Commentary: Help agencies who help children most in need

NW Children’s Foundation supports organizations providing crucial services to help children thrive.

By Victoria Peattie Helm / For The Herald

The covid-19 pandemic has shined the light on the disparities between the haves and have-nots.

People of color and other marginalized communities and those at the bottom tier of the economy have suffered at a greater rate. They have experienced a higher incidence of illness and death, hunger, evictions and disproportionate unemployment. The challenges are exacerbated for children trying to learn from home with spotty or absent internet service while sharing space and computers with parents and siblings.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to highlight those working on the frontlines with our most vulnerable children and families. Given the challenges of the past year, now more than ever is the time to support organizations that work to heal children and youths and strengthen families.

Since 1985, NW Children’s Foundation has raised and distributed funds to non-profit organizations in Snohomish County that work to support our youth.

Two of these organizations — Cocoon House and Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County — are entrenched in the work needed to protect and promote our struggling youths and families.

Cocoon House provides short- and long-term housing to homeless youth, helping them engage in school and prepare for work, teaching them life skills and connecting them to community services. The agency ensures that each young person is met where they are, physically and emotionally. Youths connect with Cocoon House staff throughout the community; meeting in their schools, on the street, at partner agencies. They receive emergency food and supplies, access to housing and local resources. Cocoon House also educates and supports parents in building safe, structured environments for teens to develop and thrive at home or transition back from homelessness. The goal is to ensure that every young person has a home and the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.

For example, Cocoon House helped Jamie, a youth of color who was adopted by a white family. Faced with conflict at home, Jamie found his way to Cocoon House’s short-term shelter. The family did not recognize that many of Jamie’s behaviors were typical for teenagers, and that his experience as a youth of color in a white family was affecting his identity development. By meeting with a counselor, the family learned new tools and found resources to work with Jamie and gain more understanding and compassion for the complexities of his experience. Together, they decided to try again as a family, and are currently receiving family case management services. Jamie feels heard and validated and is eager to repair their relationships.

Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County (DVS) is dedicated to ending domestic abuse by providing services for adult and child victims and by facilitating social change. Clients receive information and referrals, emergency shelter, food, clothing, advocacy, support groups, safety planning, permanent housing, legal advocacy and education. Each year, DVS’ 24-hour support line answers more than 5,500 calls. The agency provides emergency shelter to more than 300 women and children. Some 1,300 people benefit from support groups, 3,200 receive legal help, and more than 400 children are served in its children’s program.

Coming to a shelter is not easy for families. Recently DVS’s children’s advocate noticed a young girl having a tough time adjusting to the shelter. He learned that she enjoyed playing the clarinet and suggested that she perform a recital. Nervous, the girl declined that offer. So the youth advocate offered to create a special audience; one made up of stuffed animals. The girl performed comfortably in front of the customized audience, and was even joined by the center’s legal advocate, who grabbed her flute to accompany the young clarinet player. “It was a wonderful, sweet way for this young woman to transition. It was a beautiful moment,” said DVS Executive Director Vicci Hilty.

In recent years, NW Children’s Foundation has also supported other Snohomish County grantees, including Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center, Northshore Youth and Family Services, Housing Hope and ChildStrive.

We at NW Children’s Foundation envision a world in which children thrive in safe, equitable and nurturing communities. We work to end the cycle of child abuse, trauma and neglect. We know that breaking this complicated intergenerational cycle requires a multi-faceted strategy. We must intervene and help victims heal when maltreatment has already occurred, and must work to keep it from happening; both now and in the next generation.

The research is clear: If we can interrupt the cycle of abuse and poverty, mitigate homelessness, address mental illness and substance abuse, and stop domestic violence, children will fare much better.

We support organizations with programs that address these traumatic influences and develop in children the relationships, opportunities and qualities they need to avoid risks and to thrive. Because healthy children must live in safe and stable homes, we support organizations that address homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence, which are among the strongest risk factors for child abuse and neglect.

Focusing on children now and changing the trajectory of generational trauma will have an exponentially profound impact into our future.

Victoria Peattie Helm is executive director of NW Children’s Foundation, which on May 8 will hold its annual gala and auction. Call her at 206-910-7931 or email vhelm@nwcf.org.

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