My wife Valerie and I were married in 1992 and had two children; a girl and a boy. After a lot of late-night discussions, we determined then that two kids were right for us and decided not to have any more. Like many of you, we raised both of our children to the best of our abilities, while also happily looking forward to the day when they would leave home and begin their own lives. (A moment that, in hindsight, arrived sooner than expected.)
In the fall of 2016, our youngest child left for college and we finally reached the point where we were empty nesters. We enjoyed our walks before dinner, quiet evenings together, and weekends to ourselves.
Then something happened that forever changed our lives.
When the Seattle Sounders FC became an MLS expansion team in 2009, I purchased season tickets thinking it would be a fun date night every couple of weeks. I can still remember my very first match against the New York Red Bulls. Our seats were just to the upper right of the Emerald City Supporters, and the energy inside Qwest Field (now CenturyLink Field) was indescribable. We received scarves with our season tickets kit and I quickly learned when to raise mine up and when to chant with the ECS. The Sounders went on to beat the Red Bulls 3-0 and I was officially hooked.
One of the things that I love most about the Sounders is their accessibility. Matches are frequent and can be affordable. However, for some kids in Western Washington, the idea of attending a match seems like an inaccessible dream. Foster youth do not always have the same opportunities as their peers; whether it is playing the game of soccer themselves or attending a match to see their favorite players take the pitch. Yes, stipends are paid to foster parents, but they do not cover even the essentials, which leave little room for extras.
My husband and I have been foster parents since 2007 and have welcomed more than 100 children into our home. Being a foster parent is my calling, but I know it’s not feasible for everyone. It wouldn’t, however, be possible to help these kids grow up to be healthy, successful contributing members of society without the support of our entire community.
May is National Foster Care Month, so we’d like to share a little about what the community’s support really means to local foster children. There are close to 10,000 foster children in Washington state, and caring for them is so much more than putting a roof over their head or feeding them dinner. It means helping them heal from abuse and neglect and teaching them healthy boundaries and social skills that come naturally to children raised by appropriate adults. Most importantly, it means providing love and stability during an extremely stressful time in their lives.
By summers end, I am always eagerly awaiting another school year. As a teacher, I’ve always had a few students each year with behavioral issues. No big deal, it’s just the nature of the job. However, I had no idea what this school year had in store for me. But because of the lessons I was taught in my classroom this year, I have grown to be a better teacher and advocate for foster children.
As a board member of the Ticket to Dream Foundation, I have met many foster youth, which has given me a clearer insight to the struggles and triumphs that foster youth can face. Even further, spending six hours a day, nine months a year with a foster child in my classroom has provided even more understanding of the pain, emotions, and trauma that is placed on these young lives. I look at these students and think “it is not fair. Why do they have to suffer like this at such a young age?” They go through situations that most of us will never have to endure. As a caregiver, I want to scoop these children up and take them away from all of it. Even if we could scoop them away, they would still have the scars of their childhood.
Most people know how they would respond to a dangerous encounter such as meeting a bear in the woods. Our instincts would kick in and our adrenaline would be elevated, creating a fight or flight response to give our muscles and heart a performance advantage over our brains. This response is useful, particularly if there is a bear chasing you but now imagine what our bodies would do if they ran into this crisis on a daily basis? How children would be affected if their childhood was filled with crisis and danger. How their physical and mental health as adults would fare with the persistent elevation of stress hormones.
As a pediatrician and foster care advocate I have learned a great deal about how the barriers to providing good outcomes for children and youth in foster care are truly rooted in a much deeper problem. Recognizing how abuse and neglect impacts children is just the beginning of understanding how the traumatic childhood events or ACES that foster children experience can have long term consequences that may surprise people.
My name is Latrice and I am a former foster youth. I was in foster care system from birth due to my biological parent’s substance abuse until I aged out of foster care at 18. Life did not come without challenges, but I have continued to persevere. Some of us in foster care may have been moved from home to home and not know from day to day if you were going to return to the same home. While others like me, stayed in only a couple foster homes. At the early age of 9 years old I lost my first foster mom, Mama Alice to sickle cell anemia. When I was moved to my second foster home, I remember asking my new foster mom, whom I called Mama Bear, if she was going to be my foster mom for a while like Mama Alice was. She reassured me that she would always be there and love and care for me. She reassured me of this many times over the years, especially on my rough days, when I would get down on myself or let something someone said get to me. I can recall many days letting other kids or people hurt my feelings and my mom would say the old saying of sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me. Mama Bear had a spin on that I carry with me to this day “You are in control of your life and feelings and only you can let someone hurt you if you allow them to, you know what and who you are.