The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Overcoming the Barriers to Success

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
“We are literally in a race against time to get better results for children. To do that, we must acknowledge that race is often a barrier to achieving the outcomes we seek.”
– Lisa M. Hamilton

An Atlanta native, Lisa M. Hamilton hails from the heart of America’s civil rights movement. Her father was a criminal defense lawyer and her mother a teacher, so she says her exposure to advocating for humanity is imprinted in her DNA. It is no surprise, then, that she is now the visionary president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy based in Baltimore. Her leadership of this pioneering foundation reflects her upbringing and her profound conviction to lift up children, youth, and families who face the greatest obstacles and challenges. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, founder of the logistics company UPS, and named in honor of his mother. Its mission is to make sure that all children and youth in the United States have a bright future. To realize that vision, the Foundation is directing its investments where it believes it can make the greatest impact – what Hamilton calls “targeted philanthropy.” By focusing on the people most in need, including youth and families in high-poverty communities and those involved in the child welfare and justice systems, she believes that Casey can help improve outcomes for all kids. 

Casey’s detailed research produces evidence that then drives the creation of new ideas and programs and advances much-needed policy reform. The Foundation focuses its grantmaking on innovative ideas, practices, and policies that can impact and improve the lives of millions. At a high level, Casey invests to make sure children, youth, and young adults have the “family, opportunity, and community they need to thrive,” says Hamilton. In 2022, the Casey Foundation made 955 grants to 662 organizations for a total of $79 million.

There are three prongs to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s approach: developing innovative ideas, demonstrating solutions, and scaling results. Ultimately, they want to expand the best programs, policies, and systems to reach as many children and families as possible. 

Central to all their work, Hamilton says, is a focus on racial and ethnic equity and inclusion, since people of color disproportionately face the challenges Casey is working to address.

From Research to Actionable Strategies

Recently, the Foundation released its landmark 2024 Race for Results report, 10 years after their inaugural publication. This expansive research uses 12 indicators to identify gaps in child well-being across race and ethnicity in every state.

Their data showed that on average, just 62% of children lived in families earning 200% or more of the federal poverty line. That rate is 42% and 47% for Black and Latino children, respectively. This pervasive issue shows the urgent need for targeted interventions to alleviate economic disparities among children. Alarmingly, the data also showed that 68% of fourth graders are not yet proficient readers, which significantly increases their likelihood of dropping out of high school. 

The Foundation’s findings illustrate other disparities faced by children of color across various measures of well-being. These barriers impede their path to success, necessitating concerted efforts to eliminate systemic inequities. Given that 51% of children in the country are children of color, there is an urgent call to prioritize the well-being of children of color and ensure equitable opportunities for all. With 72 million children comprising a quarter of the population, they represent the cornerstone of the nation’s future prosperity.

“We are literally in a race against time to get better results for children,” says Hamilton. “To do that, we must acknowledge that race is often a barrier to achieving the outcomes we seek.” 

Hamilton points out how the Foundation’s innovative research leads to illuminating and comprehensive data, which paves the way for focused philanthropy. “Neglecting their needs jeopardizes the well-being of families, communities, and the country. Therefore, it is imperative to prioritize investments in children’s welfare to secure a brighter future for all.”

Crucially, the Race for Results report outlines several ways that leaders can invest in policies, programs, and services that support all children while closing gaps across race and class. The Foundation’s research is creating a ladder of change.

Constructive Dissatisfaction

Before his death in 1983, Jim Casey said, “What is needed is a renewed determination to think creatively, to learn from what has succeeded and what has failed, and, perhaps most important, to foster a sense of common commitment among all those concerned with the welfare of children.”

According to Hamilton, it was Jim’s “constructive dissatisfaction philosophy” that guides the Foundation today. The Casey Foundation believes there are always opportunities to do better by using what they’ve learned to develop new, more innovative strategies.

It’s in that spirit that Hamilton will continue to lead the Annie E. Casey Foundation forward.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Our work focuses on strengthening families, building stronger communities and ensuring access to opportunity, because children, youth and young adults need all three to succeed. We advance research and solutions to overcome the barriers to success, help communities demonstrate what works and influence decision makers to invest in strategies based on solid evidence.

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