On the Road with Fostering
Media Connections

The Thaw: FMC Launches in Washington State

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SidebarEditor's Note: Children's Voice is pleased to introduce a new column, "On the Road with Fostering Media Connections," which will follow FMC's work over the next year. Look for the print version of this column on page 4 of upcoming issues, and visit our website, www.cwla.org/voice, for updates between print editions.

It was mid-March and winter's cold still gripped the Pacific Northwest as videographer Eytan Elterman and I drove into Seattle. Tall buildings stood gray against a steely sky. It was a place we did not know, filled with people we had never met.

Beyond Fostering Media Connec-tions' anonymity, we faced the specter of something larger and more difficult to penetrate: the world of winnowing media. Scrambling under growing workloads and diminished pay, journalists across the country are trapped within an icy cloak of frenetic labor--leaving the people best positioned to look at things with depth strapped for the time to do it.

It was this reality that we would try to pierce, to deliver a clear message: that the new narrative for foster care must include the sweep of positive change bubbling up across the nation and reflected in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. The fundamental piece would be reminding those journalists that their words still have the ability to enlighten and empower the public. Moreover, if they gave themselves over to the full picture of child welfare in their local communities and the nation, those journalists would be a part of something much bigger--improving the foster care system.

Now, I would need to build my case for the smart if not overworked journalists of Washington state. So I looked at the best practices in the state and started compiling the stories that not only addressed the system's problems, but also its solutions.

  • Toddler Kaylee and 5-year-old Candice crawl over their father and mother, Tony and Angela Gobroski, in the town of Federal Way, south of Seattle. A little over a year before the courts had ordered the couple separated after Tony hit Angela, their two girls were taken into custody.

    Angela's attorney told her about the nascent Supporting Early Connections program run by the Center for Children & Youth Justice in Seattle, which provides intensive child-parent psychotherapy. Despite weekly sessions over a long 10 months, the Gobroskis saw an opportunity to put their family back together and signed up.

    The sessions hinged on being present for little Kaylee, holding her, smiling, and looking into her eyes. With the lion's share of brain development occurring before a child turns 3, such intimate contact provides the essential building blocks to neural stability. The strength-based approach to counseling also helped the Gobroskis find a way to put their relationship back together.

    The stark fact is that without SEC, the family would likely still be split up. Their home, now a bubble of familial love, is the beachhead for a greater push into making sure resources are spent upstream to put families back together as soon as possible. "It's like the pebble that starts the ripples," Tony says, his daughters playing in his small living room behind.

  • Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Eytan Elterman shows children of the Gobroski family how to use his camera at their home in Federal Way, Washington. He and Heimpel interviewed the family about their experience with intense child-parent psychotherapy.

    At the Mocking Bird Society in Seattle we met two young men, who after aging out of the foster care system are a part of an ever-strengthening core of youth advocates. They are pressuring the state government in Olympia to treat them and their brothers and sisters with the care and respect those politicians would bestow upon their own blood.

  • In Olympia we met with the Children's Administration, which is pioneering a seamless transfer of children's medical records as required by the Fostering Connections Act. Further, the Administration is rolling out a complete overhaul of its subsidized guardianship program to comply with federal law, and has a cadre of family-finding detectives tasked with contacting every and all kin within 30-days of a child's removal as proscribed by the federal law.

  • We saw how the College Success Foundation, the Fostering Scholars Program, the Governor's Scholarship, the Foster Care to 21 program, and the Passport for Foster Youth Promise are ensuring that former foster youth who excel are rewarded with a wide array of postsecondary education options.

  • And finally we sat with Mark Courtney, Executive Director of Partners for Our Children, and the statistical guru of what happens to youth as they transition out of care. In a robust discussion we learned of the growing importance of focusing resources not only on those who are on track for success but also for those that require much deeper intervention.

Scenic view of Qwest Field and Mt. Rainier from Fostering Media Connections' visit to Seattle. The team met with reporters and editors throughout Washington state to encourage media coverage of the foster care system.

Armed with this arsenal of depth, data, and hope, we marched into media outlets around the Puget Sound. From the cavernous Tacoma News-Tribune and the tiny Pacific Publishing Group, in the venerable offices of the Seattle Times and with reporters from new online-only outlets like Crosscut, in public News Stations like KCTS-9 and huge breaking news engines like Seattle's dominant KING5.

Buoyed by the strength of the characters we had met, it was easy to share their stories with local journalists. I hope that those stories will carry a seed deep into the hearts of all the able journalists I spoke to; a seed that will grow into a realization of the power they have in setting foster care in the right direction. Now we wait to see what takes root.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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