Health & Fitness

You Want To Change The World: treehouse Is A Good First Step

You Want To Change The World: treehouse Is A Good First Step

treehouse

Photo Compliments of John Cook

We all have an image in our mind of the perfect American family, the perfect family in Washington State; it is much like the really magical tree house in the photo. It really does exist for some families, unfortunately for some children it is tragically too far from the truth.

Right now there are 10,000 children in foster care in Washington State. They woke up this morning in unfamiliar surroundings, and they ate breakfast with people they don’t know that well; certainly it was not with family. In this world they live in they have most likely left behind favorite clothing, toys, and family photos. Many are separated from brothers and sisters who they may not get to see often. They worry about what is going to happen to them and whether they are going to get to see their Mom or Dad. Every time they have to move, they lose the bonds and support we take for granted, the ones that we assume exist in the photo of the magic tree house; this includes family, teachers, friends, neighbors, coaches, everyone they know and love.

Foster Care

Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for abused, neglected, and dependent children who need a safe place to live when their parents or another relative cannot take care of them. Often their families face issues such as illness, alcohol or drug addiction, or homelessness.

In foster care, they are safe from physical harm and dangerous neglect, but anyone who has raised children knows they are far from social, emotional, and academic success that will carry them into adulthood. This is where Treehouse steps in, providing access to the academic and essential supports they need to be successful in school and in life.

How

Kids enter foster care through no fault of their own; all have experienced severe abuse and/or neglect due to a crisis of parenting. Poverty, substance abuse, incarceration, mental illness, and homelessness are typically the factors that have forced the state to intervene in the lives of families to protect children from abusive and neglectful situations. In Washington State, approximately 65% of all youth enter the foster system because of neglect, while 35% enter because of physical and sexual abuse. Before you start to form mental images of this scenario you need to remind yourself that child abuse and neglect occurs in all cultural, ethnic, occupational, and socioeconomic groups.

Outcomes

Once the court has decided that a child should be removed from his or her parent’s custody and placed in foster care, the birth parents and the child are assigned a social worker. Federal law requires that all children have a “permanency goal”— that is, there must be a clearly defined plan for the child to safely leave foster care. The initial goal for almost all children who enter the system is to eventually return to their birth parents care. Approximately 65% of children who enter foster care do eventually return to their birth parents after they have completed necessary counseling and treatment.

When families are unable or unwilling to make the life changes necessary to ensure they can safely parent their children, other permanent, alternative options are sought. These options usually include adoption, a guardianship with another family member of friend, or remaining in foster care until the child turns 18.

Foster care in King County…In Washington State

On any given day there are 1,300 to 1,500 children in foster care in King County, and about 10,000 children in foster care across Washington State.

Why Do Kids in Foster Care Tend to Move

Placement stability is a priority for Children’s Administration, but it is still common for kids in foster care to experience multiple changes in their home placement. While most children do not experience more than two placement changes on average during their time in care, some youth may experience ten or more placement changes. Studies indicate that there are several factors that can reduce the number of home placement changes that a child will experience during their time in care, including:

  • An early health assessment (physical, mental, emotional) when the child enters care
  • Training for foster parents to handle behavioral issues and special needs stemming from trauma
  • Stronger social support for foster parents and caregivers
  • More qualified homes and a more comprehensive match-making process between youth and caregiver
  • Policies at the state, county, and agency level that influence initial placement decisions to ensure that first placements are permanent placement.

How Does Foster Care Connect To treehouse

After a child is placed in foster care, the DSHS social worker assigned to their case can make a referral for Treehouse services. Treehouse offers a range of programs to help level the playing field for kids in foster care by providing the kinds of experiences and opportunities that all kids equally deserve. Once a child connects with Treehouse, they will continue to have access to education services, regardless of what happens with their placement status. Many of the youth who eventually return to the care of their birth families continue to need and deserve continuity of support for their educational success.

What are some of the biggest challenges kids in foster care face

Life in foster care can be extraordinarily challenging and disruptive for kids and teens, emotionally and developmentally. Separated from their family, foster youth face tremendous obstacles in school and in life. Research shows that kids in foster care suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a higher rate than returning combat war veterans, and more than half struggle with mental health challenges stemming from the trauma they’ve endured. Academically, foster youth face an uphill battle due to changes in home placements and school transitions, lack of basic skills, and emotional upheaval. Access to important socialization opportunities – like music lessons and team sports – is limited, as is access to funding for essential needs like clothing, shoes, school supplies, haircuts, and funding for school fees.

How does Treehouse help foster youth and families?

Treehouse serves more than 6,000 foster youth each year through integrated programs to help them succeed in school, fulfill key material needs, and participate in essential childhood experiences that all kids equally deserve. Treehouse services are strategically tailored to help children in foster care graduate from high school with a plan for their future. Treehouse also serves caregivers by providing educational and financial support to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of fostering, to provide the best possible experience for the youth in their care.

Treehouse also collaborates with social workers, school systems, government agencies, and policymakers to improve outcomes for youth in foster care by removing barriers to academic achievement, and developing and supporting policies that promote the short and long-term well-being of foster youth.

What Is the Age Range

Treehouse provides clothing and other basic needs and support for extracurricular and school activities for foster kids’ ages 0 – 21. Treehouse’s Graduation Success services are available foster youth in King County in middle and high school. Educational Advocacy services are available to foster youth statewide from Pre-K to 12th grade.

High School Graduation is a key Priority for Treehouse

Treehouse is committed to closing the graduation gap for students in foster care in King County by 2017. Currently, the graduation rate for foster youth in King County is approximately half the rate of their peers. There are a number of key issues facing students in foster care that contribute to this disparity, including but not limited to: lack of systems coordination between child welfare and schools, transitions in home and school placements, and unaddressed special education needs stemming from trauma and lack of early childhood education.

Without a high school diploma and a plan for their future, foster youth experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, unplanned pregnancy, and substance abuse when they leave care. Treehouse is uniquely positioned to improve these outcomes by changing the trajectory of youth in foster care through integrated, research-based programs that help our youth make it to high school graduation day and beyond.

How Can I Help Make a Difference

I am glad you asked: Treehouse relies on the support of donors, businesses, policymakers, partner agencies and volunteers to help give 6,000 foster youth a childhood and a future each year. In fact, Treehouse is 90% privately funded. We invite you to explore a number of ways you can Get Involved, and share our mission with your friends, family, colleagues, and social networks!

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2 Comments

  1. That’s incredible
    Al recently posted..A Photo A Day … October 22 2013My Profile

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