In 2012 I was volunteering as a “Cuddler” at the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent (PICC), which is the facility that cares for newborns who have come into this world either drug exposed or drug addicted. As a volunteer, I was allowed one hour a week to rock the babies, do laundry and assist the staff in any way they needed. I remember sitting there, rocking a baby and thinking, “I have so much more to give than one hour a week!”
I had also noticed women coming to visit the babies and soon found out that they were the foster moms that would soon be taking the little ones home. It wasn’t long before I approached my husband with the wild idea that I wanted to retire from my job as a Financial Manager for a Seattle nonprofit and become a foster parent. He readily agreed and in 2014 we were licensed and began taking in little ones. We are still licensed today and hope to continue for many more years.
Once the “pink cloud” diminished we began to recognize the challenges facing foster parents, social workers, bio families, and the children in care. As children came into our care and I began attending court hearings, I realized how important it was for social workers and foster parents to work together so the court had the information they needed to make the right decision for these vulnerable children.
Let me share a little personal history so you better understand what drives me to be involved in change. Both of my parents were deceased by the time I was 9 years old. Although I was never placed in the formal foster care system, I was placed in several different homes of strangers between the age of 9 and 18. The person responsible for the decisions regarding where I would live had absolutely no experience with children, nor did they know me and what my needs were. Consequently, some very bad decisions were made about where I would live and I have spent a lifetime healing from the trauma induced by those decisions and my experiences in those homes. My experience has provided me with the drive to give the children in our care a voice. I don’t want the social workers, CASA workers, or the courts making lifelong decisions that will impact our children for the rest of their lives without hearing from the children through my voice. Until they are capable of speaking for themselves I am committed to speaking for them.
Fortunately, I can see the big picture and know that the problems we face are not the responsibility of just one of the above mentioned entities. We are one big organism that needs to work together collaboratively to find solutions that really work for all of us as a whole. Personally, I could not simply stand by and hope for change, I needed to be someone who actually picks up the tools and works for change. Initially, I was frustrated because I didn’t know where to turn or who would be willing to partner with me to work with this desire to create change. And then, in September of 2016 I got a call from Shannon Mead asking me if I would like to join her in the formation of The Foster Innovation Lab. Everything Shannon said that day convinced me that I had found my team. And, along with Shannon, Lori and Mackenzie we have begun the work.
The tools I bring to this effort come from more than 25 years of financial management and accounting. I’ve provided accounting services, complex budget management, and grant compliance at the federal, state and private levels, and have spent the last seven years working in the nonprofit sector. I am grateful for this professional experience as it has provided me with the ability to use the tools of data analysis, strategic planning, problem solving, relationship building and collaboration as a means for initiating change for the better in our current foster care system.