Racial Equity Work Is Central to Our Mission

By Janis Avery, Treehouse CEO

The Treehouse mission is giving foster kids a childhood and a future. At its heart, this is a social justice mission, promising youth who experience foster care equitable opportunities to experience childhood, adolescence and school success. Our youth launch into young adulthood with the resources and supports enjoyed by the middle class.

When Treehouse Executives and our Board of Directors set the ambitious goal for youth in foster care to achieve high school graduation rates equivalent to their peers, it required radical changes beyond how we design and deliver services.

In the first year of our transformative work, we acknowledged that Treehouse could not achieve our goals unless we powerfully address racial equity. Youth of color, particularly African American and Native American youth, experience disproportionately poor outcomes in child welfare and schools—the two big systems in their lives.

Institutional racism exists in every organization throughout our country, and that includes Treehouse. We believe once an individual or organization understands this reality, it’s time to work toward eliminating biased practices.

To this end, we have engaged several exceptional consultants in exploring racial equity work and integrated a framework to understand and address oppression, using race as our lens. The framework components are awareness, knowledge, skills and action applicable to learning about any difference or condition that oppresses.

Our racial equity work is mission-focused. We strive to apply this learning cycle both to the youth and families we serve, as well as our racially diverse staff to create the right conditions for everyone to thrive.

In order to achieve our toughest goals, I am driven by asking: “Who do I need to be as a leader? How do we need to behave as a team? How do we need to function as an organization?”  I hold our team accountable to strive for equitable outcomes everywhere. Each of us must consider how race may influence outcomes and develop adaptive strategies to reduce any demographic gaps.

As we celebrate graduates from the class of 2018, we recognize disparate outcomes. Only 58 percent of Latinx youth, 71 percent of Native American youth and 71 percent of African American youth graduated on time, compared to 74 percent of Caucasian youth. These statistics reinforce our commitment to dig in deeper with our social justice mission. We must further address the racism we unintentionally perpetuate, as well as the many ways racism impacts the lives of our youth and families.

At our core, Treehouse mitigates harm caused by child abuse and neglect. By attending to each youth’s identity, supporting goals for the present and future, we influence conditions where youth may take ownership of their lives, advocating for circumstances that help them thrive.

A slew of complex problems drive children into foster care: racial bias, multi-generational poverty, school failure, mental illness, substance abuse, criminal justice, violence and domestic abuse. Some youth’s mental health, substance abuse and interpersonal distress may develop in response, inhibiting our students’ immediate success. Organizationally, we tend to focus on these current, acute challenges because they influence youth to imagine and work toward a positive future.

Impacting social justice requires that we grapple with both root causes and youth’s current challenges. Treehouse’s formal advocacy efforts have focused on improving conditions that affect educational outcomes for youth in foster care. We are exploring the role that we can play, addressing root causes which are extremely complex politically, practically and personally. We are sharpening our skills and focus to encompass root causes to influence our relationships in service and conceptual framework in advocacy work.

As we grow in awareness, knowledge, skills and action, we become stronger performers in whatever role we play at work and home. We identify and address equity gaps in our service, organizational policies and practices. We advocate for individual youth. We advocate for change in systems, addressing policy and practice through our relationships with school and social service organizations. Over time, Treehouse becomes a strong, racially diverse agency with expertise in racial analysis, anti-racist practices and effective advocacy.

You may be thinking about these issues, and we invite you to join us in learning more. Below is a list of films, books and experiences that we think will help on your personal journey to eliminate racism.

Reading to Build Awareness and Knowledge
Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Natalie S. Burke, Why I Won’t Give You Ten Tips to Manage Your Privilege
Ibram Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning
Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race
Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, Wayne Au, Teaching for Black Lives

Entertainment to Support Diverse Voices
Crazy Rich Asians

Visit Local Museums
Wing Luke Museum
Northwest African American Museum
Hibulb Cultural Center

Subscribe to Our Blog

About the Author

As Treehouse’s CEO, Janis Avery devotes her time to promoting educational equity for youth in foster care through advocacy for systems change, ensuring integrated strategy and accountability, maximizing community collaboration and resource development. Janis holds a Master of Social Work and Certificate in Human Services Management from the University of Washington. She is a former social worker and an adoptive parent of two children from foster care.

Comments (3)

Robin Shapiro

October 16, 2018

Go Janis!!! This is wonderfully said.


Nancy and Bob Grote

January 16, 2020

Wonderful work you are doing on opening up doors to at Treehouse to address racial bias within your own institution and beyond!


Robert Charles

January 17, 2021

Thanks for a great post. Browse this list of interesting articles and essays on topics like health, happiness, productivity and more.


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