Online MBA Immersion: Students at SMU Cox Consult with the Largest Foster Care Charity in the UK

Matthew Doyle at the SMU Cox Online MBA Immersion in London

There are many reasons to pursue an Online MBA in Texas, and the SMU Cox Advantage makes the decision even more compelling. Defined by its three Foundational Pillars: Leadership, Analytics, and Experiential Learning, this framework represents a forward-thinking approach to learning, prepares students for the future, and supports growth. Pre-COVID, as part of the Online MBA program at SMU Cox, students traveled abroad or domestically to participate in immersions. Immersions offer students an opportunity to do live consulting with the program’s corporate partners, and in 2019 OMBA students flew to the UK for their London Immersion session. Among the impressive speakers included Matthew Doyle, who serves as the board of trustees’ chair at The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT), the largest foster care charity in the United Kingdom.

We sat down with Mr. Doyle to discuss the difficulties TACT faces, how the Online MBA students offered workable solutions during the immersion, and how TACT plans to implement these changes.

TACT’s Goals

TACT was established in 1992 by a group of highly qualified and caring individuals who were concerned about the lack of, and rising immediate need for, adequate foster care and adoptive placements in the UK. Today, the charitable organization has grown into a national network of offices in England, Wales, and Scotland. TACT carries out other efforts, such as campaigning on behalf of children in foster care and their caregivers and families. However, at its core, TACT maintains its priority of providing high-quality, child-centered fostering services.

“When something goes wrong, and a child doesn’t have a family, they become the responsibility of the local authority,” Doyle said. “The local authority becomes what we call the ‘corporate parent.’” Once a local authority or municipality becomes a child’s corporate parent, it’s their responsibility to find that child proper care and a home, whether temporary or long-term. There are two fundamental options for carrying out this process: 1) the local authority can find the child a foster home through their pool of caregivers; or 2) they can place the child in a home via an independent fostering agency (IFA), such as TACT. Within the IFA groups, there are for-profit which filter money back to shareholders and not-for-profit charities. While TACT is a powerhouse that functions as a commercial organization, they are legally structured as a charity to ensure every cent gets reinvested back into their core mission.

One of TACT’s challenges involves how to fund and navigate each child through the foster system adequately. TACT currently maintains a standard model of care. Doyle challenged the SMU Cox Online MBA students to go beyond the standard and develop a better way of ensuring equal and appropriate care for each child. This is when the Online MBA cohort rolled up their sleeves and went to the drawing board.

Online MBA Proposals

The Online MBA program, which launched in 2019 with its first cohort of 50 students, features two Immersion sessions consisting of four-day-long study abroad programs. The students do a live consulting study with representatives from participating corporate partners. The London-UK Immersion took place in December 2019 and included Doyle’s presentation and challenge, which students broke into smaller groups to resolve each presented issue.

Doyle framed TACT’s problem to the Online MBA cohort: “Think of foster caregivers as buckets of resources. Local authorities have their own buckets, and there are 116 of them. Then, there are about 120 IFAs. There are nearly 250 buckets of resources out there and 90,000 children in care. How do we get those children to not only a bed, but the best bed?” Moving children around to multiple homes significantly impacts their lives. The goal is to find the right family as quickly as possible and establish a permanency solution.

The Cox Online MBA candidates came up with what they called a blind “national fostering database.” The list would match the needs of the children with the supply of foster caregivers. Since the cohort designed the database for use across multiple local authorities and IFAs, the database would not reveal caregivers’ identities. The Online MBA cohort also proposed removing the foster care placement responsibility from local authorities altogether. Doyle explained, “Local authorities are given money for all sorts of things. How they deem they spend the money is up to them.” Redirecting foster care funds from local authorities would improve how resources are funneled to a dedicated purpose and ensure the money follows the child.

Plans for Implementation

TACT made plans with ten local authorities and six IFAs to implement a pilot program using a prototype of the Online MBA students’ national fostering database. They planned to roll out the pilot in August 2020. Due to limitations caused by the pandemic, however, the project is still underway with tentative plans to begin the pilot sometime in 2021.

Doyle expressed his appreciation for the students who participated in the immersion session. “What sort of stunned me was the quality of the questions, and how quickly they understood the UK political landscape and were comfortable working in an unfamiliar industry,” he said.

Here at SMU Cox, when COVID hit, we pivoted to a virtual format for Immersions and similar student experiences. Since kicking off these virtual programs in August 2020, our students have completed an impressive 21 separate global projects. Virtual Immersions are an exciting area that SMU Cox will continue to explore. At the same time, we hope to resume in-person immersions in 2021 so that Online MBA and MBA Direct candidates alike are able to assist and learn from innovative organizations, like TACT, all over the world.

If you are interested in pursuing your MBA, learn more about the SMU Cox Online MBA programs today.