beyond OA: relational permanency
Their relatives wanted all of it gone and none of it gone.
They had taken the children and all that came with them into their home and hearts. Now they were leaving. Parts of foster care can be almost unbearable as a caregiver, and just unimaginable as a child to experience. Moving suddenly from one home to another is one of those moments.
The whole situation would shut down any adult, but having a child go through it is inconceivable. Having the Love Box volunteer’s help packing the kids allowed the foster mom to focus on keeping herself steady through the grief. The volunteer could focus directly on the kids. She talked with the kids and let them lead her in the packing their things so it made sense to them and they had some control - Harry Potter books with Harry Potter stuff, and so on…
After packing up nearly three years' worth of their precious belongings into a moving truck, the brother triple-wrapped the framed photo of him and his Love Box "grandpa” in his Hogwarts scarf. He put it in its own box, took a sharpie and wrote, fragile. fragile. fragile, all around the box. He insisted it ride in the front passenger seat of the moving truck.
A few days later, two volunteers jumped into the truck and caught an early morning ferry to drive 150 miles round trip to meet the kids at their mom’s house.
When they got there, the volunteer humbly asked to continue being in the kids’ lives. She wrote, “our heart is to celebrate your family” and asked for permission to keep in touch with her kids. She wanted to restore some of that power to the parent. Their mom accepted.
Parents who have had their children go through the foster system want what the rest of us parents want- they want healthy adults in their kids’ lives.
Once kids enter the foster care system, on average they move seven times in two years. When possible, their Love Box volunteers "move" with them. Each child and family's situation is different, but our volunteers are committed to the children they are matched with. They are bonded, and no matter how much time or how many miles separate them, they leave marks on each others' lives indefinitely.
When those kids went back home to their mom, the volunteers slipped a stack of pre-stamped envelopes into the boy's guitar case. They called and texted the kids' mom to share who they were and the things they had done together while they were in foster care, and they asked permission to keep loving them.
Even though the kids live a couple of hours away now, they still call, text, and write their Angels. And the Love Box volunteers think of and miss them every day.
everyone needs a darlene...
Darlene was a foster parent earlier in her life. She had a son, but always felt like she had more to give.
We asked her what her foster care experience would have been like if she’d had a group of Love Box volunteers supporting her. Her response without hesitation: “amazing. Amazing - I was totally lost.”
The first placement - brothers - came from a household with addiction and neglect. The boys were so insecure about food that when she would go to say goodnight, Darlene would find pillows stuffed with food. It took a long time for them to learn that food would be there tomorrow.
They lived on five acres in a real country setting - they rode motorbikes, explored, and had a real childhood when they were with Darlene. Eventually, those boys went back to live with their mother. But Darlene would still get panicked phone calls “mom’s doing it again - can you come get us?”
Their time with Darlene was so powerful and pivotal, that when one of the boys was in his late 30s, he showed up at their house (where Darlene’s son now lives) hoping to reconnect with her family.
Darlene also served as a Guardian ad Litem for girls who had experienced sexual abuse in Snohomish County. It was excruciating at times, but it allowed her to advocate for kids in a whole new way as they navigated the foster care system and their trauma.
Sarah was an 11-year-old girl that Darlene worked with until she aged out of foster care. Sarah went through many foster homes, case workers, and would call Darlene at 2am after she’d run away again. Darlene was always there for her.
Twenty years later, Sarah tracked her down three states away and went to visit Darlene. And then again after Darlene had moved back to Washington. By then Sarah had a daughter and invited Darlene to her 6th birthday celebration. At this party, a woman approached Darlene and explained that she was Sarah’s best friend - they’d both been in foster care and had bonded. Every time the friend would tell Sarah a rough story from her childhood, Sarah would say “I just wish you could have had a Darlene in your life.”
Darlene was Sarah’s person - at times, the only person that was there for her. And that can make all the difference for a child. Knowing this is Darlene’s motivation now.
As a Love Box Leader, she wants to support caregivers so they aren’t overwhelmed and can be a child’s “someone” just like she has had the opportunity to be.
Consistent support from volunteers like Darlene keeps caregivers from becoming overwhelmed. A stable household means kids can stay in their community - their school, with their friends, near their parks, and all that is familiar.
Darlene’s Love Box group is currently matched with grandparents providing kinship care for two little girls. The couple had been retired and on a set income. They absolutely love the girls, but it’s been a struggle. The Love Box group has helped with projects around the house to make their lives easier and the environment safer for the kids.
Last month they coordinated a huge cleanup of the family’s property (after it had been overrun and trashed by squatters). The volunteers worked side-by-side with the family for hours, and a huge trailer hauled the debris away.
Darlene knew how much the dirty old carpets bothered the family - especially with the baby starting to crawl. Grandma Cathy didn’t want to put her down on that floor. Darlene took it upon herself to reach out to the flooring manager at Home Depot in Sequim.
“I told her that I am a volunteer from Olympic Angels and I explained that in this area we need foster homes and our goal as volunteers is to support families so they don’t feel overwhelmed and they stay foster homes. Because many foster kids get sent out of the area and then they’ve lost connections and school and friends and children’s lives being uprooted is really sad. I asked for a discount, but for some reason, what I said hit her really strongly, and she said ‘we’ll do better than that - how many square feet do they need?’”
Home Depot DONATED the flooring so the family and that baby girl have a clean, safe surface to live on.
Darlene says she volunteers for selfish reasons - that giving feels better to her than any gratitude the recipient feels.
Just like Sarah says - we wish all children, youth, and families experiencing foster care could have a Darlene in their lives.
Who's your someone?
This is my Nonna. In Italian it means "Grandmother". You'd be caught dead if you called this woman "granny" or "gma".
When I was asked "who was your someone", my mind didn't even hesitate. She was. She saved my life in ways I never dreamed possible. I was born to addicted parents, home life was scary, unsafe and unpredictable. My mother was an abuser, the likes of which you only read about in those gut wrenching autobiographies.
My two sisters and I bounced around often. From house to house, to foster home, to group home and sometimes even living out of a car. For small stints of time I remember we were placed with my Nonna and Nonno (grandfather) but we were always ultimately returned to our parents. That was the worst. Knowing we had to go back.
Until I was 10, by then, after fighting tooth and nail, we were finally adopted. Saved.
This woman not only fought for me, but she was kind and patient and loving. So many things that were so unfamiliar. Of course statistics show that with a life like mine, I would end up homeless or on drugs and there were many years in early adulthood that I did just that. I did what I was supposed to, which was fail. The system wasn't designed to save me, but this woman never once gave up and she changed my story. She instilled in me the meaning of "try again" and what unconditional healthy love felt like. She would plant the seeds and give the space to do it on my own, with love, strength and purpose.
Without this woman, lord knows where I would have ended up. She was and is my someone. I proved the statistics wrong because of her and I wouldn't be here today as a foster parent myself, giving the same devotion to children who need their someone, every single day.
For children living in foster care, too often there is not this person. We can change that. We must change that. Every kid deserves their someone. Who's Yours?
*This story was a repost from Case Manager, Ari Patterson, during our 2020 Who's Your Someone Campaign.
"My dad was like, ‘what are you doing - you don’t have capacity for this.' ‘You have a child, you have a business, you have a farm
- where are you going to put this in your life?"
One late winter day, we met up with Quinn outside of a coffee shop in her hometown of Sequim, WA. We talked about all the things. Quinn is a 6th generation Clallam County resident, and as her dad so rightly pointed out when she first started volunteering with Olympic Angels 2.5 years ago, she has a very full life.
Quinn is an Endodontist (the person you go see if you need a root canal or other specialized dental consult.) She's also a talker. Quinn has a gift for helping her clients feel at ease by talking while she works. She calls it monologuing - it's hard to talk back when you are in a dental chair.
November 2019 she had a patient in her chair from Port Townsend and began monologuing to this patient about teen homelessness. Her stepdaughter who was at the high school had told her that kids were couch surfing or sleeping in their cars or were otherwise unhoused in Sequim. "I was like 'what?! That's crazy- maybe I should do something. What is happening to the young population is fundamentally changing the way Sequim looks, and I don't like how it looks."
It was a different Sequim that she grew up in and she didn't like where it was headed.
“And you can see that by three real quick generations what can happen…with teen moms, and then their kids become teen moms…it becomes this succession. And that’s a lot of people that fundamentally changes how an area feels.
It’s amazing how much happens that people locally aren’t aware of happening here. Children become adults and it becomes this massive societal issue. It’s already happening - we know the system isn’t going to work to keep that from happening… In the next 15 years when the system doesn’t change, the number of kids in foster care becomes three times what it was originally - what are you going to do with all of those people?"
That was a change that she felt was really perceptible.
“And what do you do? I was thinking I can’t really volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club - I have a job that makes it so I can’t get there before 5 pm."
Meanwhile, the patient can’t respond to any of this and she continued.
“It’s so frustrating not knowing where to go…”
All of this while not having any idea that her patient was deeply involved in launching Olympic Angels. The patient gets tipped up, and says “I have someone you need to meet - I think I have the thing for you.”
Quinn was deeply suspicious, because, as she said, everyone thinks they have a solution for you… but the patient invited her over to her house to meet Olympic Angels founder, Morgan Hanna, and learn more.
What Quinn was sensing about her town, was in fact a very real and documented thing.
Clallam County has a much higher rate of calls to Child Protective Services (CPS) that are screened in when compared with other counties in the state.
For the data nerds among you, the filing rates per 1,000 calls to CPS from Clallam County is 7.83% compared to 1.66% of calls in King County (Seattle). Said simply, this means that, even when accounting for other factors, when calls are made to CPS about suspected abuse and neglect, the State decides to put a child in foster care at almost 5 times the rate in Clallam County vs Seattle.
Here is the message Quinn heard that day:
If you troubled by the homeless encampments, go upstream. Start with foster care.
If you are fretting about the number of kids dropping out of high school, go upstream. Start with foster care.
If you want to influence teen pregnancy rates. Let's start with the kids in foster care.
The data is in and it is clear.
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in."
- Desmond Tutu
Since that day in her patient's kitchen, Quinn has been instrumental in bringing Olympic Angels to Clallam County. She has given her influence, her TIME, her treasure, and her talents to make this real for her town. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk.
For two years now, she has been in a dedicated Love Box group, supporting siblings as they journey through care. They give them what all children need to thrive, healthy adults who love to spend time with them, ask them about their schoolwork, and remind them that foster care does not define them.
But Quinn and her Love Box cannot do it alone. They need YOU.
CALLING ALL CLALLAM FOLKS - here are ways you can help:
We are calling the people for who this matters the most in Clallam. We need you to rise. We want you to make the connections and you to drive the process so that this authentic and useful for communities in Clallam County.
going the extra mile
Just when we think Olympic Angels volunteers couldn't impress us more, we sit down and talk to someone like Al Bergstein. With a heart for mentorship, Al reached out to us about a year ago to see how he could help. At that time, there was a teen that was being moved out of the area due to lack of beds available in Jefferson County. We were worried that would be too much to ask of a volunteer - regular trips an hour away. It didn't phase Al though - he's made the trip at least twice monthly.
Building trust and being a consistent adult for youth, when advice and support are needed, is very serious to him.
All of our Dare to Dream mentorships are unique - some involve tutors, hiking, applying for a job...but for Al, building trust and showing up consistently have been especially important.
"So many of us - we may not have all the toolsets for the particular skill we need - and life can be pretty freaking hard that these kids come out of, and I wonder how many of us really comprehend how hard it is for them. They lose their families and that could mean that in addition to their parent, they’re being separated from their siblings. They could be struggling with mental illness - people in this situation do go through some pretty hard mental times. I think that it’s important to remember that little things can mean a huge amount to kids and that as adults who have been through a lot and seen a lot and understand a lot, we can offer some type of balance to their life."
"My feeling is that we all have to eventually make some peace one way or another about where we came from. Not all parents have the toolsets to be successful, and I'm trying to remind him of that. So whatever his feelings are that they’re balanced to some degree with the fact that “yeah, s#It happens.”
Most of their time so far has been spent talking music, school, games, getting dinner together (teenage boys eat a lot), and checking out area attractions. The mentee tags along when Al has photography projects and sees all kinds of new-to-him places. And Al has visions of taking him up Hurricane Ridge, maybe Mount Rainier, and seeing what's going on at the Elwah Dam.
For the time being though, they're keeping it simple. The youth he is supporting has to go through a major surgery in the coming months, and Al wants to make sure his mentee knows he can count on Al and his foster family to see him through it.
The surgery will put the teen in a wheelchair for several months while he heals. Al and several other volunteers have been helping the foster family finance structural accommodations to their house - a wheelchair accessible downstairs bathroom, bedroom, flooring and doorways. The fostering family hopes to open their doors to other children with wheelchairs in the future.
"Luckily he seems to have a fabulous foster family and that makes a huge difference. They’re really really dedicated to protecting kids this way and from what I can see they’ve done a fabulous job. But it’s been a struggle for them - they’re not super wealthy with unlimited funds to just go do whatever is needed. There’s been efforts to do some fundraising on their behalf. The state is putting in some of the changes that are needed because he’s going to be in a wheelchair for some months. And a number of us (volunteers) have reached out and have been raising funds to make the other changes."
Being a trusted adult is not something lost on Al - building trust and being there when advice is needed is very serious to him.
Whether it’s a conscious or obvious thing, trusted adults like Al are giving youth in foster care a footing. They're giving space for kids who have gone through distrust of the grownups around them, to learn to know how to trust a person in their life - and they can in turn give that some day and receive it from other people.
What our volunteers are doing MATTERS. They are stepping into the gaps of foster care that kids and families experience. They build trust, show up consistently, and give youth in care a sense of belonging and normalcy.
Why I volunteer
thais Oliveira, on being in a love box:
Why do you volunteer?
"The experience is so gratifying. It sounds kind of self-centered, but takes a lot of anxiety out of what you see on social media and in the news. It's a way that I can make this world better - at least one life a little better. And we're helping our foster families impact so many more lives. It's gratifying, anxiety-reducing, it's hard - super painful and sad to watch sometimes, but I think my heart actually got bigger. We accept those families and children in foster for who they are, without judgment. It's been so nice to make my family bigger by volunteering."
What keeps you consistent?
"The kiddos, and the foster parents - they're superheroes! It's such a tremendous show of love to take in a kid in need or kids with trauma. And once you start that, you can't go back."
What made you to choose to involve your family in volunteering?
"I thought my son would really get along with the child I support. And he does - they have a great relationship. My son lives in a privileged bubble - I wanted him to know that things happen in the world, and not everyone is like that. And he was surprised that kids might not live with their parents. He's getting a view of the real world - as hurtful as it is. But he also got a friend. They play chess."
"It's such a simple thing in life to do - and you *CAN* do it. Just showing up makes such a difference."
What else do you take away from the experience?
"It has given me a lot of perspective, and has taught me so much about how to be a better parent. How to show up, and learn more about how trauma affects the brain and body. I sympathize with and better understand children who are having development and behavioral issues.
I involved my child because I come from a super poor country and now I live in this beautiful bubble. And it's important for me that he sees otherness here. You don't have to travel to Brazil (where she grew up) to see struggle and poverty."
What do you want people in our community to know about kids in care?
"I want people in our community to know that kids in care are awesome - and they need love and attention.
When I started volunteering, I was shocked to learn that it's an issue here - that our little community has so many kids in need - of just a bed if they're suddenly displaced."
"And even with all the trauma they go through, they have a lack of connectedness that is so easy to fill. There are kids in our community that need you - even if it's just a couple hours a week. Anyone can volunteer and step in to give kids in care a sense of belonging and normalcy. You can do such little things - like making sure they have food when they're hungry, or knowing they can count on someone - and what that does for their brain, allows them to let their guard down some, and just be a kid."
Anita and Andy have been foster parents for over 22 years Their experiences and insights are invaluable to Olympic Angels and anyone wanting to learn more about or positively impact the lives of children and youth in foster care on the Olympic Peninsula.
Their family's Love Box has seven volunteers that make weekly meals, help move furniture when kids move in, throw several birthday celebrations every year, and the cakes - oh, the CAKES!
There are also two Dare to Dream volunteers that offer regular direct support and guidance to two of the teens in their home.
Here is what they had to say...
What do you wish people knew about foster care?
Andy: That there’s a need. There’s not enough foster parents and there’s a ton of kids. And local kids can’t stay local if there’s not a local family. Which means the kids are going into foster care in the next home that’s open.
We have a situation* where a kid is in Hoquiam, and sister is here. They facilitate a visit every weekend, which means a transportation person and supervisor drives to pick up brother, then comes here (to Port Townsend), picks up sister and then drives both kids on to Sequim for a visit and goes back to Hoquiam (3+ hours one way) - every weekend. And sister has to wait a whole week before she gets to see her little brother, and she absolutely loves to be with her brother.
Anita: We have started to facilitate overnight sibling visits (at Anita & Andy's house) which is something we really pushed for.
*Identifying information has been changed but distances are real.
Anita: I want people to know it is such an incredible gift to whoever does foster care. Because what you learn from the children that are in your care is something that you can’t really put words to. It just is one of those things that when you bring a stranger into your home, you realize that the stranger that’s coming to your home - you’re just as much of a stranger to them. And then learning about one another and that availability to open your heart and soul and mind to the different ways kids are raised, what the believe in, what they’re used to - I think it’s such a gift. The amount of love in the new relationships that we have gained through our 22 years of foster care is amazing.
Tell me what life looked like before you had a Love Box vs life after a Love Box in your life.
Anita: Before we had our Love Box, Andy and I were slimming down - we were not going to do foster care anymore. We were going to retire our license because it just got too busy - too much. We were both working and the transportation to here to there, the court reports - everything - all the little things we had to do for court and the social workers…was too much. Integrating the children into their family and back into reunification - it was just getting too busy. But when Love Box was introduced to us there were all these things that gifted us time.
Andy: It was…like the allies coming up over the hill 😅 - just when you think you’re not going to make it anymore. They were a group of absolutely wonderful people with the same goal in mind - and they seem to be able to read us like a book. Just when you’re about to ask for something, they mention it - it’s magical, and it’s a huge relief. It’s such a relief and reassurance and support and it feels like our second wind. We have a different fervor about what we’re doing and we see the kids pick up and bounce - and they’re more excited about things. They excited to see their mentors and to watching someone have a birthday and they can’t wait for their birthday celebration come around. It’s everything - it’s a complete difference. For people that are thinking about foster care - it’s a whole new ballgame if the Angels are involved with your family. For families that have their own (biological) kids too - its the same thing. There’s not a kid that’s left unassisted or unaided - it’s absolutely wonderful.
If you do ever decide to stop fostering, what do you think will need to happen to support kids in our area?
Anita: Our kids don’t go away - this is still their home. And we have a good 16-18 kids that come home every holiday.
How many kids have come through your home?
Anita: It is very close to 100 - this last year, we’ve probably hit 100 kids who have come and gone, and come back again.
Why do you think it’s been so many?
Anita: I think it’s definitely drugs and alcohol, and unfortunately the lack of mental health support in our community and in our society. In order for some people to get help, they have to go to jail or lose their kids before they get the help that they need. And that puts so much more on the system.
Andy: I think it’s how you were raised - because there’s no handbook on how to be a good parent. So all you have when you’re ready to suddenly there’s a child in your life, and all you know is how you were raised - and now you’re going to do the same thing all over again. Some people did not have good childhoods - and it certainly doesn’t help them on how to be happy and raise a happy, healthy child. It’s hard for people to pick it up and figure it out. That’s a big part of it - not knowing how to be a good parent. And once you’re involved with Protective Services - it’s “these are the things you have to do to show you can be a good parent so you can have your child back.”
Anita: Our society has built such a circle of “it’s all about me” but I think that putting a child before your own needs sometimes gets forgotten - especially when drugs and alcohol are affecting your life.
We’ve had kids who have come into our lives early in our (fostering) career, and those kids have had kid that have gotten taken from them. The first thing out of their mouths is “can you place them with Andy and Anita?” And that feels like one of those heartfelt feelings that we did something right somewhere - we planted something somewhere.
The system is just so overwrought - there’s just not enough people out there to support it.
What do you think it will actually take to make a change for kids in the foster care community?
Anita: I think that it’s awareness and putting it out there that kids are so vulnerable. I know there’s a lot of people out there that talk about collecting coats or shoes for foster kids, but that’s not enough. There needs to be that awareness out there that kids need more.
Andy: And maybe the awareness part is that there needs to be more support in going out into the community - to say “there’s a desperate need for foster families!” If there were more support to the families that are struggling, there would be fewer children in foster care.
Andy: We’ve always thought about not only the kids that come into care with us, but their parents too. Everybody can make a mistake and we think about their plight and what got them into this situation and hoping that they’re getting the support they need so they can get their child back at home and carry on with their life. We’ve actually been kind of successful at supporting parents getting their kids back. And that’s been rewarding because we’re often thought of on the other side of things from the parents.
Anita: We continue to grow family members - they’re everywhere. We have grown such an amazing family through foster care.
Andy: We’ve been able to be an unconventional foster home. You can be a foster family and go by the book and make sure that every penny you ever spend is reimbursed by the state - but we’ve been 180 (degrees different) of that where we take care of kids and their situation. And if its assisting parents, that’s okay too.
Anita: Help rehabilitate those family ties - because they’re the most important things in the world.
The reason for being foster parents was not to make a family - the reason we became foster parents was to grow a child.
Anita: The kids always come first - no matter what. What is best for the kids comes first. We have a bowl of mixed nuts, but it’s been a magical journey - it really has!
Our dream when we do retire is to have the biggest foster family reunion. They walk back into our lives again like nothing has ever changed. It’s nice to be able to hold that pillar for them so that they know that there’s always an opportunity to find us and know where a foundation is. Somewhere they can trust.
A Bridge to adulthood
Our first Dare to Dream mentee we met at the age of 20. He had been in the foster care system since he was in elementary school and was soon to age out of care at age 21.
In 2018, we awkwardly asked him if we could meet him for pizza downtown regularly to hear how things were going. As he approached the cliff of aging out, these pizza meetups took on a new urgency. They soon became about housing and advocacy appointments. Like so many kids before him, he became homeless immediately upon aging out of the foster care system.
Aging out of foster care without a healthy support system or transitional housing set-up had created a predictable crisis.
LOVING him the way we would our own kin transformed this relationship from "client" to someone we had the honor of mentoring through this tough season. We had the privilege of walking beside him as he navigated the terrain between an isolated childhood in care and independence in a community.
This year, we have achieved what we set out to do. He has finally been approved for the disability he should have been awarded long ago when he was still in foster care. Through much advocacy, he has secured a place in his community to live. He has a group of dedicated folks who aren't paid to show up. We have increased his natural supports 10 fold.
The Dare to Dream Program has given us a framework to rally support around him and safely see this through as people that love him.
One part cheerleader, one part advocate, one part friend, ALL IN.
When a love box feels empowered...
...they make BIG things happen!
Remember that stretch of hot weather we had in June? Well, the week before the heat dome descended, Love Box members Jason & Shelli of Morningstar Services rallied 6 volunteers to spend 4 days fixing a roof for a deserving foster family in Port Angeles.
This foster family has cared for 70 children!
70 CHILDREN - teenagers, mostly.
Through deeper questions, it came up that a storm several weeks prior had badly damaged the roof. Buckets were catching water while they saved for repairs and waited for drier weather to tackle the project.
Volunteers Shelli & Jason, their teenage son, the foster family and friends joined together to see this project through, even when it got much more involved than expected. And did we mention the HEAT?
Thomas Building Center donated materials, MorningStar Services donated professional services and expertise, and volunteers donated an extraordinary amount of time. Love Box Volunteers and their friend & family felt empowered to make a difference and took the radical initiative to strengthen the roof above another family's head. This is what community-supported foster care looks like!
An interview with LOve Box volunteer, Shelli:
1. How did the roofing project happen? How did you discover this need, and how did you figure out how to pull it all off?!
Our Love Box group had been through a placement change, so we “followed” our boys to a new foster family. This family has been faithfully doing foster care work for years but had never heard of Olympic Angels. Our Love Box Leader reached out to them to see how we could support them and one thing they mentioned was that their roof was leaking into the bedrooms and desperately needed to be replaced.
This was brought up at our next meeting, where two of our gentlemen members knew all about roofing! These two awesome guys (Cliff and Jason, my husband) talked it out, while another member (Quinn) offered to get the supplies at discounted rates. The only real difficulty was timing; you need a good week of dry weather, so the project had to be in the planning stage until summer came. Other generous people in the group gave financially so the final roof was definitely a team effort. Lastly, we had friends and family who wanted to assist, which was a huge help.
2. How has being a part of a Love Box changed your life?
Jason and I (Shelli) have done foster care in the past and for various reasons have chosen not to be licensed anymore. However, we both have a huge desire to help these kids and give them what love we can. (We’re Christians, so we just want to be like Jesus!)
Being in the Love Box has been such a blessing because we’ve been able to give and help without feeling overwhelmed. Most people can’t do foster care…it’s just too huge a commitment. But being in a Love Box is a fantastic way to collaborate with others to make a positive impact.
3. What sort of difference do you think it made for the family? Imagining having a load like that literally lifted off their shoulders, really enabling them to focus on parenting their kids even more - is just amazing!
The parents of the family were so grateful. Because they both worked and fostered numerous teens with hectic schedules, I’m sure they were thankful for just someone to take care of this for them. From our experience with foster parenting, we knew that often projects like these were difficult financially and moreover, just time-consuming and mental-energy sapping. I hope that we lightened their burden so they had one less thing to worry about!
4. What is your relationship like with the other Love Box members?
They are simply wonderful! We truly enjoy the meetings held at Quinn’s DW (the name of her house!). I think we all share the same goal: to love these kids and give them all we can. It’s a very caring, fun-loving group. Most of us share the same faith, too.
5. What is your relationship like with the kids you support?
The kids we did support have been re-unified with a parent and have moved out of the area. That is bittersweet, for sure. Most of the team members had spent time with them and taken them on outings, had them over, or had filled their love boxes with special things (that was our sweet Patty). I personally met with them to tutor them, and we had such fun! These kids are still on our hearts, and we’re thinking of ways to stay in touch with them.
But for now, we’re all looking forward to a new family to help!
An interview with beau ohlgren
Beau has our hearts.
He's a Love Box leader. A Love Box recipient. He is a donor. He's a single foster parent with a youth in his home that is also in the Dare to Dream Program. He also is an educator locally and at the national level of Angels. Beau is all about showing kids that they are held in community and seen for who they are.
As WA State moves to targeted recruitment of foster parents, we wanted to better understand what kids that identify as LGBTQ+ need to thrive. Beau sat down with us this month to talk about all things LGBTQ+ and foster care.
Thank you, Beau!
Can a LGBTQ+ person/family foster?
LGBTQ+ folks can absolutely foster! Before I went through my own foster licensing I was worried that being trans would prevent me from getting licensed, but my queer identity was never a concern. In fact, Washington State has strict standards for folks who are getting licensed - all foster parents must be open to LGBTQ+ youth in their care, and folks can’t get licensed if they can’t promise that they would support every child. From my own perspective, because LGBTQ+ youth are over-represented in the population of kids in foster care, it is quite possibly advantageous to have more queer foster parents!
What are the benefits of matching a youth that identifies as LGBTQ+ with an ally or LGBTQ+ family or mentor?
LGBTQ+ youth experience high rates of bullying and rejection by peers and adults, and the stress of harassment and discrimination can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. They thrive when they are supported, treated with compassion and understanding, and can see their futures in the adults around them. Feeling isolated and alone is a common challenge for LGBTQ+ youth, along with lacking healthy adult role models who share their identities or with whom they can share their experiences. If a youth in foster care is matched with someone who at least has some understanding and will dive into talking about gender and sexuality with them, it is truly life changing. If they share a queer identity, it gives that youth a vision of what adulthood could look like, when before they may have never had the opportunity to picture their lives.
Tell us about the training you did for National, and what was hoped to achieve through it?
I led a conversation around gender and sexuality, the statistics and composition of children and youth in foster care who carry LGBTQ+ identities, and best practices for supporting queer youth with National Angels chapters around the country. One of my greatest passions in life is ensuring that we meet youth where they are at and support them through their identity development, and I know that gender and sexuality is one of those areas that hasn’t been taught well or thoroughly so many folks come into these conversations without the tools they need. It’s very important that we learn the language so that we can be the best mentors and advocates that we can possibly be. My hope is that each Angels chapter is able to take learnings from this session back to their communities so they can learn their local resources and expand their volunteer trainings to fit their communities.
How do LGBTQ+ statistics relate to foster care?
LGBTQ+ youth are over-represented in the foster community- meaning that in the general youth population you expect 11% to identify as LGBTQ+ but that number is 30% for youth in foster care. Additionally, one study in New York found that 78 percent of LGBTQ youth were removed or ran away from foster homes because of the hostilities they faced, and 56 percent chose to live on the street–rather than in a foster care placement–because they felt safer there. It is vital in the foster care community to understand our over-representations - on race, on ability, on sexuality and gender, etc - and to equip ourselves with the tools necessary to meet each child and youth with competence and compassion.
What do you want people to know about specific to LGBTQ+ & foster care?
Learning the language around gender, sexuality, and pronouns might feel a bit overwhelming. It is a fair bit to learn, and can take some re-training of our brain to stop making assumptions on a variety of levels and- it. is. worth. it. The relationships and trust you will build by approaching this with humility and curiosity will pay you back 100x.
Beau Ohlgren is an educator, facilitator, and community organizer and has been leading workshops, facilitating groups, and running trainings on gender, sexuality, and working with transgender folks since 2011. He’s worked with all ages (preschool to older adults), and with groups ranging from therapists to church-workers, university staff to doctors.
Beau is the Director of Family Ministry at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Port Townsend, WA, is a licensed foster parent, and runs the Jefferson Country Transgender Support group. He’s passionate about supporting children and youth in our community, and particularly expanding knowledge and compassion for the queer community.
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