Loneliest time of the year: ways to support youth in foster care

Treehouse’s Holiday Magic program and store supported over 4,100 foster care youth in WA in 2021.

While many look forward to cozying up alongside family and friends in the coming months, the holiday season can be the loneliest time of the year for youth in foster care. Treehouse, a nonprofit organization that advances equity and racial justice in foster care and education systems, has come up with several ways to support youth in foster care.

Treehouse’s Holiday Magic program and the Treehouse Store supported over 4,100 youth in foster care across the state in 2021. The Treehouse Store seeks high quality donations throughout the year, but especially from October through November, when staff is preparing for the holiday season.

“Donation drives help keep the Treehouse Store stay stocked and that’s even more important during the holidays when we are busiest, and our requests skyrocket,” said Chelsea Woolford, Material Resource Program Manager at Treehouse. “Whether you are collecting physical items, starting a fundraising page or making a purchase off our Amazon wish list, every bit makes a difference.”

The organization recommends hosting donation drives to collect winter clothing, or to raise money with friends, coworkers and family. Items can also be purchased from Treehouse’s wish list, which is kept up to date with items most requested by youth and caregivers. Several wish list items include sweatshirts, sweatpants, jeans, shoes, earbuds and headphones, makeup and brushes, hair dryers and straighteners, toothpaste, body wash, and toys like action figures.

Children in foster care suffer PTSD at 2x the rate of war veterans

Foster care frequently begins with an inquiry into abuse or neglect allegations, and a social worker is assigned to a case once there’s a finding and further investigation is needed. Investigations assess the child’s safety, risk of future maltreatment and well-being. Investigators are required to make a finding indicating whether a child is being abused or neglected.

After Child Protective Services (CPS) establishes a case, a shelter care hearing must occur within 72 hours, and a court reviews the dependency petition filed by the state. Parental visitation, legal representation, school or childcare placement, and dependency status and placement are addressed until the next hearing.

A dependency fact finding hearing must also be held within 75 days to determine if the child should be made a dependent of the state. A dependency review hearing will be held every six months after the initial fact finding hearing to assess progress made and determine if services are offered or needed; educational, physical and emotional needs of the youth; and a petition of the termination of parental rights if needed.

Once a child has been in care for 9-12 months, a permanency planning hearing will take place to determine next steps including: returning home, the termination of parental rights and adoption, guardianship or third party custody.

According to Treehouse, recruitment and retention issues have led to a shortage of licensed foster and group homes, which has resulted in state agencies increasing the practice of housing youth in hotel rooms.

In the fiscal year for 2020, Washington state recorded 1,863 hotel stays for youth under the age of 18 who were in foster care. Males experiencing foster care face higher rates of hotel stays and congregate care settings–which are group homes and institutions–that account for 10% of all placements nationwide. Congregate care settings are used for emergency placements but are not a long term solution; studies show congregate care causes physical and mental harm to youth, reduces timely placements, and significantly increases the chances of incarceration.

  • Because of racial inequities across generations, youth of color are more likely to enter foster care compared to their white peers:
  • Native Americans are 3x more likely to be placed in out of home care
  • African Americans are 2x more likely to be placed in out of home care
  • Those who are two or more races are 2x more likely to be placed in out of home care

Youth of color are also more likely to stay in foster care for longer periods:

  • The median length for African American youth in foster care is 16 months
  • The median length for Native American youth in foster care is 13 months
  • The median length for Hispanic or Latino youth in foster care is 12 months
  • The median length for youth of two or more races in foster care is 12 months
  • The median length for white youth in foster care is 11 months.

Statistics become more staggering when pertaining to the well-being of youth in foster care. According to Treehouse, 80% of youth in foster care suffer significant mental health issues as compared to 18-22% of the general population, and youth in foster care suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at two times the rate of war veterans.

Concerning and noticeable outcomes for foster care youth are the increased chances of houselessness and incarceration. In Washington state, 37% of youth who experienced foster care also experienced houselessness before the age of 17, and one in four foster care youth in the state will be arrested within one year of aging out of foster care, according to Treehouse.

Supporting foster care youth

Treehouse will be celebrating the ways youth in foster care are pursuing their goals on November 29, or Giving Tuesday, and will be accepting donations online. To support Treehouse and the community, individuals can participate in Treehouse Bingo and can earn squares by completing tasks. Treehouse Bingo tasks include:

  • Share a Treehouse post on social media
  • Volunteer at Treehouse
  • Watch the Treehouse documentary
  • Do something for self-care
  • Deliver treats to a friend

One of Treehouse’s corporate sponsors for the Holiday Magic program is Hasbro, which has supported the organization by donating games and toys during the holidays for over two decades.

“We have heard from lots of caregivers that having new board games gives them a chance to have a family game night. Everyone gets to know each other in a safe, fun and collaborative way,” said Woolford. “We give toys to well over 1,000 youth in the month of December alone, so having a wide variety for youth to choose from helps.”

For more information visit https://www.treehouseforkids.org/