good Things.


Gloria Riviera  20:23

It was looking at the stat that you mentioned, which is something like just over 50% of young people who were in the foster care system, become homeless experienced homelessness, right? Like, when you look at the group of people who are homeless, that is the number that 50% of those people were in the foster care system, and it’s this incredibly negative, damaging domino effect. That happens because we’re not looking. I mean, when you talk about poverty, you talk about children who have no place to go, okay, you’re right. I mean, keep the schools open later. That’s a very simple solution, and sometimes the solutions are simple. And they’re right in front of us. I just filled out my daughter’s re enrollment form for the public school she attends. She’ll be in fourth grade next year, there was one question, is your child is the student you’re enrolling in foster care? Yes or no, and because I knew this conversation was coming up, I paused and there were no other questions. And I even clicked yes, just to see my last name is different from my daughter’s, what the questions would then be, and there were no further questions. So it was a yes or no question. I’m glad it was asked. And when we spoke, whenever it was about over a year ago, we talked about asking your school administrator know what the approach is to children who are living in foster care. But it just struck me as far too little, to really look at who is in your community, and you’ve spoken so beautifully when we were talking about family, you know that that’s an interesting word. It’s it’s community, and who you count as as family in your life. I like that you talk about caring and that we need to do better. And if we can get to the moon in 10 years, why can’t we fix this? How do you feel about apathy versus empathy right now in this country?


David Ambroz  23:52

Cynicism is a four letter word, I am done with it. We know we have 8.4 million children that need help in those of us not in that situation should not have the luxury of being cynics. Oh, we can’t, sure we can. We live in this safest, healthiest, least racist, least sexist, homophobic society in the United States that we’ve ever had. Do we have problems? Absolutely. But I have been through it. And I am nothing but optimistic that we are much better off than when I started my life. On every metric, let’s keep that up. We can’t not nourish ourselves the progress we’ve made if we’re going to reach the far end of the journey. Dr. King and his famous comment that the moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice. I remember I heard that when I was in a group facility, a detention facility. And I was skeptical to say it nicely. I’m like, well, it doesn’t feel like that in here. What’s going on in here does not feel I like that arc, it’s gonna get to me anytime soon. I don’t belong here, none of these kids, we call it juvenile justice, there’s no justice in that system. We’re treating children like they’re disposable for crimes that are probably committed mostly for the circumstances they’ve been raised in, which is our collective problem and fault. But in that system, I remember reading that or hearing that. And I thought, no, the only way it does, is because there’s children and vulnerable and powerless people on the end of that arc pulling down, bending it faster towards those that need it to arrive sooner. And I have been proud to be one of those weights on the end of that are pulling down as every oppressed people ever has. And that’s the only way we get to the society, we want to live in the city on the hill. But we’ve made great progress, but we have to, we have to keep moving. So like there’s solutions, I constantly like, don’t foster parents do it for the money? No, and how dare you ask that question, if you haven’t fostered or ever been to a meeting, you don’t get to throw a stone and sit in judgment. But even if they do, let’s pause and let’s dig that out a little bit. So what? Do any of us do a job for free? No, no, I don’t go to the doctor and expect them to volunteer. Why don’t we professionalize it? Why do we pay every foster parent in this country a minimum of $120,000 with full pension and retirement benefit? free college for their kids after five years of good service? Interest Free Home Loans after 10 years of good service? We need 1000s of foster parents, not millions. We could do this with a billion dollars a year or less. This is budget dust in the United States of America. So what if they do it for money? Great, it’s like you expect an arranged marriage to have love on the first night? Of course, it’s not. That’s what you’re doing, you’re shoving children into homes, it’s an arranged marriage. And sometimes it doesn’t work out. Why don’t we professionalize it and support these people and pay them like the professionals they are? We can do that tomorrow. So there are real solutions to every single problem I see in the system, we are taking two thirds of the kids entering foster care are there for neglect. Neglect quite often is a euphemism for poverty, which in and of itself is a euphemism for racism. We have criminalized poverty, you can’t take care of your kid, then we’re going to take him or her are they away. And then we put them into a system, which is very expensive, where we have hacked away at it. And then we’re shocked when the child comes out the other end and perpetuates what they’ve learned. So why don’t we fully fund the foster care system? Why don’t we support parents, families caregivers, to if they can maintain custody of their their kin. And if they can’t put them into a system that any of us would feel so fine putting our own children into? I don’t think most people in America would put their animal into foster care if they had a choice.


Gloria Riviera  27:58

It makes me think of what you’ve said about the power. And I think about this in a donation context, because that’s the way my producers and I were talking about it of small talk, right? So I saw that phrase, and I asked the team, what is this mean? And we had a great conversation. But I’d love to hear your take on the power of small talk.


David Ambroz  28:23

Absolutely, so I think we need to take the child welfare, foster care, adoption, all of it through a journey, we somehow have landed in a place where the public runs away screaming when they hear any of these words. They’re either ignorant, or they ignore it, which is right and, you know, different way of saying ignorant, or they don’t want to hear about it, so why is that? And I think part of that is we have not shared the rich and beautiful story of children in these systems. So I thought a lot about movements in our country that I’ve taken issues on a journey. And the one that I thought so highly of was breast cancer. You know, 35 years ago, half the species thought it wasn’t their problem. And the other half we didn’t we didn’t honor help fund. And now think about where that issue is. Another example is veterans. When I was born, we spit on them. We shame them for their service in our country. And then think about where that issue is today. People in power can’t stop wrapping themselves in flags. So why can’t the travel offer industry industrial complex, as I call it lovingly, why can’t be going to similar messaging journey and bring the public along. So they’re part of the solution. We can build a big ol sail, though without the wind of the care of the American public. We’re not going anywhere. So part of that has been to diminish and disabuse the public of the notion that there’s nothing you can do. So when I thought about it, like wearing pink, right, like I’m wearing pink, I’m a warrior for breast cancer research. What is that free thing that the public could do is what I really thought about. And at the very least, we can talk about it. It is a free action that you can do. And in those moments throughout the day, I just thought of all the times people ask me nonsense questions like, how are your kids? What did you do last night? What do you have for dinner? No one cares, your colleagues don’t care. I don’t care, it is a nice thing we do in our society to decrease the friction and create some relationship. What if we use all those moments when we started to zoom in, so and so was not there yet so we had to we had to kill a little time. Or when you got in the elevator again, 30 seconds with someone instead of asking them about their lunch? What if you said something fun and interesting, like, hey, did you know Marilyn Monroe was a foster kid? Or hey, did you know Steve Jobs was adopted after a failed foster placement? So that’s my thing. What’s your thing? And it doesn’t have to be about dour and sad. It can be fun, like Dr. Ruth was a foster kid. Now what does that say about foster kids? You can have some fun with it. So what I want us to do as a public is I wanted to bring down the barrier to the lowest level so that no one has an excuse anymore. Donate your small talk, research, find out a little bit. Maybe it’s foster care, maybe it’s animals, whatever it is, what if we started talking about an issue that matters? So I think we can donate our small talk and start having these really interesting, fun conversations that centered children and vulnerable people, and not in a way that’s dour? We can have fun. And so for me, I tried to come up with something that was really super easy to do. So no one can say I can’t because no more I’ve given you the simplest thing you can do and you can.


Gloria Riviera  31:50

Okay, sit tight, everyone, we’re going to take one more quick break, and we’ll be right back with more Good Things.


Gloria Riviera  32:08

I think what you’re what you’re so definitely seeing, and so it can be very acute, is that we don’t talk about hard things in this country, right. And I don’t know, well, if I had to guess, you know, there’s a lot that I could say about that, but there’s some inherent shame I feel as a citizen of the United States that this happens, right? I don’t I don’t, there’s a part of me, that is shocked to read the data that’s out there, and how closely linked every Domino is. So when I sit here and tell you I haven’t talked to the principal, I haven’t asked that question, I don’t know, and I hear you say you know how it is, it is interesting to me that guess what this is gonna make you feel really good. Like if I were to go to the school with, you know, carton upon carton of sanitary pads and tampons and know that they were there and available. And talk to the teachers and make sure you know, there’s just this there’s an energy around taking action. That feels good, and we should we should all acknowledge that and, and take that first step. I want to talk I want to zoom out a little bit and just talk generally and then we’ll move into the Dave Thomas Foundation, but kids in the foster care system can you just I don’t know if this is possible, but bullet point the odds that are against them as they move towards aging out.


David Ambroz  35:06

Certainly, so I’ll give you some dire statistics and then hopefully a tonic of hope, so, you know, the stats are crystal clear 50% more than 50% of the homeless in the United States today. All of them who are in foster care. Over half, it’s the most common denominator correlated to homelessness, not causation correlation. If you leave foster care when you quote unquote emancipate, which is what we call it, when people leave foster care. When you emancipate, you’re more likely to die than go to community college.


Gloria Riviera  35:47

God, that is just I mean, first of all, the word emancipate and what that means, so you’re freeing yourself how from something. Yes, yes, that that is wild. And then you are what is the stat that follows?


David Ambroz  36:03

So just I’ll give you a couple ones that’ll that’ll curl your toes. So you’re more likely to die than go to community college, you’re more likely if you’re a girl to be sex trafficked, then go to community college, if you’re a boy is particularly a boy of color. You are more likely to go to jail, then go to community college. I can go on.


David Ambroz  36:21

And it’s not the CUNY college is not honorable. I think it’s fantastic, and I’m working a lot on that for foster children. But are we okay with that? I’m just we have extended foster care to 21. But states have to opt in. And even at 21. What are we doing? So we can do better than this. We should not be comfortable that the number one source of sex trafficked girls, the United States of America is foster care. Every organization that cares about women and girls should be up in arms. And foster care is an issue. Foster Care is an issue for women and girls as much as breast cancer is an issue for women and girls. We must arrest this foster care girls should be emancipating to to your vocational or college or work, they should not be going to the sex trade. That is shame on us. We should do better, we can do better voice of color. What are we doing? We marched in the streets for police reform I was there I support it. What are we doing that our foster system is producing the next generation of prisoners, we must do better. This is an issue of racial justice, we have to treat it accordingly, not just as decriminalized poverty, but to make sure that the young people moving through it are given the full human dignity and rights and that we are guarding that right. As people with power and money and influence we can do better.


Gloria Riviera  36:21



Gloria Riviera  36:22

It’s one small step advocating for community colleges to provide housing. Because I know that so many people, that is another thing they have to figure out on top of tuition on top of child care. I just spoke at a conference for student parents and learned about the challenges they face and the good things that are being done to support them. But talk to me a little bit about what community colleges, which ones are doing it right in your mind and what other things we need to see happening at these places.


David Ambroz  38:17

So in my memoir, A Place Called Home, the afterword is a policy prescription for how to address different aspects of the problem. One idea that I lay out there is the utilization and embracing of community colleges to serve this population. Community colleges as a concept haven’t really evolved much since Truman, there’s 1000s of them, and 70% of Americans if they go to college at all, go to community college. And yet we dishonor them, we look down on them and no one’s donating to community colleges are running to schools that have billions of dollars and endowments. Yet these schools are on the frontline of economic mobility, racial justice, our economic well being and vitality as a society. And they’re serving this population. I worked at a local community college here in Los Angeles, LA City College, and I was proud to run the foundation there and teach there. And what I uncovered was a lot of our students were homeless, and in particular, foster children were homeless that were going to school. How absurd, so what I got to thinking about was one thing we had in abundance was flat parking lots. And I thought, gosh, we own land. These are our children. We have the facilities in terms of education, remediation. What if we built housing? So a lot of what I get is, well, community colleges don’t provide housing unlike your right and once upon a time, huge segments of our society didn’t have rights. But aren’t we better as a society that that’s not the truth anymore? Things need to evolve. But first and foremost, we must not attack community colleges. They’re underfunded as it is. So how do we embrace them? And so I’m working to build a dorm for transition age foster youth here in Los Angeles at one of our nine colleges. With three of these dorms in the state of California, we turn off the pipeline to homelessness from foster care. 1200 kids roughly emancipate into homelessness every year. With 10 of these dorms across the country in major areas, we could end the 50% of the homeless that were in foster care. Is this the solution for every single, no. But if you think about dorms, we can have a couple of kids in a room, they can get remediation, they have three years to figure their stuff out, they can get a skill or vocational or skills certificate, they can get a two year degree, we can concentrate our resources 50% of foster children are graduating high school. What if that just that 50%? What if we stopped the transfer of poverty and violence to their children? By investing in them with this idea? Can we build a building America? Can we build 10? Buildings America? Yes, that is a doable solution. We must not attack many colleges, they don’t have enough money to do these kinds of things to begin with. So we need to bring more resources. So we have real ideas. My idea is for at least half of the population of foster kids. This is a real opportunity and solution. And LA has embraced it has your state No, then make it happen go make it happen. Because we could really, we could really make big change, we could decrease the intergenerational transfer poverty and violence and it’s doable. It’s doable tomorrow, we can build the building.


Gloria Riviera  41:35

We can go to the moon we can build the building. I’m thinking about what you said earlier about some kind of compensation to professionalize the people who are in the foster care system and fostering children. I remember speaking to someone who talked to me at length about all of the training she went through to become a foster parent, it makes so much sense to then make that a compensated position. I would love your thoughts on the Dave Thomas Foundation, we spoke at length to read a Soren who is there. And I was so curious to learn that the recruiters I’m using air quotes, but that’s actually what they’re called. She talked me through the creation of that program that the Dave Thomas Foundation supports that they are not as I understand it, and maybe you can clarify it for me. But this position did not initially exist for these people who are not social workers. Or perhaps they are in some cases, that’s where I’m not clear. But to come in and get to know the child and know the situation and actively look for a permanent home for kids around nine and up. Can you talk to me a little bit about why that is so important?


David Ambroz  42:56

I think the Dave Thomas Foundation, what they do is the embodiment of what I think the role of organizations, nonprofits, religious institutions can do, which is they come into a gigantic system. That is the gears are locked, for whatever reason. And they very simply act as a lubricant that unlocks the gear, so the machine works better. They exhibit best practices they teach so that the larger system can change. And then they identify gaps. And they fill them. They’re not trying to reinvent, they’re not the foster system and the adoptive parent, they are the bridge between the two. And in doing that, and laying their body across that gap, they help the kid walk across that journey and that family be created and loved. So they are the embodiment of best practice and how to do it, whatever however you define that it and they play many more roles. And I think just the one that we were talking about, I think they’re they act as a convener. People are talking about this issue because this organization makes us all collectively more aware of this issue. So they’re, they’re like, I’ve thought of them as like a boulder hitting a pond. And the tsunami that’s resultant, is quite large, it’s beyond just the families that they help create and shepherd, beyond policies and practices that they exhibit that they help create. They are helping us all collectively be more aware of what it looks like when it’s done right. And then they honor and enshrine these policies in law and best practice throughout the country by the relationships that they create or support. I’m in awe of what they do. I have been a fan of them for as long as I can remember. And not just because I love Wendy’s, which is a true story, in fact, Wendy’s is in my book.


Gloria Riviera  44:39

I don’t remember you have to remind us.


David Ambroz  44:41

Yes, it’s where my mom would call the psychic to find my runaway brother and I sat there and drank frosties and you know, my mom dyed my hair blonde in the bathroom so no one would kidnap me. And I sat at Wendy’s when they had a buffet and I had the macaroni and cheese. They don’t have the buffet anymore, but it was so good.


Gloria Riviera  44:58

I’m remembering the dying your hair blonde that that’s the idea, remember? Yeah, that.


David Ambroz  45:03

They’re the embodiment of best practice their embodiment of innovation and articulation, they get the public, they understand marketing and communication. And they really honor the systems, they don’t attack the systems that are problematic in terms of adoption. They work with them. And they try and make them better so I think they’re, they’re just, I think they’re incredible organization, I’m proud to be associated in any way, shape or form with them.


Gloria Riviera  45:27

Well, in thinking about a marketing approach, you use the phrase creating families, convening families, creating families, which I really believe needs to be out there because it will attract the right people who want to do that for their life work, right? To create enable families to be created. That is that is an astounding concept that needs to be replicated over and over and over again, and it is happening. It’s actually allowing us to end on a note of positivity that it is happening. The Dave Thomas Foundation has been supporting recruiters and all the work that they do. It’s it is a feel good story out there, they do exist, which is wonderful. I just want to I want to end with a quote from your book that I have underlined and and just get your thoughts on it. It’s from when you are in Spain before you go to Vassar and there are several quotes. And I’ll just read it quickly because we don’t have that much time, so you’re with Gabriella and you go to a mountain that was has a small shelter for shepherds. And I’ll just read a few parts of it. I turn around this is you speaking I turn around and see the snow capped mountains stretching into the horizon. The contrast is so stunning. My heart swells. Gabriella smiles up at me wrapped in her windbreaker her cheeks read like apples her smile is pure. I’m in love with this mother at this moment, this mountain. Gabriella then tells you, you know, this is your mountain and you can always come home to your mountain. And you write this mountain is mine. This mountain is forever timeless, and it’s where I belong. My mom gave me life. Holly gave me love, and Gabriella gives me the earth. And Holly, of course, a pivotal person in your life to whom you’re still very close while you’re in the foster care system. That struck me because the trifecta of the three strong, formidable loving women in your life propelled you to college, which is part of your success story. Can you just reflect on why it was important for you to mention all three in that beautiful moment you describe?



All three taught me the similar lesson, that love is imperfect. that forgiveness is key. And we can learn from anyone. I was once asked on a podcast, you know, how did you didn’t have any male role models. And they went on from that that sentence and it really stopped me in my track. And then the it was alive and the individual I turned the mic back over to me and I said I sure the hell did and he’s like, well, what do you mean? And I said I had powerful women all around me. And when you talk about male role models you ascribe to that gender, this idea of protection and provision and all these things. I was surrounded by powerful male role models called my mothers. They taught me everything they provided for me imperfectly. They love me imperfectly. And I’m better off for them. So it’s important to me and I just identified three there are other women that shaped my life those three most so my sister Jessica.


Gloria Riviera  48:54

Yeah, yeah.


David Ambroz  48:55

There are so many women that I’ve learned so much from and and occasionally a man here and there. But I it was important to me to identify these three powerhouse women because in my mind, poverty in this country is women’s work. We have a legacy of that, and it’s sexist and it’s wrong, but it’s true. And I had three amazing women. Holly was working class on a good day. My mother was homeless. Gabriella ran a candy store. I had a life of these three women, and I learned so much from them, and it’s important to me because raising a child is everyone’s job. And these three women like a baton and a relay race, handed it off, and each carried it forward and got me across the gosh darn finish line, and I’m better for having these three women in my life shaping me changing me loving me making me who I am today.


Gloria Riviera  49:44

Thank you so much, David, for sharing your time with us. I’ve gone just one minute over. I could go many, many more. It was just a pleasure to speak with you and thank you for your hard work and your relentless devotion. To foster care and the future that can be an I mean, I wish our listeners could see you because your positivity is just jumping off the screen. So thank you for that too.


David Ambroz  50:10

Absolutely, thank you so much.


CREDITS  50:18

Thank you for listening to Good Things. This episode is presented by the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption. This series is produced by associate producer Dani Matias. Our supervising producer is Jamila Zarha Williams, mixing and sound designed by Noah Smith. Steve Nelson is our SVP of weekly content. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Thanks so much for listening, see you next week. Follow Good Things wherever you get your podcasts and listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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