Cultivate Learning's Podcast Channel

Showing Up Episode 9: Youth in Foster Care

June 29, 2023 Cultivate Learning Episode 9
Showing Up Episode 9: Youth in Foster Care
Cultivate Learning's Podcast Channel
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Cultivate Learning's Podcast Channel
Showing Up Episode 9: Youth in Foster Care
Jun 29, 2023 Episode 9
Cultivate Learning

In this episode we talk all about the ways that the foster care system can be both life saving and traumatic for children and families. We hope that by listening to this episode you gain some insight into the lives of young people who have experienced foster care and identify strategies for supporting them. We’re talking to Dulce, Sherry Edwards, and Dani Erikson from Treehouse, a Washington State based nonprofit serving youth in foster care. We also speak with Romajean Thomas, a Muckleshoot tribal member, indigenous social worker, and executive director of Feed 7 Generations.



Feed 7 Generations

Additional Resources: 

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Foster Parent Partner

Foster Parenting & Kinship Care | Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families 

Mental Health Hotlines: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

NAMI HelpLine

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we talk all about the ways that the foster care system can be both life saving and traumatic for children and families. We hope that by listening to this episode you gain some insight into the lives of young people who have experienced foster care and identify strategies for supporting them. We’re talking to Dulce, Sherry Edwards, and Dani Erikson from Treehouse, a Washington State based nonprofit serving youth in foster care. We also speak with Romajean Thomas, a Muckleshoot tribal member, indigenous social worker, and executive director of Feed 7 Generations.



Feed 7 Generations

Additional Resources: 

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Foster Parent Partner

Foster Parenting & Kinship Care | Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families 

Mental Health Hotlines: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

NAMI HelpLine

ELO podcast Showing up Episode 9 Youth in Foster Care

[00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:04.97] ANNOUNCER: Please note that Showing Up features themes of trauma, mental health, and resilience, which may be triggering for some. So please listen to your body's cues, take breaks, and use self-regulation strategies. Don't hesitate to ask for help. No issue is too big or too small.

[00:00:22.37] You can always reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, National helpline at 800- 662-4357, or text 988 for support. They will be available to talk with you and connect you to local mental health resources.

[00:00:38.66] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:48.11] REBECCA: Hi, everyone. I'm Rebecca, and I use she/her pronouns.

[00:00:51.02] SOPHIE: And I'm Sophie. I also use she/her pronouns. We are both part of the trauma-informed care team here at Cultivate Learning at the University of Washington.

Welcome to Showing Up. This is a time where we talk about trauma informed care practices for Expanded Learning Opportunities, or ELO programs. ELO programs include, basically, anywhere young people spend time outside of the school day classroom setting, like after school care, summer camps, and skill-based programs.

[00:01:18.08] REBECCA: But before we get started, it's time for a pup date. [00:01:21.71] SOPHIE: Woo. What is Gus' pup date, Rebecca?

[00:01:25.22] REBECCA: His most impressive trick that I've taken for granted lately. [00:01:29.78] SOPHIE: Oh, do tell.

[00:01:31.64] REBECCA: So if you listen to previous episodes, you know that Gus is very into fetch. That is his favorite activity.

[00:01:40.07] SOPHIE: Yes.

[00:01:40.61] REBECCA: He loves to do it all day long. But he's learned the words like "last one." So he'll constantly just keep bringing you his toy or the ball. But if you say last one, and then you throw it, he'll go get it, and then go take a break and lay down somewhere.

[00:01:55.55] SOPHIE: That's amazing. Gus has learned English. [00:01:57.95] REBECCA: I know.

[00:01:58.40] SOPHIE: [INAUDIBLE]

[00:01:59.54] REBECCA: I know. My brother was watching him when we were on vacation, and he texted me like, how do I get him to stop asking all my friends to play fetch when they come over? And then we told him to do the "last one." And he's like, no way, no way that works. But his mind was blown, and I was like, oh, yeah, that is kind of cool.

[00:02:16.32] SOPHIE: Yeah. It's impressive. I think that you should be proud of your genius Gus dog.

[00:02:20.72] REBECCA: Yeah. [LAUGHS] How's Monty doing?

[00:02:23.57] SOPHIE: He's doing pretty good. I should teach him an equivalent amount of English so that we could have a discussion about that-- even though he's named after a famous gardener, that he does not get to help me dig in the garden.

[00:02:37.15] REBECCA: [LAUGHS]

[00:02:39.11] SOPHIE: Our coworker warned me when I got this puppy and named him after a gardener, that I was dooming myself to a digger. And sometimes it's helpful. So I feel like I'm just trying to figure out how to train him to dig up weeds and not dig up freshly planted rose bushes.

[00:02:56.66] But we're working on it together. And it is really sweet to just have him outside with me. It's a big part of my self-regulation practice, is to get outside and garden and have a sweet little friend there. It makes it worth it and funny. There are definitely times where his antics are just pretty hilarious.

[00:03:17.51] REBECCA: That's a great-- he's just living up to his name, you know? [00:03:21.02] SOPHIE: Yeah. I can't be mad. I set these expectations up for him. [00:03:25.25] [LAUGHTER]

[00:03:28.26] REBECCA: Well, I'm excited for you to garden as the weather starts to get nicer. [00:03:31.64] SOPHIE: Thank you.

[00:03:32.96] REBECCA: Yeah. All right, so today we're talking all about the ways that the foster care system can be both lifesaving and traumatic for children and families. We hope that by listening to this episode you gain some insight about the lives of young people who have experienced foster care and identify some strategies for supporting them. Experiencing foster care presents unique barriers for young people.

[00:03:56.42] SOPHIE: Yes. For example, according to Treehouse, our nonprofit partner for this episode, each day, nearly 10,000 children are in foster care in Washington State. Foster youth

have a tremendous amount of potential and strengths and hopes and dreams for the future. But they have a unique set of challenges including trauma, loss, and changes at homes and in their schools.

[00:04:18.56] This type of emotional upheaval causes young people in foster care to face social, emotional, and academic challenges, on top of just the regular challenges of growing up and being a young person.

[00:04:29.93] REBECCA: Yeah, definitely. We think it's especially important to consider how we as ELO providers can offer trauma-informed care to these youth, especially through forming supportive relationships.

[00:04:41.78] SOPHIE: Yes, absolutely. We are really fortunate to be talking to Dulce, Sherry, and Dani from Treehouse, which is a Washington State based nonprofit serving youth and foster care. We also speak with Romajean Thomas, a Muckleshoot Tribal member and Indigenous social worker. Let's jump in with Dulce.

[00:05:01.63] REBECCA: Our youth voice guest today is Dulce, a graduate of the Graduation Success Program from Treehouse. Treehouse supports young people who have experienced foster care. We'll get to hear from treehouse staff Dani and Sherry later in this episode. Hi, Dulce. Can you introduce yourself, share your pronouns, and tell us about how you got connected with Treehouse?

[00:05:22.48] DULCE: Hi. I'm Dulce. I go by she/her. And it's kind of an interesting story how I got connected to Treehouse. Because, at first, it was just my siblings in Treehouse because we were dealing with going from foster care and such. And I think I was too young to join. So I wasn't in it, but my siblings were.

[00:05:45.34] And I like telling this story because this is what Sherry told me. She was who I worked with before I moved on to a different person. She told me that she literally fought in my name because she thought it was unfair that I wasn't in Treehouse and my siblings were.

[00:06:01.11] REBECCA: Mm-hmm.

[00:06:01.68] DULCE: And so I'm in Treehouse now.

[00:06:03.54] REBECCA: I love that you had an advocate for you right at the beginning. [00:06:06.56] [LAUGHTER]

[00:06:08.82] That's amazing. What were some of the sources of strength or hope that you tapped into during your journey to graduate high school? I know that's one of the goals of the Graduation Success Program.

 [00:06:20.64] DULCE: Most likely, Sherry, she was definitely a big figure in my life, definitely helped me a lot since we met back when I was in middle school. There was also the fact that I also wanted to make my mom proud, since she never got an opportunity to graduate herself. So I think it'll be a nice moment for me to graduate to just make her proud in that sense.

[00:06:40.83] REBECCA: Yeah. I love that you have this internal drive that's pushing you through. Is there any other strengths that you found in yourself? What did you learn about yourself in this journey?

[00:06:51.05] DULCE: OK, I keep getting told this, that I'm smarter than I actually am. Because in my opinion, I don't think I'm that smart. But they keep telling me, no, no, no, you're smarter than you actually are. I mean, I can kind of see it now, since-- to be fair, I wasn't the best student at the start. So by the time I was in senior year, I had so many things to complete, and I was able to plow through all of it. And it was probably easier than I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be so agonizingly hard, but it was quite the opposite.

[00:07:21.33] REBECCA: Yeah. Yeah. That's amazing. I love that they identified your strength too and helped you see that in yourself. Talk about relationships, it's clear that you really have one with Sherry. And we focus a lot on supportive relationships in this show. So I'd love to hear more about how the relationships you've built through Treehouse have impacted your life.

[00:07:44.40] DULCE: I think the main one is definitely what I have with Sherry. I consider her to be my second mother, since she was so present throughout middle school all the way until senior year. And when it was still allowed before COVID, we would go to the coffee shop buy my place, sit down, talk, discuss work. But it was a nice little thing to actually meet up, talk together in person.

[00:08:07.46] During the online COVID era teaching, I was hooked up with a tutor. Her name's Emily. She's a really old friend of Sherry's, and she knew we were gonna click. She's also become a second mom to me. She's also definitely helped me within that time, junior year, because I was so bad. And she was like, no, you got to do it. You got to do it. It was, I think, annoying at times, definitely, because I hated actually sitting down to do my work. But it paid off in the end.

[00:08:38.39] I believe junior was the first year I passed all my classes. Because before, I would pass, at the very least, one. But junior, first year, I passed all my classes. And it was definitely an experience, because it's something that's never happened. Literally, since middle school, I've always failed at least a big handful of classes. And so when junior year rolled around and I was told, hey, you passed all your classes, it felt refreshing. It felt nice. And I think that's what pushed me even more to just beat up senior year to graduate on time.

 [00:09:16.14] REBECCA: Well, thank you so much Dulce for coming on and sharing your story with us. It was great to have you.

[00:09:22.26] DULCE: It was great to be on here. [00:09:23.46] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:09:35.26] REBECCA: All right, it's time for our word of the week.

[00:09:37.51] SOPHIE: We're going to share a vocabulary word every episode to help build shared terminology for talking about trauma-informed care practices. Today we're going to share the definition of foster care from the US health and Human Services Department. Foster care, also known as out-of-home care, is a temporary service provided by states for children who cannot live with their families.

[00:10:00.38] Children in foster care may live with relatives or with unrelated foster parents. Foster care can also refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living.

[00:10:15.68] REBECCA: Yeah. I think it's really important to understand that foster care is many different things and can look different for each person. So it varies across states, agencies, and different particular situations.

[00:10:27.47] SOPHIE: Yes, exactly. Someone might live with a family member. Somebody else might have to go to a group home. Foster care varies by states, and as you mentioned too, by agency.

 [00:10:37.34] REBECCA: Yeah. I think the most important thing to know that is that foster care looks different for different kids. So the key thing to do is to connect directly with the young person and their caseworker to best understand what support that child needs from you. Building consistent and responsive relationships is a key part of trauma-informed care, and is especially important for children experiencing foster care.

[00:10:56.81] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:11:04.14] ANNOUNCER: Treehouse envisions and strives to create a world where every child who has experienced foster care has the opportunities and support that they need to pursue their dreams and launch successfully into independence. If you'd like to learn more, you can go to

[00:11:22.81] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:11:26.71] SOPHIE: Similar to other issues in the United States that have troubling impacts, the foster care system has heavily impacted specific populations, and not always positively. On this podcast, we want the experiences and stories of the impact that foster care has had on the Indigenous population to be centered and told by someone who has worked in that system themselves. If we learn, we can advocate and do better. Up next, we'll hear from Indigenous social worker Romajean Thomas.

[00:11:55.63] Welcome, Romajean. Can you introduce yourself, share your pronouns, and tell us about the work that you do at Muckleshoot Child and Family Services and your work at Feed 7 Generations?

[00:12:06.67] ROMAJEAN THOMAS: Yeah. Thank you for having me. My name is Romajean Thomas. I prefer the pronouns she/her. I'm a Muckleshoot Tribal member. And I'm currently the executive director of Feed 7 Generations. And I was previously the assistant director of Muckleshoot Child and Family Services and came from doing case management at Muckleshoot Child and Family Services as well.

[00:12:33.89] REBECCA: Thank you. So we are recording this on August 31, 2022, so ahead of the Supreme Court decision about the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA. Can you tell us about the implications of ICWA on foster care?

[00:12:46.96] ROMAJEAN: Yeah. I mean, I teach cultural sovereignty at Northwest Indian College, and so I think it has a large implication on sovereignty. But I think the importance of ICWA, the protections of ICWA for foster care, not only is it placement preference-- that's a big one. I have it noted. Because we want to make sure that kiddos are placed with family members, someone from their tribe.

[00:13:12.85] I believe in this so much that I've taken the qualified expert witness training, so I can just articulate that in court when we're talking placement preference. But ICWA outlines that, gives you a gauge and a guide for courts to utilize, to say, OK-- so, tribal member, or family member, tribal member, native foster home, other. So it gives all these layers.

[00:13:39.01] I think it keeps kids in their communities, keeps them connected to their language, their geographic food systems, their larger community, which can include social systems, value systems, connection with multi-generations of family. And so ICWA protections are really for the larger holistic health of our kids and our families. And so the impact of not having that is the lack of all of that. It is the base of who we are as people.

[00:14:16.10] We are connected to our land and our families deeply and have a responsibility to these relationships. So ICWA upholds that. It allows us the ability to advocate for that, to advocate for our kids, to advocate for their placements. It allows people like me to go to a qualified expert witness training, and then to come in and say, this is why this is important. As a Muckleshoot person who benefited from my powwows, my cultural community, that discipline system. When I was in trouble, my parents told everybody, and then I was embarrassed and I did better.

[00:14:51.87] [LAUGHTER]

[00:14:53.02] All of that matters. And underlying is ICWA protecting that for kids in foster care.

[00:14:59.41] REBECCA: Mhm. Yeah, I mean, we've-- I mean, prior to this chat, we've talked a lot about cultural competence in the context of foster care. And that example that you just gave of like the discipline practices of your community is a great example of that. Can you share more about the importance of cultural competence in foster care, in trauma-informed care, and more about how Indigenous children are uniquely supported in tribal settings?

[00:15:26.68] ROMAJEAN: So yeah, my dad shares some lessons and some readings, and some resources around the medicine wheel. And it really just talks about using it like a lens. Put it in front of the work that you're doing. Put it in front of-- like, as a caseworker, put it in front of your cases. Are you meeting the needs of the kids-- mental, physical, spiritual, emotional? I think that's a good gauge for what ICWA provides. Because, as Indigenous people, that is our lens.

[00:15:54.47] And so for any professional, I recommend using that lens. And I think the other importance of using that lens is making sure you're meeting the needs of the kids. It's like taking that person to that building and then making the connection that they belong, that their family is from there. I think that cultural connection feeds you emotionally, spiritually. But I think it's healing and restorative to make those connections.

 [00:16:23.89] So if we're not connecting to their community, if we're not filling that loss, void, is that trauma-informed care? Because that loss is the representation of trauma, and we want to make sure that we're providing cultural opportunity. This weekend, the Puyallup tribe is having their 43rd Annual Labor Day Powwow. That is an event that anyone can attend, but could make a huge difference.

[00:16:49.47] A kid could connect to the culture there and say, maybe my medicine-- and when I say "medicine," it's your skill set. Your medicine might be powwow dancing. Your medicine might be drumming or singing. In our community, drumming, singing, powwow dancing, like in a lot of communities, is medicine.

[00:17:09.13] REBECCA: Yeah.

[00:17:10.26] ROMAJEAN: Bringing that kid to those things, they find their medicine. When someone finds their medicine, then they're able to take that medicine. They're able to meet all of the challenges in their life and become who they're supposed to become, which, in turn, will be healing for another person. Maybe you're a doctor. Whatever your field is, if we're providing trauma-informed care, we're healing people. Then they-- healed people heal people in the same way that hurt people hurt people.

[00:17:40.59] REBECCA: I love that so much. You're creating the system, a larger system of healing. 

[00:17:44.85] ROMAJEAN: And we call it remembering because it's going back to those traditional values, the way we manage our food, our environmental resources. Our first gem, our first resource is our children. Just from birth to elders, that regard and that reverence is always there-- so just remembering, going back to those traditional values.

[00:18:09.27] REBECCA: I love that. And some things are so special about just doing things with your community. Either you're dancing, or you're drumming, or you're involved in the music in some way. There's something special about feeling like you're part of the community.

[00:18:24.33] ROMAJEAN: Absolutely.

[00:18:25.05] REBECCA: Yeah. I noticed you said some things about filling your medicine wheel, some things that maybe providers can do, like learning about a person, providing cultural opportunity, helping folks connect with their community. Are there maybe other advice pieces that you would give to ELO providers wondering how they can support kids in foster care?

[00:18:48.51] ROMAJEAN: Simple things like making sure that a foster parent knows as early as possible about any events at school. Because one thing that I absolutely learned is-- I would make sure that kids had school clothes vouchers and do all these things. Because that's what I remember is being the broke kid and getting teased about that.

[00:19:07.23] What I learned, working in tribal communities, is kids want you to show up. They want somebody to be present and to be there. And that was one of the most asked things. So just giving those providers a heads up, caregivers, foster parents, bio parents, if that's allowed, whoever-- because sometimes they need that little extra nudge to remind them. And when someone's a foster parent, they're probably overwhelmed.

[00:19:37.13] REBECCA: Mm-hmm.

[00:19:37.48] ROMAJEAN: And if you can encourage families-- any time there's a resource, when you're getting close to an early college night-- even in middle school, they're encouraging them when there's recruiters on campus. Kiddos in the foster care system-- that system can be extended to 21, but really ends at 18 for the care provider unless they're willing to extend. But a lot of people in our society say, 18, you're an adult.

[00:20:10.06] However, because placements aren't always consistent for the length of time a kid's in foster care, they may not have had some of that motivation to, hey, look at colleges. Think about college. Think about your grades because that's going to impact you. They might not have had that encouragement.

[00:20:28.50] So if there's any way you can encourage students into career paths, education paths, independent spaces, or spaces that a care provider, a parent, a loved one would push them in-- and I think language is so important. This may seem silly.

[00:20:50.15] But I truly believe, because I came from my own space of trauma and things that I've experienced-- I was told that I mattered, that I was going to be somebody, that I was smart. Teachers took interest in my writing. But literally just being told that I mattered, you don't realize that in the foster care system when kids move from placement. It may be a family member. It may not. They may have had training. They may not have had training.

[00:21:25.38] The term trauma informed care might seem like a big term that people don't understand. But it's just our responses to our hurts. And sometimes that comes up like defense mechanisms and walls. And so support and encouragement for foster parents as well as foster children make the system-- and of course, parents, so the reunification can occur.

[00:21:50.95] But encouraging words, I think it's important to say to people working in this field, to parents, and children in this system, that you recognize them; you see them; you want to support them. So I think encouraging words go a lot further than we think. And this is an exacerbated system from all angles. So sometimes a kind word is not as easy to come by as you would think-- so engaging and connecting with people and making sure that they know how important they are, that they matter. 

[00:22:24.04] REBECCA: Mm-hmm.

[00:22:24.46] SOPHIE: Yeah. I love that. I mean, I think that that's a gift that we have so much abundance of. We all have the ability to say, "I see you doing this great thing," or "I see you trying and participating," and that "you're valued here." That is free for us to give and is so valued when received.

[00:22:45.67] ROMAJEAN: Absolutely.

[00:22:46.60] SOPHIE: Romajean, thank you so much for being here with us. [00:22:49.23] ROMAJEAN: Hallelujah, guys.

[00:22:50.62] [LAUGHTER]

[00:22:52.59] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:23:08.36] SOPHIE: Hi, Dani Hi, Sherry. Can you introduce yourselves, share your pronouns, and tell us about the work you do at Treehouse? Dani, let's have you start.

[00:23:17.09] DANI ERICKSON: My name is Dani Erickson. I have been with Treehouse for about 3 and 1/2 years. I'm an ed specialist with the graduation success program.

[00:23:28.07] SHERRY EDWARDS: And I am Sherry Edwards. My pronouns are she/her/hers, and I'm a senior education specialist up in Shoreline, Washington.

[00:23:36.05] REBECCA: Awesome. Welcome both of you. Will you tell us a little bit more about Treehouse, and what makes treehouse a unique program?

[00:23:42.56] SHERRY: The Treehouse's main goal in our program is to increase the rate of graduation, or a GED credential. And we've really been able to do a lot of working towards progress on expanding statewide, so that more people who've experienced foster care can have that support.

[00:24:05.66] And in our area, where we started in King County, it's just really going really, really well. And the statistics are really bearing out that we're increasing the rate of graduation much closer to that of these youth peers.

[00:24:26.05] DANI: We're a really unique program because we're really focused on one to one connection with the youth. And it's really consistent. It's every single week. And we also connect with the foster parent, and the social worker, and the school. So we're really unique in that way. I think we bring a lot of, I mean, we know what's going on. We're also sometimes the most consistent person because of placement changes, and things like that.

[00:24:55.85] So our program is really, I think was developed to target the experience for foster youth. Because it's really about eliminating barriers, but it's also about creating a team of people around the youth. Because-- I'm sure we'll get into this, but foster youth have really interesting barriers. And so the whole program, graduation success is really tailored to that, to eliminating barriers, creating support teams, and being super consistent.

[00:25:23.32] SOPHIE: I'm curious. What are some things that you wish other adults knew about kids that are experiencing the foster care system?

[00:25:30.10] SHERRY: I wish that people knew how many times these youth change placements, change connections. I wish that people knew how many adults these youth have in their lives. I once did a presentation with Casey Family Programs where we counted the number of adults that these youth have to keep track of, or be exposed to, or interact with. And it was over 35 when you count all the attorneys and advocates. And that counts their teachers and stuff too, of course.

[00:26:06.94] But one thing that I think that we do really well is we're the head chef in the kitchen of too many cooks. We're keeping track of a lot of those connections, and like Dani said, really trying to build out the teams so that the youth is aware of the role of each of these adults in their lives. 

[00:26:29.57] And the other thing that I wish people really knew is that there's a huge difference between resilience and compartmentalization. And we talk a lot about how foster youth are resilient. And I think that it's admirable that we think. But I don't think it's really true. I think that these kids are masters at compartmentalizing stuff because they don't have any other choice.

 [00:26:57.44] And when we're asking youth to be able to attend to the number of details that happen when they're in high school and they have six classes and six teachers and a million other things going on, I wish people could have more understanding, or at least compassion, around how challenging it is to do that while also trying to deal with the compartmentalization of all your complex trauma and the unknown about where you're going to be in the next month or year-

- and that these kids are still trying to maintain often, at least, maintain a relationship with their bio family while navigating just all of it.

[00:27:46.99] REBECCA: Yeah. That's a lot that these kids are dealing with.

[00:27:51.31] DANI: If I could tell any adult anything, it would be that foster youth, and the consistent transitions that they face really impact their ability to engage in normal things like other youth do. So I'll always bring it back to how great Treehouse is. Because one thing that we do is we pay for extracurricular activities. Well, a lot of foster youths don't have access to buy the cleats they want to play soccer, for example-- and so just being aware of that,

[00:28:28.15] It's a population of youth that can be lost. There's different types of placement. I didn't know that. There's group homes. That's a very different experience than being with a placement. So there's all these little nuances. The most important people to know about that experience is school staff, particularly, and how to support them, keeping that in mind that not every youth has access to the things, of course, that they want. But in the system, it can be even more difficult when you're with your peers. And it's almost like a secret sometimes.

[00:29:02.32] REBECCA: Yeah. I love that you named just the day-to-day challenges that some of those kids might face that-- yeah, that often just go overlooked or taken for granted. So thank you for pointing that out. I used to work in social work, also was a case manager. And so I know the high rates of secondary trauma and burnout and things that can happen when working with kids who are facing really difficult challenges. 

[00:29:28.39] And you're the point person for a lot of those kids, right? And dealing with that requires a lot of community care. And I know when we met previously, we had talked about the strength that Treehouse has and the support of staff. And I would love for you to say a little bit more about how you guys have supported each other in this work.

[00:29:50.59] DANI: I started with a colleague of mine, Sarah, who-- she's amazing. She's no longer with Treehouse. But she and I collaborated together to create a meeting space for all the education specialists in the organization. The reason for that is because we're spread out throughout Washington. So we don't get to, at the end of the day, see your colleagues in the office and chit chat or get to know each other.

 [00:30:20.29] And I will say, I don't know if it's just luck of the draw or what. But we have the most incredible people at Treehouse. I'm biased, so education specialists particularly. I have learned so much from everybody. And the space that we created is really just to learn. So it's kind of an open forum. I do not own the space. It's everybody's space. And we just get together, and we talk about all kinds of different things. 

[00:30:48.38] Sometimes we have an agenda. Sometimes we don't. But it's really just about connecting. And particularly, as things have changed over COVID and everything, my training experience was very different than someone that got hired during when we were all remote.

 [00:31:04.19] And so I was thinking about those people during that time. I'm like, they don't know anybody other than your GO team where you're located. And I just wanted to connect so badly with people. I wanted to learn. And I would email Sherry. And we were on other teams together for other things at Treehouse.

[00:31:23.41] And Sherry is the real MVP. And so I was selfishly wanting to be more connected with some people just to pick their beautiful brains. And I will say too, this work is very, very difficult sometimes. The youth trust use other disclosing things. Sometimes they word vomit on you because you're that person. And there's things in the IEP that need to be changed, or whatever.

[00:31:49.12] So that space is great for connecting with someone who's an expert in that. Every specialist at Treehouse has some type of crazy amazing skill. And I have the most amazing colleagues here in Clark County, Washington. And sometimes you just need to call your coworker and be like, I had a really rough day.

[00:32:08.86] And I can say I can call these 20 people at Treehouse to do that with because everybody is just so phenomenal. And I think it takes really special people, like you guys, to obviously have those qualities to connect with the youth that are going through this kind of stuff. 

[00:32:23.80] SHERRY: But not only is the meeting time phenomenal for support, and interpersonal relationship building, and just getting to know the faces of people who are being hired, but the chat itself is incredible. And it takes our whole team, our whole team of nearly 70 people to be able to answer questions sometimes. And we are the subject matter experts. So we can't answer those questions. We have problems.

[00:32:51.91] But there is rarely, I mean, rarely a time where somebody doesn't know the answer to a question that someone types in the chat. Or at the minimum, they can tell you another resource where you can find out that information. And I think that this shift where we are all connected, not just in our monthly collaboration meeting but in a daily mechanism to be able to seek out and find at your fingertips information-- not only does it help me do my job better, but it helps me feel better in my body.

[00:33:28.31] My body feels better knowing that I'm not the only one in charge of all of this massive amount of information. And as education specialists, we are pretty siloed out in our districts and in our buildings. And it can sometimes feel like I'm the only one. I'm the only one that is in charge of supporting this youth. And now, that is just not true. And that is a huge, huge, huge help for my mental health, and I'm sure for the mental health of other education specialists that are working for Treehouse.

[00:34:02.30] SOPHIE: I think you both hit on such really important points about the ways that we can support ourselves and each other professionally, and also depending on where we're at in our careers. I mean, the key theme, I feel like, of all trauma informed care work is supportive relationships. And you guys really found a way to build those statewide. And that's really admirable. Dani and Sherry, thank you so much for spending time with us today. 

[00:34:24.72] SHERRY: Thank you for having us. It's just been really a privilege to be able to talk to other adults who care about kids the way that we do, and have you be interested in hearing what we have to say about it.

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[00:34:52.63] ANNOUNCER: Feed revitalizes the health and wellness of tribal communities by amplifying the voices of Native people, reconnecting the ancestral community health practices and elevating land management strategies. Please, if you want to learn more about Feed 7 Generations and the food sovereignty work we do in our community, visit us at

[00:35:37.24] SOPHIE: Strategy Spotlight is a time for us to share one thing you can implement in ELO program or classroom. Our Strategy Spotlight today comes from Dani and Cherry from Treehouse.

[00:35:46.45] DANI: I think the number one thing, to build relationships, that I found is the most powerful is literally consistency, showing up every single time and following through and being 100% true to your word. So if you're going to bring a snack, and it's this snack, you bring that snack-- particularly for foster youth, because it is difficult to build trust with them sometimes.

[00:36:10.33] SHERRY: Being true to your word, showing up when you say you're going to show up, or letting youth know that you're not ghosting them, being really consistent in the style that-- well, for me, I try to be really consistent in the style that I have for each of my meetings or interactions with kids.

[00:36:31.75] I don't surprise them with meetings. I always text them, or I email them to let them know that our meeting is on track, or it's going to be at the same time that it always has been.

And I'm an older education specialist. So some of the strategies that our younger employees use don't really work for me because I'm really, really not cool compared to them.

[00:36:57.67] But talking about grades, talking about how kids are feeling while they're at school, and doing that every single solitary time that we meet-- just let them know, when they walk in the door, that they don't have to think about anything. They don't have to wonder about it. It's not going to be an unknown. They're going to know what to expect the minute they walk in the door. 

[00:37:18.10] And they're always going to have snacks available. They're always going to look at their grades with me. We're always going to talk about strategies for improvement, for anything that they're wanting to improve. And the consistency cannot be overstated. It is one of the only places that they have consistency at all.

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[00:37:54.94] SOPHIE: As we wrap up this episode, we'll leave you with a few key takeaways and reflection questions. Part of building a trauma-informed care practice is building our own self awareness so that we can better show up for the young people in our lives.

[00:38:07.67] REBECCA: One of my key takeaways is just consistency, and transparency, and also follow through. I worked a little bit with foster youth in the past, and also youth in-patient care. And it really makes a big difference just showing up consistently, doing what you say you're going to do, or the reasons why things happen just went a long way in building relationship and trust.

[00:38:28.22] So if I said, later today we're going to watch this movie, if-- then, we either watch the movie, or if time runs out, then I have to provide a reason as to why that didn't happen. Just to communicate a lot, it goes a long way.

[00:38:43.95] SOPHIE: Absolutely. Yeah. I'm also thinking about how the importance of culturally sustaining principles-- culturally sustaining, or culturally aware care is a key part of many trauma informed care frameworks for a reason. We're all social creatures. And culturally sustaining practices help youth have a sense of belonging.

[00:39:05.44] That sense of belonging is a protective factor against the effects of trauma. So incorporating youth culture into the way that you work with those young people can help them feel seen, included, and feel connected with their culture and community.

[00:39:18.78] REBECCA: Yeah, definitely. All right. So now we invite you to take some time to reflect. And our first reflection question is what ways do you already provide transparency and consistency to young people? This could look like a posted schedule you review and stick to you, or clearer explanations about what is going to happen, and when. 

[00:39:40.48] Second, what are a few small ways you could add more consistency to your relationships with young people? Consider your daily routines, offerings, and your program environment. And lastly, think about the young people that you work with. Do you know their cultural backgrounds? How can you find out more, or how can you bring in and celebrate many different cultures?

[00:40:00.76] SOPHIE: For those of you listening that are working directly with young people, either professionally or in your personal life, we see the really important work you're doing. And we hope that this episode gives you some more fuel to continue.

[00:40:11.98] REBECCA: Supporting youth who are or have experienced foster care helps disrupt cycles of trauma in our communities. By being transparent, consistent, and celebrating all families and cultures, we can be a source of healing for ourselves and for everyone around us.

Remember, we won't always get it right. But this is a journey and not a destination. So keep learning, listening, and growing. 

[00:40:33.29] SOPHIE: Thank you so much for joining us today.

[00:40:35.84] REBECCA: This podcast was produced by Cultivate Learning at the University of Washington with funding from the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families. We'd like to thank our media producer, Tifa Tomb, and our graphic designer, Tammy Tolpa. You can find more of Cultivate Learning's work by going to

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