Treehouse education specialist Stacy Bailey (left) and Treehouse licensing coordinator Patrick Nickell. (Treehouse photos)

Treehouse education specialist Stacy Bailey (left) and Treehouse licensing coordinator Patrick Nickell. (Treehouse photos)

Nonprofit that supports kids in foster care expands program

Treehouse helps kids graduate. It can be a challenge. One student has moved four times in two months.

EVERETT — Stacy Bailey meets with 13 high school students each week to go over their ABCs.

That’s attendance, behavior and classes.

She’s an education specialist with Treehouse, a nonprofit focused on supporting young people in foster care, including helping them graduate from high school. Treehouse, founded in Seattle, recently expanded its Graduation Success program statewide.

Bailey began working in Everett about six months ago. Another education specialist just started in Marysville.

There were 825 young people in Snohomish County living in out-of-home care, or foster care, in a January count.

Reasons for entering foster care vary. They include allegations of neglect, which might be abandonment, negligent treatment or medical neglect, or physical or sexual abuse, according to data compiled by Partners for our Children.

“I wish for people to be empathetic to how challenging it can be for a youth to move around from place to place, person to person,” Bailey said. “How hard it is to build trust for them … They’re trying to find themselves while dealing with trauma that most people can’t imagine at that age.”

Treehouse was started in 1988 by social workers. The nonprofit in 2012 turned its focus toward increasing graduation rates for students in foster care and helping them prepare for the future, spokesman Jesse Colman said.

Bailey meets with students for about 20 minutes at a time, usually on campus.

“I help them set goals,” she said. “I encourage them to keep going, no matter what happens.”

Students in foster care face a number of challenges. One of Bailey’s students has moved four times in two months. Some stay in hotel rooms for a while because there’s a shortage of foster families. There are days when they spend more time in courtrooms than classrooms, Colman said.

To avoid disrupting their studies and uprooting them from friends and mentors, students stay at the same school when possible, Bailey said. They may commute several hours a day by school bus or public transportation, leaving less time for homework or a job.

Some Everett students have come from Mount Vernon or Duvall, said Angelica Glaser, foster success coordinator for Everett schools.

There are 94 students who qualify for the district’s foster education program. If they are in foster care at any point during the school year, they remain in the program for the remainder of the year even if they are adopted, move back with their family or their case is otherwise closed. At the end of the school year, Glaser expects about 40 will leave the program due to changes in their cases.

Treehouse is a key resource she connects students with, she said. Bailey’s time with them helps.

“She makes them feel seen,” Glaser said. “Hopefully that student wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘I’m going to meet with Stacy. She’s expecting to see me today.’ ”

Students in foster care often don’t have the stability or money to pursue the same opportunities as their peers, Colman said.

One such opportunity is getting a driver’s license. Having reliable transportation can be life-changing, said Patrick Nickell, Treehouse licensing coordinator.

A new statewide program called Driver’s Assistance pays for 15- to 21-year-olds in foster care, extended foster care or tribal care to get driver’s education, permits, licenses and insurance. It’s an 18-month partnership between Treehouse and the state Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration. The goal is to make it permanent, Colman said.

Nickell grew up in foster care in California. He couldn’t get his license until he aged out of the system at 18. He made a deal to buy a coworker’s beat-up car so he could drive an hour to take his test. He barely had the gas money, and he almost didn’t pass.

Prior to getting his license, he took the bus to work.

“I was a plumber at the time and my toolbox was super heavy, so I was loading that on and catching weird stares from people on the bus and the bus driver,” he said. “It made for a very long day. It was a physically demanding job, and then to be on the bus for two hours was just a real morale killer.”

It’s not just the logistics of having reliable transportation, he said. A driver’s license is a rite of passage.

In the first six weeks of the assistance program, Nickell received 210 applications.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

More info

To learn more about Treehouse, or to donate, go to treehouseforkids.org.

Applications for the drivers assistance program are online at treehouseforkids.org/drivers-assistance.

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