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Cassie Baudean, 33

Director of policy and strategic operations, Children’s Home Society of Virginia

According to a University of Chicago study from 2010, only half of youths formerly in foster care are employed by age 24. By age 26, youths who have aged out of foster care make an average of $13,989 compared to 26-year-olds in the general population who make an average of $32,312.

Cassie Baudean is hoping to change these statistics.

“Youth with foster care experience are not doomed to these outcomes at all,” urges Baudean, the director of policy and strategic operations at Children’s Home Society of VA. “They really just need extra supports as they navigate the transition to adulthood.”

In her role at Children’s Home, Baudean melds her legal experience with her passion for helping children and families. “I saw a job opening to do policy work around foster care and I ultimately took a leap of faith,” she says. Before working at Children’s Home, Baudean did a judicial clerkship in Hanover and owned her own law firm, specializing in family law.

When Baudean took this leap four years ago, she knew that to best serve the foster care community, she needed to seek input from a variety of voices. So she put together a panel of 30 experts in housing, education and employment, as well as youths and adoptive parents. “I asked them, ‘What are some of the biggest barriers to success?’” Based on their answers, Baudean crafted 40 policy recommendations that she tackles each year, working with legislators to propose legislation that chips away at barriers.

Baudean says that most of their issues are nonpartisan, though she continually works to educate and provide guidance to legislators and staff on the issues -from homelessness to finding and maintaining employment- facing youths who have aged out of foster care.

Policy work is complex and often slow-going, but Baudean loves the nuances of the law: “I look at the code section all the time,” she laughs. Nonprofit work, though, is where Baudean really finds meaning and connection. “We are working with youths who want to be successful, independent adults, they just need a little bit of help."