Pursuing Equity for
Youth in Foster Care
At this very moment, there are nearly 10,000 children in foster care in Washington State. They woke up this morning in unfamiliar surroundings, and ate breakfast with people they don’t know well. They left behind favorite clothing, toys and family photos. Many are separated from their brothers and sisters who they may not get to see often. They are worrying about what is going to happen to them and whether they are going to get to see their Mom this week. And every time they have to move, they lose not only family, but teachers, friends, neighbors, coaches—everyone they know and love.
In foster care, they are safe from physical harm and dangerous neglect, but they are far from out of the woods socially, emotionally and academically. This is where Treehouse steps in, providing access to the academic and essential supports they equally deserve to be successful in school and in life.
Dee Thierry was introduced to Treehouse when a close co-worker became a foster parent to two children. She soon learned how foster parents struggled to manage the costs of essential items not covered by the State like clothing, as well as important extra-curricular activities like school sports and music lessons. Dee learned that Treehouse helps kids thrive by providing the fundamental support services they needed. After seeing Treehouse’s impact first hand, she immediately wanted to get involved as a way to support her friend.
The rest, as they say, is history. Dee has been a Treehouse donor, volunteer, and donation drive host for four years. She volunteers primarily as a Front Desk Receptionist on Friday afternoons in addition to her full-time career at the Legal Foundation of Washington. Philanthropy is at the heart of Dee’s life. She is also a member of PEO International, an organization that promotes advancement of women through educational scholarships, grants, awards, and low interest loans. She works as an Outreach Volunteer for PAWS, and is an active supporter of FareStart.
When asked why she specifically enjoys dedicating her time at the Treehouse front desk she said, “I love watching how the Treehouse staff come together to get things done. All sorts of people stop by the front desk looking for resources, help and general guidance, and many truly don’t know where else to go. The front desk becomes an information hub for these people whether I’m able to answer their questions, or connect them with staff or a partner agency. The work that is being done here at Treehouse is truly a miracle.”
Dee’s passion for philanthropy shines through to every person she welcomes to the Treehouse office. She endeavors to create a warm and cheerful environment with the same enthusiasm she puts into summer and winter donation drives and we are so grateful for her years of dedicated service to Treehouse.
For caregivers like Alison, September is a time of new beginnings. Changes in the season mean new classes, friends, and routines for the two foster youth that she cares for. Back-to-School also brings a list of expenses that can seem unmanageable for any parent but are truly insurmountable for foster parents. The State only covers about 60% of the costs of basic care, leaving foster parents like Alison facing a chronic financial gap.
Luckily, Alison knows that she can come to the Treehouse Wearhouse, our free store for foster youth, to get all of the items on her kids’ lists. Alison’s kids look forward to the times they can come to the Wearhouse since the staff makes such an effort to keep it stocked with on-trend fashions that enable them to feel great and fit in at school. When shopping for a new school outfit last year, Alison’s daughter screamed with excitement when she found a pair of stylish boots– in her size! Every morning before heading off to school, Alison tells her kids, “Be as successful as you can be today.” Watching her kids run out the door dressed for success brings Alison comfort knowing that her kids are ready to take on the world.
Last August more than 800 youth like Alison’s kids selected more than 15,000 back to school clothes, supplies and backpacks from the Treehouse Wearhouse.
Once a month, The Junior League sends volunteers to Treehouse to host Girls Group, a special time for Treehouse girls to connect with their friends, have fun, and learn new skills.
Shortly after immigrating to the United States, Treehouse youth Mary decided to try out her first Girls Group when the Junior League hosting a Zumba workshop. She wanted to participate, but didn’t know anyone. Many of the girls already had friends they knew, and she found it hard to connect with the girls in the room. The volunteers immediately recognized her nervous look, and came to the rescue. They introduced themselves, helped her find a table, and got her talking to some of the other girls. By the time the Zumba instruction began, Mary felt confident enough to join in. By the end of the evening, she was right up front with the instructor, doing all the moves!
Having the Junior League ladies give some support and encouragement made all the difference. Since that first experience, Mary has attended every Girls Group, and jumps right into whatever activity is going on. She even joined the YMCA to take Zumba classes every Friday after school. Thanks to the wonderful volunteers from The Junior League, Mary is making friends, having new experiences, and growing into a confident dancer!
Tuesday nights have become livelier since Junior joined the Wearhouse volunteer team in February of 2013. When the store is open for shoppers, Junior loves being able to connect with foster youth and families while working at the checkout station. He has good energy and a great attitude, and is always looking for opportunities to make a new friend. Some nights he might even give you a lesson in Zumba!
Nilton Santos Biazi Junior traveled a long way to become a Treehouse volunteer. He is from Martinopolis, Sao Paulo in Brazil. He has a sister in medical school and he speaks four languages. When he has free time from his high school coursework, Junior volunteers with Treehouse and the Rotary Club. He joined these organizations because helping people in need makes his life more rewarding. He loves participating in the “Josh, the Otter” program where he teaches kindergarten students about water safety. He also enjoys hanging out with friends and exploring Seattle.
If Junior could change something about the world, he would do something about the way people are divided by economic opportunities. He thinks everyone should be equal, with the same rights and the same opportunities for education. Junior’s favorite quote is “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney. With future aspirations of going into International Business, Junior is determined to make such dreams come true for him and others. Thanks for making the Wearhouse experience exciting for our shoppers, Junior!
Marcus was in his seventh foster care placement by the time he celebrated his 18th birthday. Each move not only caused major interruptions in his home life, but also pushed Marcus progressively further and further behind in his school work. After moving foster care placements just before the start of his senior year, Marcus began to doubt whether or not a high school diploma would be possible.
When Marcus showed up for his first day as a senior, he received discouraging news – his previous high school and new high school had different graduation requirements; and due to his lack of correct credits, he wasn’t going to be able to graduate with his peers that June. While this news would be hard for anyone to hear, for Marcus, this news devastating. Not only had he already been accepted to Washington State University for the next school year, but he was also awarded a full-ride scholarship to run track for the school’s team.
Marcus knew that in order to have any chance of starting college in the fall, he needed extra help. Thankfully, Marcus was able to get connected to a Treehouse Educational Advocate, Laycee, who was ready to help break down the barriers that were keeping Marcus from graduating. Laycee worked with both Marcus’s previous and new school, and through some extra (but much needed) communication, Marcus was able to get a new schedule that would not only meet his senior year requirements, but would do so on a schedule that would allow him to graduate with his peers on time.
As Marcus finishes out his senior year, he’s busy completing his coursework and anxiously awaiting the start of his first year as a collegiate athlete!
Jeff was in 4th grade when he disclosed to his school counselor that he was being abused at home. The school made a CPS referral, and DCFS removed Jeff from him home and placed him in a foster home. The school was not notified of the outcome; they only knew that one day soon after the CPS referral, Jeff stopped coming to school.
Over the next 2 ½ years, Jeff was placed in 3 foster homes in WA and one relative placement in Texas which only lasted a few months. When in school, he was unruly, inattentive and unable to do his work and ultimately failed most classes. His school behaviors and grades impacted his placement stability, and in return, his multiple moves made school success impossible. When he finally returned to WA from Texas, he was placed in another foster home located near his old home and original school. By this time he was entering 7th grade.
Initially, the school wanted to retain him and have him repeat 6th grade. It was at this time that Jeff got a Treehouse Educational Advocate. The advocate read his DCFS file and tracked down his old school records, which had not yet made it to the new school. What the advocate learned was that Jeff had been diagnosed with ADHD in the 2nd grade, and had been receiving accommodations and services in his old school until the time he left to go into foster care. This information had never followed Jeff, and as a result none of the subsequent schools had been able to adequately support his disability and provide the right services for Jeff to succeed. In addition, the advocate spoke to the principal at the original school who expressed great concern about Jeff and bewilderment at not knowing where he went and what had happened to him. This important link had been broken, and this principal had been prevented from reaching out and helping him transition to a new school (or even trying to keep him in the same school).
Because of his Treehouse Educational Advocate, instead of being retained, Jeff had an expedited evaluation for Special Education, was qualified, and a tailored education plan was placed around him. Today, he is not only doing well in school, he loves it! His foster placement has been very stable, and they are going to enter into a guardianship of Jeff soon.
Diana understands the emotional scars that can be created by a life in the foster care system. Throughout her childhood, she bounced between countless homes and schools. When she finally found a family she felt a connection with, an administrative mix-up by her social worker caused another endless string of transitions, including time in a group home.
Despite these enormous obstacles, Diana always had a love for learning and was determined to graduate and earn a college degree. Finally, at age 18, she attended one school for the entire academic year. Fortuitously, she was connected to the Treehouse Education Program her senior year of high school, where she learned about the Fostering Scholars program at Seattle University. Started by a Treehouse donor and former Seattle University Trustee, the Fostering Scholars program provided a full-ride scholarship and wrap-around supports for foster care alumni. Diana applied, was accepted, and spent the next four years studying hard, volunteering at the Juvenile Detention Center, and working as a nanny.
With just a few credits left to go, Diana was able to walk with her class last spring. She expected to return to SU last summer to finish a couple of missing credits and embark on her new life as a college graduate. Then, in June, she was involved in a pedestrian accident where she was pinned between a vehicle and a commercial truck. The accident caused serious injury, and temporarily forced Diana into a wheelchair while she began the recovery process.
Words cannot express how moved we were this fall when, in the midst of her world being turned upside down, Diana managed to drop-off a pile of back-to-school donations for Treehouse kids. Prior to the accident, she had spent an entire afternoon picking out the exact toys and books she wished she had when she was in foster care, like roller skates. She bought a copy of “Hands are Not for Hitting,” for the Wearhouse book nook, since it’s concept that “many foster kids are learning for the first time.” Diana even found a bike on Craig’s List, which she bought in exchange for the bike she remembers taking home from Treehouse as a foster teen. Diana was on a tight budget at the time, but found a way to stretch her graduation dollars to make a last impact. As she continues her recovery, Diana is also planning her next step in life – applying to law school and pursuing a career in child welfare law.
Many of us can remember the feeling of panic that ensues when you’re a child and, for a split second, you find yourself separated from your parent in a store. Usually, they’ve just let go of your hand for a brief moment while they pick up an item or proceed through the check-out line. But for some kids in foster care, that fear isn’t a “fleeting emotion.” For Sarah, it wasn’t.
At the age of five, Sarah’s mother took her to a shopping mall in the middle of the night and told her she’d be right back. Sarah waited for hours. The next morning, a security guard found her and asked how long she had been alone. At five years old, all should could reply was, “I don’t know. . . since it was dark.” Sarah was placed with her dad and stepmom, where she suffered from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse for the next ten years.
At the age of fifteen, Sarah began to question whether she wanted to live. When she tried to take her own life, she was placed in a group home. When she arrived at the “home,” she had exactly five possessions: a nightgown, two shirts, a pair of stretch pants, and some socks.
Fortunately, Sarah was referred to Treehouse, where she was able to access the Wearhouse and pick out clothes and other necessities that she wanted to wear – instead of what her father forced her to wear. When she tried on her pile of all-black clothing and her first pair of jeans, she realized that she was finally free from her father and able to make her own decisions. From that point forward, Sarah took control of her life.
Despite having moved multiple times between freshman and senior year, with the support of Treehouse, Sarah managed to stay on-track academically and will be graduating this spring from Roosevelt High School. For Sarah, making it to graduation day is more than a tremendous accomplishment – it’s a second shot at life. Through Little Wishes, Sarah was able to purchase her cap and gown, which she’ll wear proudly as she walks across the stage and is awarded her diploma in June.
With the support of Treehouse staff, Sarah was accepted to Southern Utah College, where she’s excited to start a new chapter come fall. We are so proud of Sarah’s incredible resiliency and strength, and we can’t wait to watch her future unfold!
When Jenna was sixteen, her mother dropped her off in Seattle and drove away – forever. Learn More
Aisha doesn’t remember when she was taken from her home and placed in foster care. Learn More
What is foster care? Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for abused, neglected, and dependent children who need a safe place to live when their parents or another relative cannot take care of them.
What are some of the biggest challenges kids in foster care face? Life in foster care can be extraordinarily challenging and disruptive for kids and teens, emotionally and developmentally. Separated from their family, foster youth face tremendous obstacles in school and in life.