Senator Carlyle Honored as Treehouse’s Legislator of the Year

Photography credit: Robert Wade Photography

Long-time Treehouse community members, supporters and legislators gathered on December 7 to celebrate a decade of work and impact in the Graduation Success program.

Treehouse board and staff leaders shared our progress on expanding the program statewide and honored the leadership and legacy of Senator Reuven Carlyle as the inaugural recipient of the Treehouse Legislator of the Year Award.

In 2013, Treehouse launched Graduation Success with a dream that all youth in foster care in King County would graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers with a plan for the future. It was a bold and challenging commitment at the time, but we knew it was the right decision to help create a “level playing field” for youth in foster care.

“We worried about all of the things that were not in our control,” Treehouse President Dawn Rains said of early efforts. “We worried about how we would afford it. We worried about failing our youth and disappointing our partners and donors.”

Since then, we have dedicated our efforts to growing the program to serve every youth in the state who has experienced foster care.

She shared that it took years of hard work to get the results that the program currently holds as part of its legacy.

It required the backing of private donors and legislative investment that gave the program runway and cleared the path for scaling and evolution.

Over the years, the statewide foster care graduation rate has increased from 36.5% in 2013 to 50.4% in 2020 — twice the rate of increase of the general student population. In 2021, the program served nearly 1,300 students in over 100 school districts statewide. 

“In these past ten years, we have stepped fully into our role as systems change agents,” said Rains. “Treehouse has become a trusted leader and partner to legislators and state agencies.”

For the past five years, Treehouse has co-led a cross-systems, legislatively-mandated workgroup charged with achieving educational parity for children and youth experiencing foster care and/or homelessness from pre-k through post-secondary. It is the only effort of its kind in the nation.

“I am excited that the leadership of Treehouse and the State of Washington is being noticed on a national level,” she said. “Our work has, in part, inspired a group of local and national funders to develop and invest in a multi-faceted strategy to improve education outcomes for students experiencing foster care, homelessness and incarceration at the federal level.” 

Rains talked about how the work has been near and dear to her heart and how it has the power to change lives.  “Step boldly forward with us,” she urged, “to ensure that youth experiencing foster care in our state have every opportunity to determine their own future and pursue their dreams.”

Governor Jay Inslee delivered special remarks, talking about the state’s commitment to the educational success and well-being of children and youth experiencing foster care.

“The profound need for this becomes more obvious as time goes on,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “You’re changing lives, and you’re saving lives.”

Noting the need for continuing support for Washington state’s youth and mental health programs, Inslee spoke directly to those who are championing the cause at a state level. “This isn’t our only effort for this group of young people,” he said.

The event also highlighted the many contributions of Senator Reuven Carlyle for youth in foster care, honoring him as the inaugural Treehouse Legislator of the Year Award recipient.

“Senator Reuven Carlyle has been truly singular in his commitment, passion and insistence that we can, and we must do better for the children and youth for whom the state has become parent,” said Sharmila Swenson, Treehouse Board Chair-Elect, who presented the award to Sen. Carlyle. “Senator, we are so grateful for your vision, leadership and commitment to the children and youth in foster care in our state.”

Senator Carlyle was passionate about the educational success of youth impacted by foster care even before being elected. As a private citizen, he authored the bill and advocated to establish the Passport to College program, which provides flexible scholarship dollars and on-campus support for youth who have experienced foster care.

Once in office, Senator Carlyle partnered with Treehouse on many legislative issues and funding requests, helping to secure our first state investment — and several subsequent investments — for Graduation Success. Thanks to his leadership, since the program’s inception, 962 young people have completed high school!

Upon accepting his award, Senator Carlyle called for more support and funding for the cause.

“When our young people do not graduate, they experience dire outcomes — poverty, homelessness, and incarceration — that are not only tragedies for these individual young people, but expensive for all of us,” Carlyle said. “Together, we can ensure that our most marginalized and vulnerable young people have every opportunity to thrive, not only in school, but in their lives.”

Carlyle asked the legislature to invest $3 million more, with Treehouse contributing $700,000 in private contributions, to support the goal of expanding Graduation Success to middle school.

“I think we all know that research shows that earlier intervention leads to even stronger outcomes,” he said.

Thank you, Senator Carlyle, for your leadership and partnership over the years. Congratulations on this much-deserved award — and we look forward to your continued guidance and advocacy on behalf of our children and young people in foster care.

Learn more about Treehouse’s 2023 legislative priorities and how you can advocate for key issues for youth in foster care.

Photography credit: Robert Wade Photography

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