- What is your purpose? To inspire the nation to re-think, re-envision, and re-design foster care in America.
- What is your intent? To help the nation turn around and embrace 800,000 children who experience foster care.
- What is your vision? To create a new national paradigm that fundamentally changes the way we take care of our most vulnerable children by offering a compelling menu of engagement options and replicable community-based programs.
- What is your mission? To work with out-of-the-box thinkers to create, launch, and sustain inspirational programs that provide enduring family relationships and community connections for children and youth in the public foster care system.
- What is your goal? To change the conversation about child welfare and elevate the way Americans think about and advocate for our most vulnerable children. To focus on “what we can do together” in realistic, scalable, and cost effective ways around the country.
- What have you done to date to bring this mission and vision forward?
Since becoming a foster parent in 1999 I have:
- Established one non-profit organization, co-founded a second non-profit, and launched one for-profit consulting business – the Treehouse Foundation, Sibling Connections, and Imagine That! Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America.
- Worked with stellar partners to build an intergenerational community that supports families adopting children from the public foster care system – Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow.
- Brought Camp To Belong to Massachusetts.
- Created a year-round sibling connection program called Sibling Sundays.
- Co-designed a second year round sibling connection program called We Are Family!
- Implemented our Big Red Animal Therapy Program.
- Piloted an educational community garden.
- Encouraged a cross-disciplinary regional re-envisioning.
- Actively worked to educate and inspire people in my region of the country to bring new perspectives, programs and practices to the world of child welfare.
- Consulted with other individuals and organizations across the country to improve the odds for children in other states.
- Launched the Out of the Foster Care Box blog to create a forum to host a vibrant national discussion designed to transform thinking, generate new ideas, and bring about change for children.
- Why is it important to create community-based efforts rather than simply letting the state and federal government take full responsibility for children who experience foster care? My experience is that when we take responsibility for the children in our neighborhoods they receive a higher quality of care, education, and support. Approaches that weave unique safety nets reflecting regional and cultural patterns tend to be stronger and more resilient. There is better community buy-in and participation. When we hand our children and youth over to state agencies to raise, we disconnect from one of our most valuable resources – America’s future citizens, educators, entrepreneurs, business people, thinkers, and leaders.
- Why does our national conversation about foster care always seem to get stuck? I think it has to do with the fact that we, as a society, are disconnected from children in foster care. Many people feel overwhelmed by their situation. They may not be willing or able to become a foster or adoptive parent, the only two options most Americans think are open to folks who want to help a child experiencing foster care. The way the media portrays children in care also plays a role. The media typically focuses on tragedies rather than inspiring people with success stories. That leads to a smaller number of people choosing to step up to the plate.
- Why are there so many children in foster care? It seems to me that the root cause of children being removed from their homes and placed in foster care is poverty. If you couple poverty with the hopelessness and despair that often accompany it, you will encounter homelessness, domestic abuse, child abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, and other factors that lead to a child being removed from their home in order to be kept safe.
- What is the role of state child welfare agencies? What I learned when I became a foster parent is that the primary role of state child welfare agencies is to keep children safe. Given the large numbers of children who enter the system daily, this means that local agency offices must focus on the children who are standing in front of them that day as well as those children it is currently providing for. The public foster care system feels similar to a hospital operating under crisis conditions, not unlike an emergency room scenario. The work can be overwhelming and relentless, since we don’t usually encourage our legislators to fund state agencies at optimum levels. The result: there is little room for innovation, since state child welfare agencies are underfunded, and social workers are required to operate in triage type circumstances.
- What is the main reason you are advocating for community-based solutions? Because the state agencies cannot do the work of keeping children safe AND generate the resources necessary to bring innovation to the table. They simply cannot do the work alone. They need us as much as the children do. They need us to partner with them and to care enough to bring new energy, resources, and ideas to community forums. They need us to join with them to cultivate partnerships, educate the public, and inspire people of all ages and from all walks of life to become involved.
- What will the new norm for foster care look like? If we re-design the current system to include dynamic partnerships that promote active community engagement and loads of options for kids, volunteers, and communities that are simple, fun, and accessible…. Imagine that! We could create a vibrant national model that contains some of the magic that Americans experience when we plug in our ipods, turn on our laptops, log onto Google or stroll into Target. Each one of those experiences came from people thinking about evolution and a fresh new approach.
- What excites you the most about this new approach?
So many things… The fact that it encourages people to think on the macro level and then act on behalf of children in their own backyards. That the process is about strengthening lives and communities. That it is not rocket science – this approach simply requires common sense, humanity, resources, and human engagement. That it invites so many new people to become involved. That it requires taking the lid off the foster care box and yet, is quite manageable when done one program at a time. That it is a multigenerational approach that embraces new voices, innovative voices, collective voices, experienced voices, powerful voices, and active voices. That it communicates, “You Are Worthy!” to every child in foster care.
- Is the work you are doing on behalf of children in foster care your legacy? I was taught that the potential of the next generation is transformed by the present one. My hope is that the next generation will benefit from our collective decision to invest in their lives and that we will become the everyday heroes that they need us to be. We all know that the future of every community is built on the strength of the children it raises today. Bottom line: Change is needed. This is about a country doing right by all its children: providing opportunities, life experiences, and enduring family and community relationships that lead this nation forward in the best possible ways.
- What do you need to succeed in your efforts to create a new paradigm that will improve the odds for our most vulnerable children? A group of investors and philanthropists who support our stated mission, vision and goals. People who believe that this country needs a fresh new approach to age-old foster care issues – one that actively encourages Americans of all ages and backgrounds to become a part of the solution. Investors who will financially support the creation of new national models that are realistic, scalable, and cost effective.
- What is your source for the number of children who experience foster care in America? When I became a foster parent the number of children in foster care was approximately 500,000. Over the past 9 years it has increased. This past fall (2007) Casey Family Services was an underwriter for the Boston NPR station. Their message stated that they were working to improve the lives of the 800,000 children in foster care.
- How can I support your efforts to create this new Menu of Engagement Opportunities? Thank you for asking! In order to design, implement and sustain national models we need widespread financial assistance. Your financial support is deeply appreciated. You can simply go to the Donations page on the the Treehouse Foundation website or send a check to:
The Treehouse Foundation
1 Treehouse Circle
Easthampton, MA. 01027
If you specifically want to help siblings who have been separated when placed in foster care, you can go to the Donations page on the Sibling Connections website or send a check to:
29 Hereford Road
Marblehead, MA. 01945