Why Foster Care and Why Now?


After weeks of dropping hints, I announced on New Year’s Day that The Teen Toolbox will work for and with youth in the foster care system.  Many people have supported the change but wondered why I decided to focus on teens in foster care and why I am making the decision now.  The truth is I have worked with and for youth in foster care for the last twenty years.  This has always been my passion.  Collecting donations for a residential home for teen mothers in the child welfare system as a high school senior was my entry point to the world of youth in foster care.  My curiosity led me to do more research and to pursue social work in college.

I must admit that I have never been a ‘direct’ child welfare worker.  In fact, I deliberately avoided those career opportunities.  I know my personal and professional limitations and I am very sure that I would have experienced burn out years ago if my job was to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect and physically remove children from unsafe situations on a regular basis.  In order to give my best to my clients and to the social work profession, I opted to work in prevention programs that help keep children safe and keep families together and also in positions that provide support and resources to youth and families once there is system involvement.  As a human services worker, I was never more than an arm’s length or phone call away from child welfare or child protective services involvement. I have had the pleasure of working in residential, community-based, and school-based programs. My daughter’s annual Pack A Purse Holiday Drive has also kept me involved in the foster care arena for the last five years.

I have taken social work courses, attended trainings and continuing education courses, and continued to do research on the child welfare field on my own. As I researched child welfare laws, organizations, and events, I discovered that there are people that are of the mindset that an individual who has personally experienced life in foster care is the best advocate, trainer, and supporter of youth currently facing life in the system.  In many ways I agree.  I don’t agree one hundred percent, however.  Because I do not agree whole-heartedly, I am working to improve the quality of life for youth involved in the foster care system right now.  Walking in my purpose!  Won’t you join me?


Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer

The Teen Toolbox provides youth portfolio development and civic engagement and academic enrichment opportunities to help teens set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals through its PACKAGED FOR SUCCESS™ Programs.

Comments 16

  • Sounds like you are listening to your heart and following inner guidance.

    So…what is the next step?

    • Yes, Andrea I am following my heart. My next step is to connect with organizations and offer Packaged for Success and other services to their youth. I am also accepting referrals. Thanks for your encouragement and support.

  • What is it that you disagree with concerning one’s experience being the best teacher, advocate, etc?

    • Hi Shaunna,

      I agree that persons who have personal experience in the foster care systems can be awesome advocates and the best teachers in some cases but I don’t agree that only the experience of living it makes them the best advocate. An individual who is knowledgeable, committed, and shows empathy can also be effective. I think it depends on who the individual is as a person.

  • I applaud you focusing on this marginalized group, foster teens. They are so often stigmatized and are viewed with low expectations from society. I would like to join you in your work in anyway I can. Let me know how. Google yagrowsoryadies for articles i have written and let’s help one another.

    • Thank you for the encouragement Grandpa Hank but I am even more grateful that you are following your heart and making a difference. I just read your blog “Please Don’t Call Me A Foster Kid” and it is awesome. I am excited to connect. — Nicki

  • Great job Nicki! I worked with young adults with mental illness that were either runaways or just out of the “system” at my last job. I loved it and would love to connect you with an agency in Nashville that does great work with youth. Keep up the good work! 😀


    • Alisha thanks for stopping by and posting your thoughts. I appreciate the encouragement and would be glad to explore oppotunities to serve youth in Nashville. Thank you for continuing to make a difference.

  • Nicki,

    I am so proud of you! Your website looks AMAZING, and the blog is a reflection of your heart. I support you and am looking forward to 2012 watching your company growth.

    Check out my blog tomorrow… My Letter to My Mother!



  • WOW Nicki! You continue to amaze me with all the GOOD you are putting out there. Great idea and great opportunity for you but most importantly for those teens that you will be guiding in their life journeys. Way back when I worked for the Child Welfare Agency in Rhode Island for 2 years. I would have LOVED LOVED LOVED to have such a resource available to me to refer ‘my kids’ too. Any teen lucky to be referred to the Teen Toolbox will be BLESSED beyond words. Thank you for thinking outside of the box and thank you for all that you do. You are touching so many lives!

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement and support Amy. I am very excited and grateful to be able to do this work. I know I will receive as much as I give.

  • Hi Niki,
    We have communicated by email throughout 2011, trying to schedule a workshop for the middle and high school youth at First Baptist Church on Mennesota Avenue in SE Washington, DC. Now that I have cleared a date of January 28, 2012, I just discover that God has transitioned you to a more nobler profession. I commend you for undertaking this life-long passion where you can see the fruits of your labor come to fruition. Unfortunately, Foster Care is expanding much too rapidly and it needs are insurmountable. So, thanks for the FREE “Packaged for Success” Video kit. I will study it and do the best presentation that Ican in your absence. But I will always admire you as one who followed her dreams, just as you admonished our youth to do.I wish you peace, prosperity and productivity now and throughout the New Year.

    • Thank you so much for reading the blog and posting your encouraging words here. I am walking in my purpose to primarily assist youth involved in the foster care system but I will not exclude all other youth who can benefit from my services. Consultations on a case by case basis.

  • This is awesome Ms. Nicki. The world is a better place because of people like you and I speak from personal knowledge. Your service to youth and the community remains consistent. Thank you for being a model of excellence and for helping teens attain excellence in everything they do. I wish you continued success.

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