System reform iconSystem Reform

Janell Braxton

The first thought that came to mind when I heard “you’re going into foster care,” was that I was going to jail.

I was only eight years old, and I recall feeling guilty — I was a bad kid, I missed school on purpose, I didn’t eat vegetables when I was told to. Then I remembered my siblings. What would happen to them?

janell sanctuary

Far too many young people experience needless trauma that often goes unnoticed and is not responded to as they enter care. This issue was the topic ofconversation at an event I attended on February 4th, hosted by Amara, a foster care and adoption organization, at their new headquarters in Seattle.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Pecora1, explained that one way to limit trauma is to create a trauma-informed child welfare system. A trauma-informed child welfare system basically means being knowledgeable about trauma, specifically the trauma that foster youth face when they enter care. I strongly agreed with Dr. Pecora when he said, “Trauma-informed practice in child welfare involves assessment, treatment, and health promotion.” A trauma-informed system could revolutionize how youth enter care because it would better address the needs of every individual youth. A single solution does not ease the transition of every youth that enters care, but a continuum of trauma-informed practices might. Many organizations have implemented similar practices, including The Mockingbird Society. At Mockingbird, we aim to alleviate the stress that trauma has built, by simply providing opportunities for youth to share their stories and to advocate for change.

Amara has recently opened an emergency sanctuary which uses trauma-informed practices. In January, I had the opportunity to visit this program. I was impressed that the program was in a house that really felt like a home, by the consistency of their staff, and especially by Hope, the exuberant motherfigure who helps run the program. The most memorable moment of the visit was when I was in a discussion with Fred Kingston, Director of Youth Programs at Mockingbird, and some staff from the sanctuary, while a little boy played in the room beside us. I could hear how happy he sounded. We were told that the little boy just came back from meeting his new foster family at a park. The foster parents brought pictures of their home to show him prior to picking him up the next day. This moment made me remember back to when I first entered care; how I wished something like that could’ve happened for me but in that moment I was also immensely happy that it happened for him. This is how trauma-informed practices, and eventually a trauma-informed system, can lead to revolutionizing how youth enter care.

So what is there left to do? We as a community need to increase trauma-informed practices and programs that improve the lives of every foster youth. We have come far in the child welfare system but with your involvement we can go even further — check out the link below to learn more about and how to alleviate child trauma.

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We welcome submissions of articles, poetry, artwork, and photography from our young readers who have experience in the foster care system and/ or homelessness. If you want to be, or have been, published in the Mockingbird Times visit, call us at (206) 407-2134 or email us at youthprograms@ Note: Incoming letters to the editor and correspondence to youth under 18 years should be addressed to the Mockingbird Times and will be opened first by adult editorial staff.