Reflections On ‘Our Children’ During Foster Care Month

By Janis Avery, Treehouse CEO

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to reflect on both the successes and remaining challenges as we work to give foster youth a childhood and a future.

Why are foster children our collective responsibility? As soon as a judge orders a child into foster care, that child becomes “our child.” Under-resourced parents, typically struggling to overcome extreme poverty, substance abuse, mental health challenges and domestic violence must attend to their own well-being. In the language of airplane safety, parents must: “Place the mask over your own mouth first before assisting others.” If we don’t step forward as a society to shoulder the remaining burden, these children continue to suffer from trauma and loss. Most never overcome these beginnings with high rates of homelessness, incarceration, mental illness and unplanned pregnancy which impacts us all as the cycle repeats.

On March 27, there were 8,890 youth in foster care throughout the state, led by King County with 1,499. These most under-resourced and most vulnerable youth need us to lean in with urgency to make sure their needs are met so they can achieve their goals. Some of the simple things Treehouse provides are funding for after-school activities and summer camps. My own children—adopted from foster care at ages 4 and 6—loved these experiences. No matter what, they had fun and found success. Treehouse facilitates access to the experiences that make being a child so enjoyable, and our proactive, long-term Graduation Success program lays the foundation for a solid future.

Over the past year, Treehouse’s Class of 2017 increased from 52 to 64 percent in our metric “On Track to Graduate” by June. Even better, 82 percent are on course to graduate within 5 years. Nine of our persistent fifth-year seniors graduated this fall, and we’re learning that length of time in our program matters. Sixty-two percent of students with more than three years in Graduation Success are set to earn their diplomas—significantly higher than youth with less than two years. Our students often face harsh school discipline, and those numbers are improving as well. The fall semester set a record for the lowest rate of suspensions and expulsions ever.

Just about every legislative session Treehouse champions a policy change that we know will make a difference for our students in foster care. Working with collaborators from Mockingbird Society and Building Changes, we lobbied for Senator Reuven Carlyle’s legislation, SB 5241, signed into law by the Governor on April 17. By fall, schools will be required to grant and consolidate partial credit and coursework to eliminate barriers to graduation for foster and homeless youth. The new law helps these students continue progress toward their goals even after frequent school changes.

Despite the advances for foster kids, challenges remain. In regions without Treehouse’s Graduation Success program, fewer than half of youth in foster care graduate from high school. They fall behind their peers on almost every academic measure.  We are asking the Washington State Legislature to include expansion of Graduation Success in their priorities for the biennium ahead, and you can help.

Please visit our Advocacy Action Center for assistance contacting elected officials. Encourage your legislators to include Treehouse Graduation Success in the final budget. After all, these are “our children” we’re talking about.

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About the Author

Janis Avery has led Treehouse since 1995. As CEO, Janis 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 has dedicated her life to improving the circumstances of children in foster care, both in her professional capacity as a social worker and in her own home, as the parent of two children adopted from foster care.

Comment (1)

Elizabeth Rhodes

May 14, 2017

Great post…….cannot shy away from “our kids”…..How can I help…..


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