Skookum Kids: Providing Hope Through Foster Care
Last week, we explored the link between human trafficking and the foster care system. This blog post is the second part of our series in understanding why this link exists and the innovative programs that provide hope to the situation.
Foster care is harder than it needs to be and Skookum Kids in Bellingham, Washington wants to fix that. There are over 400,000 children now in foster care in the United States served by a small group of heroic families. However, social workers pressed for time to place children and over-burdened families results in children being shifted around multiple times. The average foster child is moved three times, sometimes leaving them with instability and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Many victims of human trafficking have also been in the foster care system due to placement movements and trauma. The more traumatized a child is, the harder it is for them to make friends and do well in school which increases their chances of aging out of the foster care system without a permanent home. If a foster child ages out of the system and into homelessness, it is more likely that they will enter into human trafficking. Skookum Kids has created a sustainable 4 phase solution to this complex problem.
Skookum Kids Phase 1 is called Skookum House where the children enter a volunteer-staffed facility when entering or transitioning into foster care. Skookum Kids recognizes that the first 72 hours of a child’s time in foster care is crucial for their long-term stability. In phase 1, caseworkers have time to find the right long-term placement with the hope that no child is ever placed in a home with carelessness. Child Welfare statistics tell us that on average, half the children placed in foster care are reunited with their parents or caregivers, and 46% of those were reunited in less than a year. This may be difficult emotionally for a foster parent, because of the bond that they’ve formed with the child but Skookum Kids works to make it easier by reducing replacements.
Phase 2 is called Skookum Parents. There is an incredibly high burnout rate for foster parents and Skookum Kids prides itself on being a “parent first, kid second” organization because as they view it - healthy children grow from healthy parents. Foster parents are licensed by the state to ensure they have the proper certifications and home safety including background checks, CPR certifications, interviews, safe home inspections, and required time spent with the family to ensure mutual safety. Skookum Kids recruits and licenses their own foster families. Then, they support the families through case managers and programs to navigate the State system. Skookum Kids hopes to create a slight surplus of foster parents and respite care providers for the high demand of children needing homes.
Phase 3 is Skookum Supporting Programs including Perch and Play and Foster Parents Night Out. Perch and Play is an indoor playground and cafe where events are held. Foster Parents Night Out is a time where free childcare is provided so that the parents can have an evening alone for date night, relaxing at home, or even running errands. Additionally, they conduct Foster Family of the Month where one foster family is nominated each month to receive a professional photo shoot of their family, an interview and story feature on Facebook, and a date night. It is helpful for others to see positive success stories of selfless and heroic foster parents instead of the negative stigma foster parenting can sometimes hold.
"It's not about fixing them. It's about taking the things that are already great about these children and letting them know that those things are great. And pushing them towards their greatness"
- Nichole Silva, Volunteer Coordinator
The final phase is Skookum Export with a hope of growing Skookum Kids programs to empower other communities in the area that can care for children. Skookum Kids have seen amazing success stories from the first 72 hours for caretakers to make slow and wise decisions regarding placements for kids and reducing trauma.
Abby Smith is the longest-standing staff member and current program manager at Skookum Kids with a goal to eliminate emergency placements and ensure a smoother transition for kids into foster care. Her parents ran a youth and child ministry camp when she was younger. It was here that she first worked with children from foster care and fell in love with their resilience and strength. Abby saw how the trauma of their childhood negatively impacted their ability to be successful and make friends later in life.
After graduating college, Abby was invited to help turn a house into a shelter for kids with Ray Deck III, founding director of Skookum Kids. After planning logistics, Skookum Kids opened in 2015. Abby now works at Skookum Kids full-time as she works towards her Masters in counseling psychology to work 1:1 with kids.
The word Skookum is a Chinook word that also means robust or strong on the Native American reservations in Northwest Washington. The name was decided to give hope to the children Skookum Kids interacts with and provide a strong foundation for their future. They have also noticed a higher rate of Native American children in the foster care system and want to shine a light on them.
If you are like me and just learning about the foster care system, an appropriate next step is to support a foster family. Abby recommends supporting through local organizations in your community or asking yourself if you could be a foster family.
“If you have a home and means to take care of yourself, you probably have the means to take care of a foster kid. It’s more doable than you think.”
Abby lives out hospitality to its fullest, namely, treating people like they are family including the social workers and foster families she works with. She believes that if everyone treated a stranger like they were family, the world would be a kinder place. Protection of women and children from human trafficking goes hand in hand with this mindset.
At Dressember, we believe that everyone has unique gifts that can make an impact in the fight against trafficking. Perhaps getting involved in your local foster care system is the next step for you. Check out Skookum Kid's videos for more information about what the day-to-day life of a foster parent looks like, and reach out to your local foster care communities to see what part you can play in bringing hope to a foster child.
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About the Author
Kaitlyn Wanta is a recent college graduate and Dressember alumni. Her bucket list includes riding in a hot air balloon, finishing a cookbook by making all the recipes, and catching a fish larger than herself.