From the Treehouse Blog

Showing blog entries tagged as: foster care

Putting Children First

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Mar 04, 2014 12:05 AM

Save the Date

Set in a small town in western Massachusetts, the significance of the Treehouse Community may not be evident from it’s physical presence alone, but it’s positive impact is felt in the region and beyond. Thanks to a collaborative partnership among three visionary organizations – the Treehouse Foundation, Beacon Communities LLC, and Berkshire Children & Families – and 100+ Treehouse community members ranging in age from 1 – 95, this exciting award winning multigenerational neighborhood has been a catalyst for widespread social change.

Since opening the Treehouse Community with it’s partners in 2006, the Treehouse Foundation has been busy developing a vibrant Center of Foster Care & Adoption Excellence in the region of Massachusetts where the largest number of children experiencing foster care reside. Engaging a collaborative social change approach, this entrepreneurial 12 year old non-profit has inspired action, demonstrated the power of partnership, and leveraged deep investment in foster care innovation. Treehouse is helping dissolve the foster care pipeline to our next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

To accomplish it’s vision Treehouse invites people of all ages and backgrounds to become resources to children and youth whose lives have been impacted by foster care.

To accomplish it's vision Treehouse invites people of all ages and backgrounds to become resources to children and youth whose lives have been impacted by foster care.  It is diligently building a compelling new Menu of Engagement Options with regional partners who share the vision.

They understand that most people think there are only two ways to support a child placed in our child welfare system. They are eager to join Treehouse in developing an array of choices so all kids can live connected, healthy and fulfilling lives.

The Treehouse Foundation wholeheartedly believes in it’s mission and vision. That’s why it launched The Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement (REFCA) in 2010 and is busy planning the Fifth Annual REFCA Conference with
it’s REFCA colleagues (May 30th @ Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, MA.).

Next week REFCA stakeholders will come together for their Winter Working Group Gathering. Throughout the morning folks will share the latest information about REFCA Working Group inspired programs like A Home Within, HEROES Youth Leadership Project, Project Thrive! Zero To Five, and the Bridge Road Youth Housing/Job Skills Program. Mary LeBeau, a seasoned child welfare professional who works on behalf of children and youth across the nation, will facilitate the event. Her goal: Help the group weave permanency into every aspect of their REFCA work and remember the permanency mantra: Stay Home. Go Home. Find Home.

We look forward to our upcoming REFCA events: the Winter Working Group Gathering & the Fifth Annual REFCA Conference. It is always such a pleasure to come together with people who are compassionate, thoughtful and wise; folks who are eager to engage in collaborative social change where children come first.

Celebrating Our Accomplishments

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Sep 20, 2013 04:40 AM

THC meetingAt Treehouse we know that communities aren’t just built with bricks and mortar. Communities are people. Our neighbors, friends, and family. And this year, as we celebrate seven years of intergenerational living on Treehouse Circle, we are looking back on all our accomplishments and forward to what the future may bring.

The Treehouse Community in Easthampton opened in 2006. As soon as the celebration ended, Treehouse Community Facilitator, Kerry Homstead, and I began the process of bringing Treehouse community members of all ages together in exciting and meaningful ways. It was a wonderful moment in our Treehouse history.

We immediately began welcoming children, families and elders to live in their new homes on Treehouse Circle. The vision of the Treehouse Community – children being moved out of foster care into permanent, loving families who live in a neighborhood where people of all ages invest in their health, well-being and futures – was palpable. You could feel the goodness in the air.

Seven years later you can still feel that goodness on Treehouse Circle.

Seven years later you can still feel that goodness on Treehouse Circle. It shows up as people come together to break bread, learn new skills, give one another a ride to the doctor, pick up a neighbor’s child from school, take an art class together, celebrate holidays, chat while their children play on the playground, and gather to raise their voices in song. The way life should be. One generation meeting the needs of another.

Over the past 87 months, the Treehouse community members have demonstrated the value of multigenerational living and invited many others to stand under the banner of Shared Responsibility.

The award winning Treehouse Foundation invests in lives and is also a catalyst for the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement. We show people what it takes to help children and youth whose lives have been impacted by foster care flourish and thrive. We support adoptive, birth, foster, guardianship, and kinship parents in exciting new ways. We highlight the value of vital aging in a country where 1 out of every 3 children born today will live to be 100. We inspire others to build intergenerational communities in their states.

Every day I get down on my knees and give thanks for all of the visionaries who have been on the Treehouse Journey. Together we have put the needs of our most vulnerable children on the table and leveraged the people, dollar and idea resources needed to create a Hub of Foster Care Innovation.

In the process we have created a Culture of Possibility with fabulous partners throughout New England and across the nation; a culture with partnership as it’s core value.

All of this collaborative social change was started seven years ago at the Treehouse Community and is made possible by ordinary citizens: Treehouse board members, business leaders, non-profit partners, school groups, faith based organizations, civic groups, professionals, philanthropists, and the 100+ Treehouse Pioneers who chose to move to Treehouse Circle.

Without these dedicated individuals and their ongoing investment of time, treasure and talent, the foster care landscape would not be as vibrant as it is today.

Thanks to the Treehouse Foundation’s bold vision, people of all ages and backgrounds are investing in foster care innovation and stepping up to the plate in exciting new ways.

Thank you for supporting the Treehouse Foundation.
Here’s to the well-being of all our nation’s children!

To Repair The World

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Sep 18, 2013 08:50 PM

Dr. Paul Farmer is a visionary and social activist who believes that all humans deserve to live a life free from poverty, premature death, and unnecessary suffering.

Dr. Farmer is the co-founder of Partners In Health and Chair of the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is considered to be one of the most passionate and influential voices for global health equity. His service to the poor in Haiti, Peru, Rwanda and Russia provides us with stellar examples of collaborative social change.

Dr. Farmer’s uplifting vision – full of creativity, passion, team work and determination – provides a concrete action plan for how we can make the world a safer, more humane, and equitable place.

In his book, To Repair The World, Dr. Farmer encourages each of us to strive in some way to move the world toward equity, peace, and prosperity. Given the groundbreaking work he has engaged in over the past thirty years, reading it is a pleasure. My favorite chapter is titled “Countering Failures of Imagination”. In it Dr. Farmer describes his first visit to Haiti in the early 1980s before beginning his medical training. His job, in a hot overcrowded medical clinic, was to take vital signs and give moral support to a harried Haitian doctor.

As the two young men developed a friendship, Paul Farmer had an Aha Moment: Working in the shabby facility lowered the Haitian doctor’s expectations about what was possible when it came to providing health care to people living in poverty. The assumption – that the only health care possible in rural Haiti was poor health care – was a Failure of Imagination.

Dr. Farmer goes on to say “that the great majority of global health experts and others who seek to attack poverty are hostages to similar failures of imagination. The result: Every day the clinic offered vivid reminders of the toll exacted by a lack of imagination. It wasn’t a failure to work long hours .. but rather a failure to imagine an alternative.. Most of my Haitian colleagues were unconvinced that excellence was possible.”

Dr. Farmer’s Aha Moment led to the Re-Envisioning of Health Care in Haiti and to the establishment of Partners in Health – an organization that is dedicated to raising the standard of health care for poor people around the world.

I had a similar Aha Moment about our nation’s child welfare system in 1999. After becoming a foster parent and learning that nearly 25,000 young people “age out’ of foster care without family and/or community and become the next generation of poor and homeless people in America. After talking with seasoned child welfare professionals who told me that the “aging out crisis” had been going on for their entire 30 year careers. After asking foster care experts what was the best way forward and hearing, “The system is broken. We can throw some programs and dollars at the “aging out crisis” but really other than that there is nothing that can be done to turn this ship around.” Failures of Imagination..

Dr. Paul Farmer established Partners in Health to counteract Failures of Imagination in Haiti. I established the Treehouse Foundation to inspire a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America. Following in Dr. Farmer’s footsteps, we have launched The Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement and are collaborating with visionary Americans of all ages and backgrounds to create coast to coast collaborations designed to be a catalyst for widespread investment in foster care innovation.

Partners In Health is a force for justice and social change. It demonstrates quite clearly how important it is to engage in the movement to make the world safer, equitable and more humane. The Treehouse Foundation is standing under the banner of Shared Responsibility with Dr. Farmer and his colleagues. We are applying the lessons they have learned to the REFCA Movement. We are partnering with others to translate goodwill and resources into robust responses and sustainable solutions that result in all children having the opportunity to live healthy, connected and fulfilling lives.


Posted by Judy Cockerton at May 01, 2013 02:09 PM
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Fourteen years ago a little girl with dark brown eyes and long curly hair entered my life. She was absolutely adorable. Today I met a little girl who looks just like her..

I was standing in the kitchen washing the dishes when the dog started barking. Then I heard a soft knock on the front door. When I opened it there she was in the arms of my neighbor. Bright and beautiful. She too is one of six siblings placed in foster care.

It was such a gorgeous day that we all decided to go out in the backyard. After exploring the magical contents of our Play House we checked out the playground. She climbed up in the tire swing and took it for a spin. After an hour of enjoying each other’s company she changed into a lovely party dress and said, “Good bye!”

I walked back through my yard remembering…

Dress up
Doll houses
Trips to the beach
Saying goodnight to the horses
Dolls galore
Baths in the sink
Riding bikes
Watering flowers
Running through the sprinkler
Swimming for hours
The playroom
Trips to the zoo
Drumlin Farm
All those fun pink dresses

Then I got in the car and drove my youngest daughter to the barn so she could visit one of her favorite horses. Shortly after we arrived her sister drove in. She is the spitting image of the beautiful little girl who came to play in my backyard this morning. Beautiful brown eyes. Dark curly hair. All grown up.

As the girls put their horse back in the field, I leaned on the fence admiring the view: two sisters engaged in conversation. Fourteen years goes by so quickly. I can still see two little sisters climbing up their slide and learning how to swing. I remember their laughter, their curiosity, and how they enjoyed exploring the world.

I hope the beautiful little girl who visited me this morning comes back to play soon. I’m ready to welcome another little one into my life.

Home Sweet Home

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Mar 26, 2013 01:45 PM
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I was the world traveler in my family. I spent a great deal of time in my twenties and thirties visiting other countries, soaking up the sights and sounds of each new culture I explored.

My oldest daughter has taken over that role now. A self described “language nerd”, she is fluent in Dutch, Thai, Arabic and Spanish. One of her little sister’s favorite treats would be having her bedtime stories read in a mixture of languages – one page in English, the next in Dutch, then Thai and so on. She would listen intently and then say, “Do it again!” or “Now read it with a British accent!” when the rotation was complete. It’s a happy childhood memory for us both!

The other day my daughter came home from one of her global adventures. She was really sick. We surrounded her with love and helped her get back on her feet. We were there to provide food, comfort, transportation, kindness, compassion – the full family safety net.

Last night when I went downstairs to check on the dog my daughter was in the kitchen, standing in front of the pantry, scanning the shelves. She was feeling hungry. A good sign.

I am delighted to have her home with us. Relieved that she’s feeling better. Full of love and appreciation for the joy she brings to our lives. As I watched her make a selection from the pantry, I remarked that I enjoy it when my kids come home and know that they are welcome to help themselves to whatever they need because they are “home”. “Within reason!” I joked.

Observing her, I thought about the meaning of family and home for the 25,000 young Americans who “age out” of foster care alone every year. Kids like my daughter, who launch out in the world without the benefit of a loving family and a caring community to tap into when they need a nourishing meal, feel sick, require a bit of respite from the world, want to celebrate their birthdays or come home for special events and holidays.

Observing her, I thought about the meaning of family and home for the 25,000 young Americans who “age out” of foster care alone every year.

I recalled my own successful launch out into the world, made possible by a loving community of family and friends, who invested in me daily and let me know that they were there for me whenever I needed them.

They gave me courage, believed in my dreams, and created a culture of possibility for my success in the world. Experiencing their ongoing support makes it possible for me to live my life by their motto: PASS IT ON! Kindness. Caring. Support.

It is something I do for all of the young people I love and hopefully inspire all of us to do for our nation’s youngsters who have been removed from their first families and placed in foster care.

All of us want to be appreciated and validated, cared for and authentically loved. It is essential for our well-being, our health, and our humanity.

As I watched my daughter cut up a banana for her yogurt, I imagined every youngster whose life has been impacted by foster care, standing in their own kitchens, feeling the love and sense of home that my daughter was enjoying in that moment.

Every child rooted in family and community. All across America.

It’s an image that fills me with joy and peace…

Let’s start at the very beginning

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Feb 26, 2013 02:36 PM
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babyEnsuring that young children placed in foster care have safe, secure environments in which to develop healthy brains, bodies and attachments with primary caregivers is good for the children and it helps build a strong foundation for a thriving, prosperous society.

Currently in the world of child welfare, philanthropists, policy makers and practitioners are focused on resolving the “Aging Out Crisis”. This is due to the fact that every year nearly 30,000 young Americans “age out” of foster care.

While most young people in the United States continue to receive support from their families into their 20s, young people who “age out” of foster care often lack this support. To successfully transition to adulthood, youth need both a permanent family relationship and skills for independent living. Young people who “age out” of foster care alone and without a diploma or job skills face joblessness, homelessness and lives of poverty. They are often unable to complete their educations, find housing or get medical care.

According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities initiative, a three state study shows that:

  • Nearly 40% had been homeless or “couch surfed” since leaving foster care.
  • Only 48% were working, compared to 72% of their peers who had not been in foster care.
  • Only 6% of young people who left foster care finished a 2 or 4 year college degree.

The majority of foster care investments are being poured into this critical arena because it is the gateway to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

While this is understandable, focusing such a large portion of our resources on the door out of foster care is not the best long term strategy for creating solutions to the national “Aging Out Crisis”. We need to begin investing fully on the front end of the foster care experience and learn how to utilize people, dollar and idea resources all along a child’s developmental spectrum.

To do this, it is imperative that we flip the current foster care paradigm. We live in a country where citizens help pay for the child welfare system with their tax dollars. In order to create a successful system – one that truly meet the needs of all children placed in foster care – we need to remain engaged rather than only paying attention when something goes wrong.

We make a promise when removing children from their family of birth. We promise them a better life: safety, stability, and a committed and enduring family relationship if they cannot return safely to their first family.

The children need us. Our overwhelmed and under resourced child welfare system requires our help. To create a new reality in America, we need a different approach. One that ensures that every child is rooted in family and community.

Every year nearly 30,000 young Americans “age out” of foster care.

In his book, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, Dr. Shonkoff underscores the value of investing in young children. He and his colleagues at Harvard’s Center of the Developing Child share research that shows how the architecture of the brain is impacted by early childhood trauma. They talk about the importance of a child’s early environment and nurturing relationships.

Shonkoff writes, “The scientific evidence on the significant developmental impacts of early experiences, caregiving relationships, and environmental threats is incontrovertible. Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning early in the prenatal period and extending throughout the early childhood years. The science of early development is also clear about the specific importance of parenting and of regular caregiving relationships..”

New knowledge creates new responsibility. This scientific research and information about new national approaches gives those of us who are serving children placed in foster care a new platform from which we can enact bold and comprehensive new measures all along a child’s developmental timeline.

I am proud to announce that the Treehouse Foundation is collaborating with our regional Re-Envisioning Foster Care Partners, Enchanted Circle Theatre and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, to develop an Early Childhood Wellness Project. We are currently seeking multi-year funding to develop an Early Childhood Wellness Approach for western Massachusetts.

We have prioritized two content areas for our initial program development:

  • Strengthening the early foundations of lifelong health and well-being.
  • Enhancing the resources and capacities of healthy attachments.

The Early Childhood Wellness Project is creating an environment that nurtures new ways of thinking, supports strategic risk-taking, and values the importance of investing in young children experiencing foster care.

The importance of fresh thinking and widespread investment in early childhood innovation has never been more critical. Please join us and help improve life outcomes for the nearly 1,000 young children ages 0-5 who are experiencing foster care in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

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