By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium
Racial equity has found itself at the forefront of societies social fabric.
Treehouse, a leading nonprofit organization here in Washington, is addressing the essential support and academic needs of more than 7,800 youth in foster care.
Treehouse looks to advance racial equity and justice in the foster care and education systems through their Equity Campaign. The initiative, which held its first event on Tuesday, is designed to promote, support and encourage conversations centered around the racial inequities that are plaguing the foster system across the country.
“We are launching a series of what we think are important conversations about equity in the foster care system and the needed change,” says Dawn Rains, Vice President of Policy for Treehouse. And so, [the virtual event held on Tuesday was] our first event really intentionally placed this month, which is National Foster Care Awareness month, to really launch the conversation about ways we can improve our system to better support our young people.”
Founded in 1988 by social workers, Treehouse is committed to helping youth in care statewide achieve a degree or other career credentials, living wage jobs and stable housing at the same rate as their peers.
According to Rains, Treehouse has been working to address equity in foster care for several years now for children of color, LGBTQ students and to engage in conversations about disproportionality in policy decisions affecting youth, including the number of children of color who are placed in foster care and their length of stay compared to their White counterparts.
“All of us at Treehouse have long been on a journey for equity for the last 7 to 8 years,” says Rains. “So, we have certainly been working on an individual student basis to address equity related issues whether it be racial equity, equity for LGBTQ students as they arrive in our system. But we realize that there are important conversations that just need to be had about the fact that there are inequities and disproportionately at every decision point in the child welfare system.”
According to Treehouse officials, by 2027 the organization projects 90% of youth who have experienced foster care across Washington state will complete high school, with support and a plan to transition into independence.
Statistics have shown that racial disparities exists when it comes to who is in the foster care system, as Black and Native American children make up the majority of the population in foster care in relation to the percentage of children of color as a whole in the state.
According to Treehouse, “children of color are placed in foster care at much higher rate than their White counterparts. Native American children come in at three times the rate of White children and Black children are two times the rate.”
“So, we can see disparity in all these points,” says Rains. “We also see kids of color stay in the system longer, they sort of languish in foster care longer, but that is what we want to unpack, how can we look at all these disparities and are there other ways we could provide support that would prevent these disparities.”
Working with colleagues and other community organization as well as government agencies Treehouse hopes their Equity Campaign will spark conversations that will create a more equitable environment in the foster care system.
“We are trying to raise important issues and identify solutions that will reduce the number of kids in foster care and also address the disparities and systemic racism in the system,” Rains expresses. “Working hard with our partners at the Department of Children, Youth and Families and with other colleagues and organizations around our communities to really raise the issues and focus on them to start to addressing them.”