After operating under the auspices of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) for nearly 30 years, a small group of executives from different Crittenton agencies including— Gwen Bailey, Kathy Szafran, and Joyce Capelle — went to the board of the National Florence Crittenton Mission with a singular request: “help us do more.”
This was not the first time the Crittenton agencies had proposed a forward-looking change to the organization. Fifty-three years prior in 1950, Crittenton agencies went to the National Florence Crittenton Mission to request a professional organization that would better connect the agencies to the work of the National Mission. The resulting Florence Crittenton Association of America (FCAA) was intended to develop standards and methods of operation, provide consultation to member agencies, serve as an information service regarding the activities of the agencies and developments in the field, conduct conferences, and educate the public.
The 1960s and 1970s brought many changes for the Crittenton agencies. The demand for maternity homes was dwindling as a result of greater access to birth control, and states were beginning to legalize abortion. Many Crittenton agencies were struggling to stay open and as a result, the ones that remained felt the need to widen the scope of the services they provided.
In 1971, the FCAA partnered with the CWLA and the Family Service Association of America to begin a study of the national structure of services to families and children, with the goal of recommending an updated organizational model for the future. The results of the joint study resulted in a merger between the FCAA and CWLA. In 1976, all 36 existing agencies across the country became part of the Florence Crittenton Division of the Child Welfare League of America.
It was 2003 when the small group of active Crittenton agency directors, including Gwen Bailey, Joyce Capelle, and Kathy Szafran called for the National Mission to increase its support to the agencies and for the needs of girls and young women across the country. The Trustees of the National Mission took heed, soliciting the help of Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, a partner at Metropolitan Group. The National Florence Crittenton Mission, needed to reinvent itself in order to reclaim its former position as a national voice for girls and young women. As a result, the National Mission would soon become, as Pai-Espinosa puts it, “the oldest startup around.”
Pai-Espinosa was instantly captivated by its unique model and the fact that the national organization’s voluntary association with the Crittenton Family of Agencies had endured for over a century. Pai-Espinosa spent the next few years as a consultant for the National Mission. The more she worked with them, the more it became clear that this was different. Working collaboratively with the Board of Trustees and a small group of Crittenton agency executives, a plan to reestablish the National Mission as an advocate for girls and the work of the Crittenton agencies was developed. As a result, in 2006, the Trustees of the National Florence Crittenton Mission made the decision to leave the Child Welfare League of America and reestablish the organization as the National Crittenton Foundation–an independent organization–with Ms. Pai-Espinosa at the helm as President.
After ten years as a partner in a consulting firm, Pai-Espinosa accepted the challenge to lead the reinvention of the organization. In doing so she embarked on a lifelong dream of working for and with girls, young women, and women. Despite starting with only two staff members (herself included), she was undeterred by the monumental task before her. Rather, she saw a population of girls and young women that were being marginalized by society and by the very systems charged with their care.
In 2007, the national home office was established in Portland, Oregon, where Pai-Espinosa resided, and the journey began with four boxes and two employees.
During the past eleven years, Pai-Espinosa has overseen the steady expansion of the National Crittenton Foundation’s work, beginning with the celebration of its 125th Anniversary in Washington, DC. This reintroduction to the nation’s capital resulted in the first Hill Day in 2010, where Executive Directors from the Crittenton Family of Agencies and TNCF Board Members met with political leaders on Capitol Hill to advocate for girls and young women. A year later in 2011, TNCF began a policy series with the Georgetown University Law Center and hosted its first national convening around young mothers. The organization’s work around Adverse Childhood Experiences began the following year in 2012.
The last several years have seen a continued expansion of the work. TNCF was a sub-awardee of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Girls Initiative in 2013, and became the primary recipient in 2016–cooperatively leading the initiative since. In 2012, the BOLD Society app, the brainchild of young women formerly involved with Crittenton agencies, was established in 2013, and the newest version of the BOLD Society App is set to be released this year. Increased staff capacity over the last year also facilitated the hosting of TNCF’s first national conference in Washington, DC, In Solidarity We Rise: Healing, Opportunity, and Justice for Girls in October of 2017. Today there are 26 members of the Crittenton Family of Agencies providing services in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
As National Crittenton approaches its 135th Anniversary, it continues to reflect both on its past and on the work that lies ahead. The Board of Trustees’ willingness to take a risk and invest in girls and young women has allowed National Crittenton to become the organization that it is today. However, National Crittenton is still charged with the responsibility to continually challenge itself to be introspective, to speak the truth, to be transparent, and to get it right this time. The cost to girls, young women, their families, communities, and this country, is too great to ignore.