From the Treehouse Blog

Showing blog entries tagged as: kinship

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.

Is That Really Possible?

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Sep 11, 2013 11:45 AM

It’s happens all the time… I’ll be at a stop light and someone will drive up next to me, roll down their window and say, “Re-Envisioning Foster Care. Is that really possible?”

I live in the Greater Boston Area, work in western Massachusetts, and take my daughter to ride in a barn down by the Cape. As I crisscross the state with two magnets on the back of my car that say “I’m Re -Envisioning Foster Care!” lots of people are introduced to this amazing concept.

Over the past few years thousands of people have seen them. Sometimes I’ll be at a stop light. When I look in my rear view mirror I notice people pointing to them and then entering into a discussion.

I’d love to inspire many more REFCA conversations!
Perhaps when someone donates a fun car wrapped in bright colors and cool graphics that share the message in a much more dynamic way… I’m waiting for Ernie Boch or some other generous car dealer to contact me and offer up a free lease! I can see the number of Re-Envisioning Foster Care conversations rising as I type those words ..

Occasionally, I’ll be in a parking lot putting my groceries away and someone will walk up and talk to me. A couple of weeks ago, I was loading shelving into my car at Home Depot. A family approached me and said, “What does Re-Envisioning Foster Care mean? What are you doing?” I can’t tell you how much fun it is to dive right in and share the details of the past decade! People always walk away smiling. Pondering the possibilities.

Recently a Boston police officer, who was standing nearby when I parked my car at Northeastern University, sauntered over to my window and asked, “Where will you put the kids if they are not in foster care?”

We had a great discussion about the fact that most Americans think there are only two ways to support a child placed in foster care: become a foster parent or adopt a child. He understood that this is too much to ask of most people and that the result is millions of Americans turn and walk away from the very children in their neighborhoods who need them the most. He was thrilled when I told him we are building a compelling new Menu of Engagement Options so that people of all ages and backgrounds will have many more opportunities to become resources to kids.

I enjoy these spontaneous conversations with folks who typically are not thinking outside of the foster care box. I love the expressions on their faces when they hear about the investments in foster care innovation that the Treehouse Foundation, Sibling Connections, Birdsong Farm and others are making to improve the lives of our children and youth who have placed in foster care. They love hearing about Mel Lambert’s Pony Pals and how mini horses and mini donkeys are supporting the health and well-being of kids in Massachusetts.


They are delighted to hear that Treehouse and it’s partners are actively engaged in creating Project Thrive! – a new initiative designed to support the needs of infants, toddlers & pre-schoolers in foster care. They are excited to learn about HEROES – our youth leadership project designed to empower young people whose lives have been impacted by foster care.
People are genuinely happy to hear that the Treehouse Foundation and all of it’s partners are working together to dissolve the foster care pipeline to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans. They want the “aging out crisis” to end.

They love hearing about all of the goodness that is woven into Life on Treehouse Circle – for the 100+ children, families and elders who live in the beautiful multigenerational Treehouse Community. “I love that idea! People my age can help? Can you build a Treehouse Community in this area?” people remark. “Loving family and caring neighbors. Now that’s exactly what the children need,” say others.

And everyone feels good about Camp To Belong MA. “I can’t imagine not being connected to my brothers and sisters,” one college student said the other day. It felt so good to be able to give him the link to the Sibling Connections website.

People seem so relieved to hear that solutions are being created to some of child welfare’s most intractable problems – challenges that our overwhelmed and under resourced public foster care system needs our on-going resources and support to solve.

I’m grateful that those two blue REFCA magnets spark such interesting conversations. Thanks to everyone who pulls up next to me and asks, “Is that really possible?” I am so relieved that you don’t want to tell me that my brake light is out or that I forgot to put my gas cap back on..

I would much rather talk about Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America. It’s my favorite topic!

Thank You Dr. King!

Posted by Judy Cockerton at Sep 06, 2013 01:05 PM

MLKI was a 12 year old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington and delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

On August 28, 1963, as I turned on our TV, approximately 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. The rest of us, numbering in the millions, listened on the radio and watched on television.

As a child I visited my grandmother and her husband in Oakland, California on Sundays after church. As an 8th grader, I was no stranger to outstanding preachers and beautiful gospel music. But Dr. King’s words, still so moving and relevant fifty years later, did something no other preacher had ever done before.. He not only spoke truth to power. He lifted us up – all races, genders and creeds – to the mountain top to see what we are collectively called to do in our life time. Dr. King gave the nation and it’s citizens a spiritual and moral Call to Action – one that continues to guide me to this very day.

Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech is considered to be one of the great pieces of oratory of the 20th Century. Perhaps the greatest. I remember hearing it like it was yesterday. As Dr. King spoke, I was deeply moved by his intelligence, wisdom and courage, awed by the truth and beauty in his words, and transfixed by the speech’s powerful cadence.

He was an eloquent speaker, peaceful visionary, inspirational leader, gifted storyteller and passionate preacher/teacher all rolled into one. I appreciated the way he first he painted a realistic picture of the injustices black Americans faced and the role the government played in preventing all it’s citizens from attaining freedom and equality. He reminded us that equality, opportunity and freedom are American ideals, belonging to no singular demographic.

Then he moved on to help us visualize a better America. He did it simply but with such imagery, passion and skill. He shared his dream…

When he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”, I could actually see it. When he went on to say, “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York…” the picture was crystal clear. I was watching Dr. King on a black and white TV but the images he was painting with his heartfelt words came through in living color.

I am forever grateful to Dr. King. He was the greatest human rights activist of our time. His peaceful actions and powerful leadership inspired millions of us to dream.

I have a dream … That all children placed in our public foster care system will one day reside in a nation where they are given every opportunity to live healthy and productive lives.

My dream is to inspire a Re-Envisioning of Foster Care in America. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom, I find myself wanting to write an awe inspiring speech that acts as a catalyst and rouses all Americans to actively support our nation’s half million children in foster care. So far, I only have a rough draft:

I have a dream. That all our children in America are…

  • Cherished and honored from the moment they are born.
  • Rooted in healthy families and caring communities that invest in their health and well-being.
  • Given equal rights and equal protection under the law as well as equal consideration in our communities.

I have a dream … That all children placed in our public foster care system will one day reside in a nation where they are given every opportunity to live healthy and productive lives.

I have a dream … That all Americans will stand together under the Banner of Shared Responsibility to reduce the number of youth who are “aging out” of our public foster care system from 25,000 annually to zero.

I have a dream … That Americans of all ages and backgrounds will dismantle the foster care pipeline that leads to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

I have a dream … That the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement will become a stellar social justice collective, like the one that Dr. King created for the Civil Rights Movement.

Thank you Dr. King. Your vision will always guide me.

A Life Well Lived

Posted by Judy Cockerton at May 28, 2013 11:50 AM

REFCA ShirtIt is said that there are only two stories – a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Children who are removed from their families and placed in foster care are living both stories at the same time.

Take 5 year old Ali. Last week she was living at home with her mother who suffers from poor mental health. A call was made to the Department of Children and Families by a teacher citing neglect. A visit to the home was made. The next day Ali was picked up at school by a social worker and taken to a foster home.

Being removed from one’s family and placed in foster care is traumatic. This experience, even when a child is being removed from an unsafe situation, can bring grief, shock, stigma, loss and a future filled with invisibility, shame and hopelessness.

Most children aren’t doing anything special when their lives break apart – one moment they are with their family or with their peers at school, the next they are not. This is a life altering experience. Some children have the resilience to cope with the unpredictability, loss and change inherent in our chiild welfare system. Others find it completely overwhelming.

Ali is a child who found the experience completely overwhelming. She is very close to her mom. Losing her was simply too much to bear. She needed more than a foster home.She required hospitalization and round the clock support. Hopefully, she will feel better soon and be placed with a caring trauma informed family that lives in a community that understands her grief and will help her heal – people who surround her with all of the kindness and compassion she needs.

We make a promise to children when we remove them from their homes: to provide them with safety and find them a permanent loving connection if they cannot be returned to their first family. In a timely fashion.

We make a promise to children when we remove them from their homes: to provide them with safety and find them a permanent loving connection if they cannot be returned to their first family.

Somewhere along the way we, as a nation, forgot our promise and many children like Ali “bounce” through a series of homes, schools, and people.. We know that all children need to belong and be connected to loving people. They need to feel cherished. Without these basic cornerstones, children become lost souls. Imagine if Ali and her half million peers who are experiencing foster care were connected to a group of adults who value, honor, love and support them. Imagine the difference this would make. For their lives, our communities, schools, prisons and society.

The Treehouse Foundation does imagine a different life for our children in foster care. For the past decade we have been investing in widspread innovation designed to ensure that all children live healthy and productive lives. We envision every child being woven into a safety net of loving, respectful and caring relationships.

In 2006 we opened our first multigenerational Treehouse Community to pro-actively address our nation’s “aging out” crisis. Every year in this country 25,000 young Americans “age out” of our public foster care system alone. Without a family to claim them and an extended family standing beside them, they are at risk for homelessness, incarceration, teen parenting, unemployment and lives of poverty.

The Treehouse Community model invites Americans of all ages to help children. It demonstrates how we can work together to move youngsters out of foster care into permanent loving adoptive homes so they are never at risk of “aging out”. We are dissolving the foster care pipeline to the next generation of poor and homeless Americans.

For the past 7 years, over 100 people, ranging in age from newborn to 94, have been investing in one another’s health and well-being. Kids are moving out of the child welfare system, being adopted by caring families, consistently supported by their neighbors, succeeding in school, getting the mental health services they need, and heading off on career paths or to college where they are pursuing their interests.

In 2010, the Treehouse Foundation launched the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Movement to harness creative ideas and leverage resources to better serve our children and youth. In addition to planning and hosting 4 annual Re Envisioning Foster Care in America Conferences and facilitating the development of 8 regional REFCA Working Groups, the Treehouse Foundation is leading the creation of a regional REFCA Road Map and Implementation Plan Process for western Massachusetts – a template that can replicated coast to coast.

Children in foster care are homeless in the deepest sense. Many have lost their first families, their innocence and their dreams. The Treehouse Foundation is working non-stop to create a Culture of Possibility so that every child in America is given the opportunity to live a life that is valued, supported and well lived.

Ali and her peers deserve to thrive. They are worthy of our investment. Please help the Treehouse Foundation achieve widespread impact. Donate today. Help us Be The Change! Thank You!

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