March 2018 Current

Page 34

The Current

34 • MARCH 2018

Established in 1988, Treehouse is a nonprofit in Washington state that provides reinforcement to foster youth. The program expanded to Eastern Washington two years ago and now supports students at Central Valley, East Valley and West Valley high schools. The staff at the Treehouse home office in Seattle is pictured above. Contributed photo

Treehouse branches out to support local foster youth

By Jamie Borgan Current Correspondent For youth in the foster care system, seemingly simple things like obtaining a pair of shoes to play basketball on a high school team can be a tremendous barrier. Thanks to the expansion of Treehouse, a Seattle based nonprofit that works with youth in the foster care system, students in Eastern Washington are now getting a better chance to overcome those barriers. Treehouse was founded in 1988 by a group of social workers who worked for the state and wanted to be able to provide more comprehensive support for children in the foster care system, reinforcement beyond what the state could offer. The grassroots group originally used simple fundraising strategies like bake sales and car washes to be able to provide youth in foster care birthday presents and schools supplies, items that while easy for many to come by, were not readily available to youth in foster care. Treehouse has since grown to

serve more than 7,500 youth statewide and has launched a variety of programs, mainly schoolbased, to give youth in foster care the supports they need to be successful. In 2012, Treehouse launched a program to specifically target high school graduation rates for youth in foster care called “Graduation Success.” Statewide, graduation rates hover at around 49 percent for foster care youth versus 82 percent for youth overall. After five years of operating its Graduation Success program, Treehouse has seen the graduation rate of its participants jump to 89 percent. Seeking to spread its beneficial influence, Treehouse established a presence in Eastern Washington two years ago and in the 201718 school year began operating its programs in East Valley, West Valley and Central Valley high schools. Currently, Treehouse has five advocates and five Graduation Success coordinators operating here, according to Ernest Henderson, regional Treehouse manager serving Eastern Washington. In announcing the introduction of Graduation Success to Eastern Washington in October 2016, a Treehouse press release noted that the program was put in place “to support the hundreds of youth in foster care in the Spokane area who equally deserve to succeed in

school and in life.” “Thanks to this proven track record and the support of our state’s legislature, we are now thrilled to be expanding the Graduation Success program into the Spokane and Tacoma school districts,” the release went on. “The success of Graduation Success is dependent on strong community partnerships with schools, child welfare, local agencies, legislators and community supporters of kids in foster care.” Staff in this area now serve 130 to 150 students through their Graduation Success program and another 200 in their Advocacy program. Their Advocacy program supports kids in Kindergarten through 12th grade, while Graduation Success focuses on youth eighth grade and beyond. The focus of Treehouse is on longterm success of participants and programs are available to youth until age 26. When surveyed upon graduation, 63 percent of youth involved in the Graduation Success program plan to go on to college or some other vocational training. The Graduation Success program is relationship-based, says Henderson. Staff work one-onone with youth and emphasize two basic components, a “check and connect” approach where staff and students meet to check in about how things are going for students as well as a student-centered planning component, where

students set goals and work with staff to overcome barriers to those goals. Henderson says the program is creative and adaptive in working with youth to “remove any barriers” to their progress. Henderson himself spent time in the foster care system as a youth. He’s also been a foster parent and recognizes the importance of safe, stable adults for all youth. His staff comes with strong backgrounds in education, social work or other youth-centered work. The results speak for themselves; as Henderson states, they’ve nearly doubled the graduation rate for youth in the program. “That’s why I’m so happy to work here,” he says, citing the dedication his team brings as a huge factor in their success. As a relative newcomer in the social service world of Eastern Washington, much of Henderson’s focus is on building up a network of stakeholders to support the work of Treehouse as they expand their impact in the region. Henderson is already heartened by the inroads they’ve made here and the numbers they’ve been able to impact here in a short period of time. “I think we’re really making a difference,” he says. For more information about Treehouse, visit www. or call 206767-7000.

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