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More and more, we are seeing youth lose whatever support systems and relationships they had in a community because they are placed in foster care wherever there is an empty bed – even if it’s 100 miles from home, or more. Moving homes while in foster care only worsens the issue, preventing any meaningful connections from developing. They are far from their extended family, their friends, their schools, churches, and other activities. What happens to kids when they age out of the foster care system as teens at age 18 or young-adults at age 21? What supports do they have in place if they don’t have a family to lean on, or any other connections they’ve developed? What happens when they have no community to turn to?

My wife faced these questions first-hand. Placed in foster care at the age of two, she aged out of the system at age 18. Fortunately, she had maintained connections with a foster family that provided her with support and guidance after she turned 18, but many young people aren’t as lucky. But they could be, as part of the MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ – a way to ensure youth in foster care have the extended family support needed for success.

One-third of youth who age out of the Washington state foster care system experience homelessness within one year of aging out. What if we could change that? Not only do we need more foster parents in Washington, we need more people caring about what happens to these kids – our kids. They are members of our community who attend our schools, our churches, and frequent our businesses – doctors, dentists, grocery stores.

In Kent, my home community, I want our shared goal to be keeping our kids in Kent. To support foster youth who come from Kent as they grow up, so they feel connected and invested in Kent. We need to invest in their skills and education, so that they experience what it really means to be part of a community that cares, and positions them to give back when they are older.

The MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ can help us make that happen in Kent and in other communities that implement it too. Right now, we are bringing all sectors and stakeholders to the table. We are placing the MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ at the center of our effort to keep our kids in Kent, in their home community, and giving them the support they need. This powerfully effective approach to community-based care is an innovative example of good child welfare practice – bringing the entire community around youth living in foster care. These efforts will make Kent a model community that cares about its children and youth and shows all localities the value of keeping kids in their home communities.jimberrios

In a Mockingbird Family, foster parents have a huge support structure that has been demonstrated to retain foster parents at a rate of 93% (the state’s system retains at 50%) and to significantly increase the stability of a youth’s placement. We want to reap the benefits of having Mockingbird Families serve our Kent youth experiencing foster care. We believe it is the centerpiece to giving our kids a full opportunity at success, while in care and when they transition to adulthood. But it takes more than just a smart, proven foster care model and the right agencies working with the foster parents and youth. It takes all of us. It truly does take a village.

In Kent, Friends of Youth, Catholic Community Services, and Bethany Christian Services are soon going to launch MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ Constellations, each serving 6-10 foster families. Kent School District partners are excited about the opportunity to help ensure a continued connection to their current school for students who may have to enter foster care. They believe the Mockingbird Family community offers a great way for families in local school communities to step up to support Keeping Kids in Kent when they must be removed from their immediate families. Coordinated Care Services and Valley Cities are also at the table to make sure every youth is connected to healthcare and mental health providers they’ve already been established with in Kent. Treehouse, another community foster care service provider, will make sure students have the educational supports they need. Being part of a Mockingbird Family in Kent will ensure kids do not experience education disruptions because of foster placement moves. Children and youth will be able to stay connected to existing friends and continue with their same sports teams and groups in Kent.

In addition to these stakeholders, I’m asking our local businesses, mine included, to make a concerted effort to connect with Kent youth who are in foster care and hire them – providing them with mentoring, job skills, stability, and a reason to stay in Kent and reinvest in their community after they turn 18.

As friends and colleagues with strong interest in Kent, the 33rd Legislative District, Representative Tina Orwall and I have been working hard to bring more public awareness about the importance of a solid support system for our youth. Representative Orwall and her league of Legislators who care about kids, who know how important it is to keep kids connected to their communities, are doing what they can in Olympia to bring attention to foster care and the need for more innovative and community-based child welfare practices.

As a long-time business owner and resident of Kent, I am excited about the possibilities this means for our city. When kids move schools, they lose an estimated average of 4-6 months of academic progress per move. By the time a young person ages out of foster care, 33% will have experienced more than 5 school moves – upwards of two years of lost academic progress. Just keeping kids in their same school will make a huge difference. When you add in the support of the Mockingbird Family, our business community, and others, we - for the first time - will truly be setting our kids up for success. Please join me in keeping our kids in Kent by making a donation to The Mockingbird Society today. Join the growing movement that has the whole community getting involved.

To learn more about bringing MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ to your community, visit www.mockingbirdsociety.org/mockingbird-family.