Amelia Franck Meyer on the 'Human Truth' of Keeping Kids with Their Families

Amelia Franck Meyer is one of PEOPLE's 25 Women Changing the World

Photo: Doug Knutson

Amelia Franck Meyer knows the importance of family.

Franck Meyer is the CEO of Alia, a national non-profit organization working to overhaul foster care with a different model that keeps kids with their families.

“The longing to be with our families is in all of us,” Franck Meyer, who is one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, says in this week’s issue. “It’s a human truth.”

Working in child welfare for 30 years, “I became deeply committed to getting kids home,” she says. For much of her career in the foster care system, “We were discharging children on their 18th birthday to homeless shelters. So I became really laser- focused on how we get kids to permanency. The common folklore was, ‘These kids can’t live in a permanent place.’ I just didn’t believe it.”

Franck Meyer, 51, says the harm that happens when children are moved from one foster home to another can create lifelong damage.

“A normal, healthy response to having multiple disconnections and caregivers is that the brain will diminish their capacity to trust others and to connect,” she explains. “We can’t just put kids with people and tell them, ‘You can trust this person.’ ”

For full coverage of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday

Instead, Franck Meyer works to keep children with their families. And if a home is unsafe for a child, Alia steps in to place them with someone they know and can trust, rather than a random home.

“Traditionally we have treated children as individuals, instead of part of an ecosystem,” says the Minnesota mom of five. “We see families as the solution, not the problem.”

To match children with the right caretakers, “We do the healing work of exploring what happened to them. Then we do an exhaustive search and connect them with people they know and love or to whom they’re related.”

“What children need is a consistent, nurturing protector,” she says. “The magic is another human being looking you in the eye and saying, ‘I’ve got your back.’ “

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