Treehouse Takes Bold Step to End Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline

Nearly 40% of Washington’s incarcerated youth have experienced foster care.

SEATTLE, Wash.Treehouse announced a bold initiative to disrupt the foster care-to-prison pipeline with new investments in policy and systems reform and direct services to incarcerated youth, in partnership with the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) and the Raikes Foundation.

While children and youth enter foster care through no fault of their own, youth who have experienced foster care go on to be incarcerated at much higher rates than their peers as both juveniles and adults. According to DCYF, in Washington nearly one in four young adults are arrested within one year of aging out of foster care and approximately 40% of Washington’s incarcerated youth have experienced foster care. One Juvenile Law Center study showed that more than 90% of youth in foster care with five or more placements will become involved in the juvenile legal system. Dual system-involved youth graduate from high school at just 14%, the state’s lowest rate.

“State data shows that many young people go from foster care to incarceration, and when they leave incarceration, they become homeless, with the cycle repeating again and again,” said Treehouse CEO Lisa Chin. “We can and we must end this cycle now.”

“We have a lot of work to do for these youth and a long way to go, but through this partnership with Treehouse and the Raikes Foundation, we can work together to find ways to get better outcomes,” said DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter. “The first and most important step we take is to listen to those with lived experience.”

To that end, Treehouse has hired Arthur Longworth and Ari McLaren-Simpson to intensify its efforts to reform the foster care, education and juvenile legal systems and to better serve youth in and after juvenile incarceration. Longworth will focus on policy and practice solutions, and McLaren-Simpson will concentrate on programming to ensure youth in and exiting juvenile rehabilitation have the opportunities and support they need to launch successfully into adulthood.

Longworth is a celebrated author, having won six National PEN Awards and written two books and numerous articles chronicling his experience in the foster care, juvenile rehabilitation and adult corrections systems. Most recently, he authored a chapter in What We Know: Solutions from Our Experiences in the Justice System focusing on what we can learn from incarcerated people who experienced foster care.

“We know from our work and from studies that not graduating, spending time in foster care and getting caught up in the legal system are closely connected to homelessness as a young person,” said Paula Carvalho of the Raikes Foundation. “Breaking these connections is very important to us, and that’s why we are excited to continue to support Treehouse and Art Longworth’s efforts to dismantle the foster care-to-prison pipeline.”

Longworth entered foster care at age 12 and was placed in more than a dozen foster and group homes. By age 16, he was turned out onto the streets with no home, no job and virtually no education. At age 20, he committed a crime for which he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

During his 37 years in prison, Longworth became a leader of the Concerned Lifers Organization and founded the State Raised Working Group, comprised of inmates who experienced foster care growing up and who want to prevent other youth from becoming incarcerated. Longworth was released from prison earlier this year following a Washington State Supreme Court ruling that allows anyone automatically sentenced to life without parole for a crime committed before age 21 to be resentenced taking their young age and other mitigating factors into account. Longworth’s request for release centered on his efforts to atone by working with policymakers to change foster care and prevent future cases like his.

“I strive to use my life experience to help youth experiencing foster care, incarceration and homelessness find a different path than mine,” said Longworth. “All of our youth deserve a chance to heal from their trauma, discover their worth and have access opportunities.”

McLaren-Simpson brings a master’s degree in social work and years of experience serving children, youth and families in the education and foster care systems, with a focus on behavioral supports to keep youth in the classroom. McLaren-Simpson’s passion is to increase equitable education outcomes throughout the state for dual-system youth.

“I will fight to provide hope and tools to equip our most marginalized youth across Washington state to become successful, independent adults,” said Ari McLaren-Simpson.

“These new positions add the capacity and expertise we need to advance our efforts to transform systems and better serve all of our youth,” said Dawn Rains, Treehouse executive vice president. “We are engaging those who have lived expertise in our systems — they are the ones to lead us in finding the answers.”

Treehouse has been working on policy solutions to disrupt the foster care-to-prison pipeline for five years in partnership with the State Raised Working Group inside the Washington State Reformatory, led by Longworth. Treehouse has achieved several improvements in policies, funding and community awareness around these issues, including investments in education supports and the establishment of a workgroup to study and make recommendations to improve institutional education for incarcerated youth (HB 1295, 2021). In addition, the State Legislature recently awarded $10.6 million in stipends for youth exiting the Extended Foster Care (EFC) program during the pandemic. The goal of the stipends is to help youth who have been under the care of the foster care system with their transition to adulthood by increasing housing stability and securing access to essential resources such as food, transportation and utilities.


About Treehouse

Treehouse is Washington’s leading nonprofit organization focused on addressing the academic and other essential support needs for youth in foster care. We envision and strive to create a world where every child experiencing foster care has the opportunities and support they need to pursue their dreams and launch successfully into independence. Treehouse provides support to more than 7,000 children, youth and young adults each year.

Media Contacts

Suzanne Lavender [email protected]
KD Hall [email protected]

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