Foster Care 101 with Treehouse’s Chief Program Officer

By Angela Griffin, Treehouse Chief Program Officer

Angela Griffin, Treehouse’s Chief Program Officer, answered the following questions about the foster care system and how Treehouse is expanding its Graduation Success program across the state of Washington.

1. What do you believe are the most common reasons caregivers choose to foster?

  • Compassion and empathy for the experiences of children and youth in foster care.
  • A personal experience with the foster care system either directly or indirectly, such as had foster children in their home as a child.
  • Step in as a community or family member to take in a child that has entered into the system or is at risk of going into foster care.
  • Capacity in their homes to foster.

2. Why would someone decide not to foster?

  • Fear of becoming emotionally attached to a child.
  • Not understanding the system.
  • The time commitment for licensure.
  • People in their home that prevent them from being able to meet licensing qualifications.
  • Not enough space in their home.
  • Lack the capacity of time and/or resources to support the needs, such as medical visits, counseling appointments and material goods.
  • Children in the home that might be negatively impacted by the trauma experienced by a child or youth in foster care.

3. How do youth in foster care connect to Treehouse?

  • Clients are referred directly from social workers, schools and/or other community organizations.
  • Treehouse also outreaches to organizations that have connections to children and youth in foster care to ensure eligible youth are connected to our resources.

4. How do you remain connected with the kids once they leave the foster care system?

  • The Graduation Success program establishes relationships with the youth to ensure ongoing connections for their long-term success. Treehouse staff seek to be part of the transition into permanency or as they age out of foster care. We recently began implementing a program to directly serve youth who age out of the foster care system. The Launch Success program will support young adults to obtain a degree or credential, stable housing and a livable wage.

5. What are some key structural inequalities and challenges that youth in foster care face?

  • In the education system, children in foster care are challenged with being highly mobile due to school and placement changes. These changes impact their engagement in school and disrupt their ability to be on track academically.
  • Youth in foster care inevitably experience trauma from being removed out of their homes or away from family, which is often not accommodated in the school environment. When their behavior reflects their traumatic experiences, they do not usually receive the support necessary to manage behavior effectively.
  • They do not consistently receive the academic support to catch up on missed assignments, make up tests or get acclimated to classroom expectations.
  • Foster youth are often incarcerated for truancy or running away. When this happens there is more disruption to the youth’s education.

6. Treehouse’s Five-Year Graduation Goal is: By 2022, youth in foster care across Washington state will graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers, with support and a plan to launch successfully into adulthood. Why do you believe the goal is important?

The plan is clearly defined to support youth in setting and meeting their own graduation goals. It also establishes measurable and achievable targets to increase the graduation rate for youth in foster care.

7. What projects are you currently working on to achieve this goal?

Our priority project is expanding the service model that has been proven to increase graduation rates. In that expansion effort, we are taking into consideration the total population of youth who are in care, including those in foster care, tribal foster care and justices involved.

8. What have you learned while working on the goal?

  • We are standardizing our work because one of our greatest learnings was that we need to have common language and practice of our service model in every area of our expansion.
  • We believe fidelity to our program model ensures the outcomes and impact for increased graduation rates. Although the program is intended to be delivered in an equitable and individualized manner, the core components of the model need to be implemented according to their design.

9. What are some barriers and risks you’ve encountered?

  • Due to the trauma our youth experience and the nature of being involved in the foster care system, most of them are consistently in crisis and/or dealing with mental health challenges.
  • Most of our youth have had numerous adults involved in their lives, which can be overwhelming and confusing to the youth. That includes social workers, law enforcement, judges, lawyers, court appointed advocates, community program staff and school staff—often simultaneously.
  • People also cycle out of these roles, and there is always someone new the youth needs to engage and attempt to build relationships with to get the support they need.

10. What are some key issues that develop when collaborating with social workers, school systems, government agencies and policymakers as Treehouse works to achieve its five-year goal?

  • Treehouse collaborates with three state agencies which are the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF), Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and Washington State Achievement Council (WSAC).
  • DCYF’s priorities are safety and placement for the youth to ensure their well-being, both of which are absolutely critical. Unfortunately, that means education is not their top priority. Treehouse has a sense of urgency and desire for continuity in school placement, meeting academic standards, grade progression and graduation.
  • OSPI is the governing body for the 296 school districts in Washington state. Foster youth are a small demographic of most school buildings and districts so they have been historically overlooked. The most recent federal guidelines around the education of youth in foster care require school districts to be more accountable to their outcomes, including the achievement of a 90% graduation rate by 2027. Our state also has implemented the engagement of foster care liaisons in every school district to ensure these youth have the resources and supports necessary for academic achievement.
  • WSAC has contracts with multiple organizations to support college access while youth are in high school and also coach life skills. Treehouse partners with the local agency to provide these services. Each organization is tasked with serving a large area which makes persistent follow up with youth a challenge.
  • Legislation and contracts hold government agencies accountable for centering youth in foster care’s educational outcomes.

11. What are some other issues youth in foster care face that you would like to work on in the future?

  • The disproportionate engagement with children and youth of color in the foster care system.
  • The ineffectiveness of the mental and behavioral health services that are available to this population.
  • Ensuring education continuity when youth in foster care become engaged with the juvenile justice system.

To learn more about how you can make an impact in the lives of youth in foster care visit treehouseforkids.org/take-action.

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About the Author

Angela Griffin provides strategic leadership for Treehouse’s educational programs throughout Washington. Under her guidance, the organization works with youth in foster care to unlock their potential, graduate from high school and pave a path to achieve their goals for the future. She is a former school board director and serves on several committees as an advocate for better educational outcomes. Her 25-year background includes managing early learning, childcare and youth development programs in the nonprofit sector.

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