Category Archives: Adoption

Celebrating Our Accomplishments

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At Treehouse we know that communities aren’t just built with bricks and mortar. Communities are people. Our neighbors, friends, and family. And this year, as we celebrate seven years of intergenerational living on Treehouse Circle, we are looking back on all our accomplishments and forward to what the future may bring.

The Treehouse Community in Easthampton opened in 2006. As soon as the celebration ended, Treehouse Community Facilitator, Kerry Homstead, and I began the process of bringing Treehouse community members of all ages together in exciting and meaningful ways. It was a wonderful moment in our Treehouse history.

We immediately began welcoming children, families and elders to live in their new homes on Treehouse Circle. The vision of the Treehouse Community – children being moved out of foster care into permanent, loving families who live in a neighborhood where people of all ages invest in their health, well-being and futures – was palpable. You could feel the goodness in the air.

Seven years later you can still feel that goodness on Treehouse Circle. It shows up as people come together to break bread, learn new skills, give one another a ride to the doctor, pick up a neighbor’s child from school, take an art class together, celebrate holidays, chat while their children play on the playground, and gather to raise their voices in song. The way life should be. One generation meeting the needs of another.

Over the past 87 months, the Treehouse community members have demonstrated the value of multigenerational living and invited many others to stand under the banner of Shared Responsibility.

The award winning Treehouse Foundation invests in lives and is also a catalyst for the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement. We show people what it takes to help children and youth whose lives have been impacted by foster care flourish and thrive. We support adoptive, birth, foster, guardianship, and kinship parents in exciting new ways. We highlight the value of vital aging in a country where 1 out of every 3 children born today will live to be 100. We inspire others to build intergenerational communities in their states.

Every day I get down on my knees and give thanks for all of the visionaries who have been on the Treehouse Journey. Together we have put the needs of our most vulnerable children on the table and leveraged the people, dollar and idea resources needed to create a Hub of Foster Care Innovation.

In the process we have created a Culture of Possibility with fabulous partners throughout New England and across the nation; a culture with partnership as it’s core value.

All of this collaborative social change was started seven years ago at the Treehouse Community and is made possible by ordinary citizens: Treehouse board members, business leaders, non-profit partners, school groups, faith based organizations, civic groups, professionals, philanthropists, and the 100+ Treehouse Pioneers who chose to move to Treehouse Circle.

Without these dedicated individuals and their ongoing investment of time, treasure and talent, the foster care landscape would not be as vibrant as it is today.

Thanks to the Treehouse Foundation’s bold vision, people of all ages and backgrounds are investing in foster care innovation and stepping up to the plate in exciting new ways.

Thank you for supporting the Treehouse Foundation.
Here’s to the well-being of all our nation’s children!

It’s for sale…

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My amazing toy store in Brookline.

The delightful “classroom” where I spent almost twenty years, raising my two oldest children and serving children and families in the Greater Boston Area. The place where I learned so many important life lessons and where I had the opportunity to interact daily with a fabulous group of people.

I stopped by the store today after a meeting at Matt Murphy’s and found myself walking around the store remembering.. Customers, colleagues, beautiful playthings, colorful window displays. So many fond memories. As the gifts I purchased were being wrapped, the young woman at the cash register told me that the store was for sale. For one brief moment I wondered if I should buy it back …

On May 11, 1999, I was at No Kidding! when a lovely social worker called to ask if my husband and I would open our home to two little sisters who had been placed in foster care. Inspired by the girls, their siblings and their peers whose lives have been impacted by foster care, I chose to sell No Kidding! and work to inspire a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America. It is the best decision I have ever made.

My two previous careers in education and business provided me with the vision, tenacity and skill sets required to become a dedicated social entrepreneur and advocate for half million children and youth in our child welfare system.

In 2001 I began the journey. I was on a mission. First step: To create a compelling new Menu of Engagement Options for Americans of all ages – an array of exciting opportunities that would invite citizens from coast to coast to become everyday resources for our most vulnerable children who are stuck in the foster care pipeline, destined to become the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

Since becoming a foster parent, I had learned that most Americans think there are only two ways they can support a child placed in foster care: Become a foster parent or adopt a child from our child welfare system. This is too much to ask of most people. The result: millions of Americans turn and walk away from the very children in their communities who need them the most. Most of us mistakenly believe that the American taxpayers’ role is simply to maintain our nation’s child welfare system. We forget that children placed in foster care need us to help them live engaged, healthy and productive lives.

Since 2001, I have been a student of Collaborative Social Change, Child Welfare, Social Work, Psychology, Public Policy & Non-Profit Management. I look forward to the next decade and the lessons it will bring.

I love being a social entrepreneur. Partnering with other dedicated visionaries makes my heart sing! I am deeply grateful to the scores of people who have made this collaborative process such a rich experience – my supportive family, trustworthy friends, and esteemed colleagues. I have a profound appreciation for generous philanthropy; how it helps create a culture of possibility.

The young woman in the toy store handed me the beautifully wrapped presents. I thanked her
and headed toward the door. Walking out onto Harvard Street, I wished the store well. As much as I loved No Kidding! it was part of my past, not my present or future. My job today: Continue inspiring a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America!

A Life Well Lived

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It is said that there are only two stories – a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Children who are removed from their families and placed in foster care are living both stories at the same time.

Take 5 year old Ali. Last week she was living at home with her mother who suffers from poor mental health. A call was made to the Department of Children and Families by a teacher citing neglect. A visit to the home was made. The next day Ali was picked up at school by a social worker and taken to a foster home.

Being removed from one’s family and placed in foster care is traumatic. This experience, even when a child is being removed from an unsafe situation, can bring grief, shock, stigma, loss and a future filled with invisibility, shame and hopelessness.

Most children aren’t doing anything special when their lives break apart – one moment they are with their family or with their peers at school, the next they are not. This is a life altering experience. Some children have the resilience to cope with the unpredictability, loss and change inherent in our chiild welfare system. Others find it completely overwhelming.

Ali is a child who found the experience completely overwhelming. She is very close to her mom. Losing her was simply too much to bear. She needed more than a foster home.She required hospitalization and round the clock support. Hopefully, she will feel better soon and be placed with a caring trauma informed family that lives in a community that understands her grief and will help her heal – people who surround her with all of the kindness and compassion she needs.

We make a promise to children when we remove them from their homes: to provide them with safety and find them a permanent loving connection if they cannot be returned to their first family. In a timely fashion.

Somewhere along the way we, as a nation, forgot our promise and many children like Ali “bounce” through a series of homes, schools, and people.. We know that all children need to belong and be connected to loving people. They need to feel cherished. Without these basic cornerstones, children become lost souls. Imagine if Ali and her half million peers who are experiencing foster care were connected to a group of adults who value, honor, love and support them. Imagine the difference this would make. For their lives, our communities, schools, prisons and society.

The Treehouse Foundation does imagine a different life for our children in foster care. For the past decade we have been investing in widspread innovation designed to ensure that all children live healthy and productive lives. We envision every child being woven into a safety net of loving, respectful and caring relationships.

In 2006 we opened our first multigenerational Treehouse Community to pro-actively address our nation’s “aging out” crisis. Every year in this country 25,000 young Americans “age out” of our public foster care system alone. Without a family to claim them and an extended family standing beside them, they are at risk for homelessness, incarceration, teen parenting, unemployment and lives of poverty.

The Treehouse Community model invites Americans of all ages to help children. It demonstrates how we can work together to move youngsters out of foster care into permanent loving adoptive homes so they are never at risk of “aging out”. We are dissolving the foster care pipeline to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

For the past 7 years, over 100 people, ranging in age from newborn to 94, have been investing in one another’s health and well-being. Kids are moving out of the child welfare system, being adopted by caring families, consistently supported by their neighbors, succeeding in school, getting the mental health services they need, and heading off on career paths or to college where they are pursuing their interests.

In 2010, the Treehouse Foundation launched the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement to harness creative ideas and leverage resources to better serve our children and youth. In addition to planning and hosting 4 annual Re Envisioning Foster Care in America Conferences and facilitating the development of 8 regional REFCA Working Groups, the Treehouse Foundation is leading the creation of a regional REFCA Road Map and Implementation Plan Process for western Massachusetts – a template that can replicated coast to coast.

Children in foster care are homeless in the deepest sense. Many have lost their first families, their innocence and their dreams. The Treehouse Foundation is working non-stop to create a Culture of Possibility so that every child in America is given the opportunity to live a life that is valued, supported and well lived.

Ali and her peers deserve to thrive. They are worthy of our investment. Please help the Treehouse Foundation achieve widespread impact. Go to refca.net and donate $50, $100, $25) or more today. Help us Be The Change! Thank You!

Let’s start at the very beginning

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Ensuring that young children placed in foster care have safe, secure environments in which to develop healthy brains, bodies and attachments with primary caregivers is good for the children and it helps build a strong foundation for a thriving, prosperous society.

Currently in the world of child welfare, philanthropists, policy makers and practitioners are focused on resolving the “Aging Out Crisis”. This is due to the fact that every year nearly 30,000 young Americans “age out” of foster care.

While most young people in the United States continue to receive support from their families into their 20s, young people who “age out” of foster care often lack this support. To successfully transition to adulthood, youth need both a permanent family relationship and skills for independent living. Young people who “age out” of foster care alone and without a diploma or job skills face joblessness, homelessness and lives of poverty. They are often unable to complete their educations, find housing or get medical care.

According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities initiative, a three state study shows that:

* Nearly 40% had been homeless or “couch surfed” since leaving foster care.
* Only 48% were working, compared to 72% of their peers who had not been in foster care.
* Only 6% of young people who left foster care finished a 2 or 4 year college degree.

The majority of foster care investments are being poured into this critical arena because it is the gateway to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

While this is understandable, focusing such a large portion of our resources on the door out of foster care is not the best long term strategy for creating solutions to the national “Aging Out Crisis”. We need to begin investing fully on the front end of the foster care experience and learn how to utilize people, dollar and idea resources all along a child’s developmental spectrum.

To do this, it is imperative that we flip the current foster care paradigm. We live in a country where citizens help pay for the child welfare system with their tax dollars. In order to create a successful system – one that truly meet the needs of all children placed in foster care – we need to remain engaged rather than only paying attention when something goes wrong.

We make a promise when removing children from their family of birth. We promise them a better life: safety, stability, and a committed and enduring family relationship if they cannot return safely to their first family.

The children need us. Our overwhelmed and under resourced child welfare system requires our help. To create a new reality in America, we need a different approach. One that ensures that every child is rooted in family and community.

In his book, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, Dr. Shonkoff underscores the value of investing in young children. He and his colleagues at Harvard’s Center of the Developing Child share research that shows how the architecture of the brain is impacted by early childhood trauma. They talk about the importance of a child’s early environment and nurturing relationships.

Shonkoff writes, “The scientific evidence on the significant developmental impacts of early experiences, caregiving relationships, and environmental threats is incontrovertible. Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning early in the prenatal period and extending throughout the early childhood years. The science of early development is also clear about the specific importance of parenting and of regular caregiving relationships..”

New knowledge creates new responsibility. This scientific research and information about new national approaches gives those of us who are serving children placed in foster care a new platform from which we can enact bold and comprehensive new measures all along a child’s developmental timeline.

I am proud to announce that the Treehouse Foundation is collaborating with our regional Re-Envisioning Foster Care Partners, Enchanted Circle Theatre and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, to develop an Early Childhood Wellness Project. We are currently seeking multi-year funding to develop an Early Childhood Wellness Approach for western Massachusetts.

We have prioritized two content areas for our initial program development:

* Strengthening the early foundations of lifelong health and well-being.

* Enhancing the resources and capacities of healthy attachments.

The Early Childhood Wellness Project is creating an environment that nurtures new ways of thinking, supports strategic risk-taking, and values the importance of investing in young children experiencing foster care.

The importance of fresh thinking and widespread investment in early childhood innovation has never been more critical. Please join us and help improve life outcomes for the nearly 1,000 young children ages 0-5 who are experiencing foster care in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Happy New Year!

Every Child Rooted in Family & Community

Just back from the 2010 Congressional Angel in Adoption Awards.

Thank you Senator John Kerry for honoring the Treehouse Foundation, Sibling Connections, Birdsong Farm and the past decade spent helping to inspire a re-envisioning of foster care. I hope this award will help each of these organizations raise the funds needed to garner additional investments in innovation so that all children in America can be rooted in family & community in the best ways possible.

I flew to California after receiving the 2010 Congressional Angel in Adoption Award to help fundraise for Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections. Daniel is touring the country, highlighting what is working for young Americans experiencing foster care. His goal: To change the foster care narrative.

Daniel, an award winning journalist, recently spent time in the state of Washington, California, Maryland and DC. This week-end he will arrive in Massachusetts and spend the next few weeks crisscrossing the Commonwealth talking to visionary and talented Bay State social entrepreneurs, social workers, youngsters experiencing foster care, former youth in care, child advocates, DCF staff, legislators, community leaders, educators and volunteers who are charting the direction we will take to ensure that every child in Massachusetts actually is rooted in family and community.

While here, Daniel will also be the keynote speaker at a
Re-Envisioning Foster Care conference that Treehouse is co-hosting
in western MA. along with Friends of Children and the UMass Amherst Rudd Adoption Research Program. In addition to Daniel, Lauren Frey of Casey Family Services will help create a culture of possibility at the conference.

Recently I came across the Winter 2003 issue of Profile on Permanency, a newsletter put out by Massachusetts Families for Kids. In 2003 Lauren was the Executive Director of the organization. I have saved this newsletter for 7 years. I read it often. It has a very important article in it that I have never seen printed anywhere else. It is titled A Pledge To Our Children in Foster Care.

I remember the first time I heard this pledge read aloud. Lauren stood in front of a gathering of people and asked us all to read it with her. When I close my eyes I can see her standing there – brave, strong, compassionate and true.

A Pledge To Our Children in Foster Care

I pledge to value the intrinsic worth of every child and teenager in foster care and believe in the essential need for each one of them to be cherished.

I pledge to keep every child and teenager in foster care safe and healthy.

I pledge to take responsibility for the right of every child and teenager in foster care to the safe haven of a loving and permanent family.

I pledge to unite every child and teenager in foster care with his or her family or origin as safely and quickly as possible.

I pledge to achieve a safe, stable and loving adoptive or guardian family as quickly as possible for every child and teenager in foster care that cannot return to his or her family of origin.

I pledge to keep children and teenagers in foster care meaningfully, purposefully, and permanently connected to the safe haven of kin and extended family members.

I pledge to keep children and teenagers in foster care meaningfully, purposefully and permanently connected to the safe haven of their community, culture, ethnicity and language.

I pledge to always tell the truth, the whole truth, to children and teenagers in foster care and provide whatever supports might be necessary in helping them hear, understand, and live with the reality of that truth.

I pledge to listen to the voices of children and teenagers in foster care, and hear what they say they need as well as what they cannot or do not say.

I pledge to listen to the hearts of children and teenagers in foster care, and feel what they feel even when it is excruciatingly painful or makes us feel extraordinarily uncomfortable.

I pledge to listen to the life stories of children and teenagers in foster care, and learn the hard lessons so that none of the mistakes of the past will be repeated in the present.

I pledge to provide every child and teenager in foster care with the same rights, benefits and opportunities that I would want for my own child, grandchild, niece or nephew.

I pledge to never give up on any child or teenager in foster care no matter how old they get, how challenging their special needs are or how complex their circumstances become.

I pledge to treasure and treat each and every child and teenager in foster care as if they were my own.

Thank you Lauren for being the amazing role model that you are.
You are such a guiding light. I can’t wait to introduce you to Daniel.

National Adoption Month

In November 2009 there are more than 120,000 children waiting in foster care for an adoptive family. This month President Obama will issue a proclamation to announce National Adoption Month to raise awareness about this situation. I appreciate the way National Adoption Month encourages Americans to think about the importance of moving children from foster care into life-long families. It is also an opportune time to envision new realities for our children who remain in the public foster care system.

Every year nearly 25,000 young people “age out” of foster care without any enduring family relationships or community connections. This usually happens on their 18th birthday. They commonly leave the system without a place to live, a high school diploma, a job or the consistent support of a caring adult. The result: 25,000 vulnerable young Americans leave foster care and experience rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment far above their peers.

Federal dollars have become available to begin addressing this “aging out” crisis. The focus is on creating programs for teens. But finding new ways to embrace and care for our most vulnerable children on the front end of their foster care experience is also critical in order to prevent “aging out” from happening in the first place.

In 2006, The Treehouse Foundation invited people of all ages to become part of a unique “aging out” solution designed to help America understand under
what conditions our young people with foster care histories can flourish. Its leadership led to the creation of a multigenerational neighborhood where families adopting children from foster care live with supportive neighbors.

The Treehouse Community model emphasizes finding humane and compassionate responses to support children that are community driven rather than solely reliant on social service systems. It provides children with a permanent family and a neighborhood invested in their health and well-being so that they do not leave foster care without anyone to count on. Treehouse inspired communities are currently being developed in California and Oregon.

Most Americans will hear about National Adoption Awareness Month and think it is a good thing. They will like the fact that on National Adoption Day a few thousand youngsters will be adopted from foster care. Some will be moved to pick up the phone to help out. Most will not. Not being offered any other alternatives to adoption or foster care, hundreds of thousands of potential resources will walk away from the children who need them the most.

Here’s an idea. Let’s create a menu of compelling new programs that serve kids in neighborhoods across America. Let’s offer folks an inviting array of ways to help, big and small. Partner with City Year and AmeriCorps as well as local colleges, universities and community organizations to help implement these exciting new program options and promote widespread engagement. Let’s give more Americans a chance to meet kids who need them. My experience is that volunteers who spend time with kids at camp,
in a garden or a barn are the ones who consider broader possibilities down the road.

To date my partners and I have created the following replicable models: the Treehouse Community, a year round sibling connection initiative, an animal therapy program, an intergenerational community garden, and an arts and learning project. Together we can do much more.

As we celebrate National Adoption Month this November please choose to honor the lives of the more than 500,000 children in our nation’s foster care system. Invest in innovation so that we can re-envision foster care in America.