Treehouse Supports Over 1,000 Youth During the Back-to-School Season

While students need positive relationships and stability to be successful, they also need ongoing access to additional materials, resources and opportunities, such as clothing, books and extracurricular activities, to support their overall educational experience. The cost of back-to-school shopping alone currently averages $864 per student a year with expenses for college students reaching $1,199 on average. Research shows that barriers to accessing these resources contribute to student gaps in achievement, relationships and skills.

To ensure youth in foster care have the same access to resources and opportunities as their peers, Treehouse’s Store and Just-in-Time Funding teams work with the Graduation Success and Launch Success programs to help support the material and financial needs of youth. While an Education Specialist or Launch Success Coach helps participants set and attain their goals, the Store gives them access to a free clothes, school supplies, books and more, and Just-in-Time Funding can fund requests for high school sports, summer camps, career exploration or college application fees, which are essential to help spark a youth’s interest and creativity and help them positively engage in school and the community.

The end of summer is a busy time for the Treehouse Store and Just-in-Time Funding teams, as they fulfill requests of participants for the new school year. 1,003 youth were supported between July 12 and August 31 through in-person shopping, online orders, funding requests and pop-up shops.

The Treehouse Store

According to a Statista online survey, the average amount families have spent on back-to-school expenses has increased 45% since 2004. The Treehouse Store — a free store where eligible youth and their caregivers can shop for high quality clothes, shoes, school supplies, toys, books, tickets to events and other essentials — has seen the need firsthand. With a third of Graduation Success participants experiencing varying degrees of financial struggles, buying school supplies, a backpack, clothes for school and books is often out of reach.

The Store began giving away items for back-to-school on July 12 when they opened for online orders and in-person shopping appointments. In that time, the Seattle store served 840 youth — 165 from online orders and 703 from in-person shopping appointments. They have given away over 23,000 items, including clothing, school supplies, backpacks, books and hygiene items.

A kinship caregiver came in to shop for her four grandchildren in early August. She shared with staff at check-in that she was thankful to get back-to-school shopping done at Treehouse because funds have been tight. She said Treehouse was relieving a huge financial burden and she wasn’t sure how she would’ve gotten everything the kids needed otherwise.

Chelsea Woolford, Material Resources Program Manager at Treehouse

Pop-up shops were also held in Spokane and Vancouver this past summer to give Graduation Success participants outside of Seattle the opportunity to shop for their own items. 110 attended the two events and were able to get almost 1,500 items to help start the school year strong. With Education Specialists there to support, youth could pick out their own clothing, backpacks and school supplies in person, finding things that would make them feel confident, empowered and have ownership over what they wear.

Clothing has significant influence on the way youth evaluate themselves and how they act in accordance with that self-evaluation. “Enclothed cognition”, a term coined by a pair of scientists in a 2012 report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, showed that the clothing a person wears has an effect on the way one thinks and feels. When a youth gets a new outfit, they receive a boost of confidence, and research suggests that confidence can have a direct correlation to academic success.

Just-in-Time Funding

This summer, Just-in-Time Funding — a program that provides youth in foster care the opportunity to request funding to explore their hobbies, get involved in extracurricular activities and pursue their career interests — approved 810 requests totaling $141,608. The requests ranged from extracurricular activities and school fees to personal care and technology.

Fees related to extracurricular activities were the most popular request with lack of funds and transportation being common barriers. According to the Youth Law Center, activities such as organized sports and clubs provide youth with social, emotional, spiritual and educational enrichment. Extracurricular participation is known to help boost academic performance, and some research suggests that even after controlling for socioeconomic factors and cognitive ability, it is linked to higher grades and graduation rates.

A youth was looking for an extracurricular activity they could work on during their free time. After exploring several options with their family and Treehouse Education Specialist, they decided on relearning the violin. They had taken lessons when they were much younger and missed playing music. Our Just-in-Time Funding program provided them with a violin, and they have been taking lessons after school.

Kevin Burke, Treehouse Education Specialist

A large number of requests also came from participants in our Launch Success program, young adults who are no longer in the foster care system and are now navigating adulthood. The requests from this age group covered not only expenses tied directly to back-to-school expenses and college or career support but also basic needs and transportation.

Data collected from our participants between January and June 2022 showed us that young adults (18-26 years old) experienced moderate to significant financial struggles at higher rates than youth under 18. Additionally, 35% of our 21-year-old participants — the age in which youth in extended foster care age out of the system — experienced significant financial struggles.

How to get involved

As a youth in foster care or caregiver

If you or someone you know has lived experience in the foster care system and are under the age of 26, you can visit the Essentials & Experiences page for more information on our programs and their eligibility requirements.

As a supporter

There are a number of ways that you can support youth experiencing foster care, including hosting a drive, volunteering, making a purchase from our Amazon wishlist or making a financial contribution to the organization. Visit the Take Action page for more information.

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