Melissa Williams is the Local Director of Every Child, an organization that partners with Oregon’s Department of Human Services (ODHS) to aide vulnerable children in foster care and to support foster families. You can learn more about the organization at everychildcentraloregon.org
Last year, 11,238 children spent time in the foster care in Oregon. 66.1% spent time in more than one foster home. Many were split from their siblings. ODHS works to care for children and families in crisis but is often left with few resources for volunteer and foster parent recruitment efforts. That is where Melissa and her team come in.
Unknown Speaker 0:07
I often tell people that we are the middleman between child welfare and the community. So what that means is we work to one help recruit more homes, we need more homes in this area. So, oh DHS doesn't have a marketing budget. They're not recruiting foster homes. Their job is to keep children safe. So we step in and let people know that there's a need.
Welcome to cascade views a discussion with Central Oregon leaders. Your host is Michael SIPE, local business and community leader Best Selling Author of the Avada principle and candidate for Oregon State Representative for House District 53, which encompasses southern Redman sisters tremolo in northern bend. The purpose of these discussions is to share the views and insights of local leaders from a variety of community sectors on a range of timely and important regional and state issues. With that, now, here's your host, Michael SIPE.
Michael Sipe 1:07
Thanks for joining us on cascade views. This is Michael SIPE, and I'm excited to welcome my friend Melissa Williams to the show today, Melissa is the local director of every child. It's an organization that partners with Oregon's Department of Human Services to aid vulnerable children in foster care, and to support foster families. You can learn more about the organization at every child Central oregon.org. Last year, 11,238 children spent time in the foster care system in Oregon 66.1% spent time in more than one foster home. Many were split from their siblings. Oh, DHS works to care for children and families in crisis. But he's often left with few resources for volunteer and foster parent recruitment efforts. That's where Melissa and her team come in. So Melissa is joining us today to talk about the foster care system in Oregon, and what her organization does to help. So it's my pleasure to welcome her to the show. I'm Alisa.
Unknown Speaker 2:08
Hey, Michael, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Michael Sipe 2:12
You bet. I'm excited to learn more from you. So tell me a little bit about how every child came to be? What was the driving factor behind you starting this organization?
Unknown Speaker 2:23
Every child actually started in Portland, Oregon, when a foster parent went into an OD HS office and pretty much just asked a simple question. She said, Show me what it looks like. When a child enters foster care. What she learned is there were holes and there were gaps. And there were areas for the community to circle around this issue. That momentum began to grow in Portland from 2012 on and in 2019, a group of us here locally saw what was happening in the Portland metro area and wanted it for our community. So we launched every child, Central Oregon and 2019.
Michael Sipe 3:03
Well, having been in the childcare industry, in the past myself, I have a desire to see children's lives positively impacted. And, and you're doing just that. So can you just tell us, kind of give us a summary of the services that you provide? Yeah, absolutely.
Unknown Speaker 3:18
I often tell people that we are the middleman between child welfare and the community. So what that means is, we work to one help recruit more homes, we need more homes in this area. So ODHH doesn't have a marketing budget. They're not recruiting foster homes, their job is to keep children safe. So we step in and let people know that there's a need help recruit homes, we don't certify families, but we point them to the Department of Human Services or the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs child welfare. But then we also recognize that there's a whole bunch of people that maybe aren't meant to be a foster parent, or it's not right for their family at this time. So we have volunteer initiatives and tangible ways for people to give because we believe everyone has something they can give.
Michael Sipe 4:13
So what's the process look like in finding the right foster families? If if Oh, DHS doesn't have a marketing solution, and you're kind of making referrals and all there, there must be some sort of a of a step by step process to find foster care families.
Unknown Speaker 4:29
Yeah, absolutely. So we've stopped in and really, like I said, we're that middleman. So if somebody's interested in becoming a foster home, they will fill out a website, fill out an inquiry on our website, so every child, Central Oregon, or every child, Oregon, depending on where you're located in the state, and you just click, I want to learn more about fostering. And when you do that, we will send you a survey and that survey basically says, Great, we're so excited that you want to learn more about fostering Are you wanting to do it right now? Like right now right now? Or are you just gathering information? Or are you a type A person who's maybe five years out? And you just want to let us know that you want to do this someday, but now is not the right time? And then based on their answer, we put them into a different marketing tracks. So if someone says, I'm ready right now, we call them and say, great. It says, you're ready right now, is that true, we're gonna go ahead and push you to child welfare and let them begin their process. And then if they say they're exploring, we invite them to an explore fostering events. So on a regular basis, we have events on Zoom, we're getting ready to to home in person, again, where we invite community and local foster parents to come in and sit down and have a conversation, we use that platform to debunk myths, everything from I can't foster if I must single person, which isn't true. But people believe that so we work through a lot of that in that exploring phase. And then for those who are saying, you know, what, I'm just not ready, but I want to do it someday, we put them in our volunteer track, because we know that if they start volunteering, and they start engaging in the system, that they're going to learn fairly quickly, if they want to be, you know, a resource home, yes or no. And sometimes they'll move through the process faster, whereas if they stay disengaged with the work,
Michael Sipe 6:26
so what do you think motivates people to to want to get involved in in fostering, like, is there a typical profile? Or is there some sort of life experience? Or what what would drive someone to go to your website, click on that thing, hey, I want to find out more. And then, and then actually do it.
Unknown Speaker 6:48
You know, we find that it's generally people that are connected to the work in some way. So sometimes it's somebody who had a personal experience with child welfare, maybe as a child, we have a wonderful foster home here in Central Oregon, that she was a youth in care. And she just does an amazing job providing for kids in foster care. We have others who are maybe motivated by their faith that, you know, they really feel like it's what their family was called to do. We have other scenarios where someone sees it, maybe it's a friend of a friend, and that they foster and it starts to kind of get those wheels turning. I also think there's just a lot of people out there who always wanted to do it. And it's been this very like, oh, someday, you know, I've always wanted to do that. But so we try to kind of step in to those people that have always had a kind of a hole to it for whatever reason and help them maybe work through some of those. But this or but that.
Michael Sipe 7:51
So let me ask just one more question about that. Because on this podcast, I am certain that there will be many, many, many people who have, have not only not fostered but have probably never even considered it. So if you were talking to someone who's never even considered being a foster parent, or opening their home this way, but was like, well, that's kind of cool. I guess I might be open to it. How would you? How would you bring them along a little bit? So they could learn more without feeling like they were like stepping into the unknown?
Unknown Speaker 8:26
Yeah, absolutely. Well, why would I invite them into one, you know, knowledge. So I always believe that we don't, if we don't know there's an issue or there's a problem. We don't know how to solve it. So step one is really understanding that we're in a crisis in Central Oregon, we do not have enough homes, the numbers I just pulled, there's almost 600 kids who spend at least one night in foster care, here in Central Oregon, and there's only 249 homes. So that's not enough, even if you divide it any way you can divide it in the bulk of those homes are relative providers. So there's somebody who stepped in for a specific scenario, or a specific child who have children coming in on a regular basis, who don't have somebody in their network who can step up for them. So one is knowing that there's a need, because I think it's easy for us to be like, well, there's people that do that, and I'm sure they're great, but it's not my problem. Well, it really is our problem. And it's kind of everybody's problem if you live here because there are kids and this is our community, so we should care about it, and be educated about it as well. And then I would say start looking at your life and start having a conversation come to an explore fostering fill out the inquiry and just say you're exploring it. We're going to help you walk through what makes sense for you and your family. We're going to give you options, whether it be I'd like to just start by babysitting or I'd like to just do nights and weekends and short term placements. Those are all options. I think sometimes we You have this very narrow view of what does it look like? And there's a lot more ways people can engage and become a foster parent than the one person who takes 10 Kids and has them for X number of years. You know, there's other options out there.
Michael Sipe 10:17
Well, that's super interesting. Let's you shift gears for just a minute. And let's talk about the kids. What do you find is the hardest part of this whole process for children engaging with or going through the foster care system?
Unknown Speaker 10:32
I think it's disruption, I think we have to understand that when children are removed from their life situation and what they've known in their home, whether it's healthy to you, or I or looks normal to you, and I, it was their normal, and they're being disrupted from their normal. And when we don't have enough homes, and stable placements, it just adds more disruptions for kids. So kids are unsure of where they're going next. And that's not fair to any child to not have a knowing of what happens next in their life and where their home bases and who's on their team. And, you know, it's a huge disruption and finding more people to step into that gap and help smooth that disruption is really what we're all about.
Michael Sipe 11:25
Well, what I'd love to hear are maybe a couple of stories anonymous, of course, so that we can maybe understand this a little bit better at the human level at an individual level about how kids lives and or foster parents lives are being transformed through your work, maybe even the lives of the of the birth parents.
Unknown Speaker 11:47
Yeah, absolutely. So we had a volunteer reach out to us. And she was kind of on that fence of like, I've always thought about fostering, but I'm not really sure. And I'm a single provider. I mean, I'm a single lady and I live alone. And I don't know that it's right for me, but I have a heart for this. So she started by just organizing some gifts for us, we had a huge Christmas event where we did one night of free childcare for local foster families, and Santa was there in the bounce houses. And so she just sat at her house and made these little gift bags for us and helped us organize them. And then she went from that to doing respite. So she stepped in for a family and said, I just want to help you guys on a weekend and give you a break. So she took a couple of teenage girls, and gave the foster provider a break, which was hugely needed. And in that scenario, what she found was she really had a heart for these girls. And they were doing really well with her. And so it began this conversation of maybe she was the right fit long term for these children, at least until some more permanency can be resolved with their birth families. And she's now getting certified to be their foster placement. And we're in the middle of helping this transition happen that's healthy for these two girls and healthy for the resource parents and foster parents and this new providers. So that's been just an amazing thing to watch from somebody really kind of going I have an interest, I kind of want to help. I'm not sure what my place is. And she's jumped all the way in. And I understand that's not everybody's story. So another great thing that we had happened recently, we had a sibling group of four kids come in, and a biological relatives stepped in to take all four kids and she didn't have anything. She needed shoes for all the kids clothes for all the kids items, car seats. I mean, it was a lot of items to take for kids. I mean, you could imagine adding four kids overnight to their family. And a member in the community saw the need on our my neighbor platform, and she didn't have the financial means herself to support all the needs of this big need. But she rallied her friends. So she made phone calls and reached out to different friends and said, Hey, this is happening in our town, and will you help me and they came together and they provided over $1,000 worth of resources. And the sweet aunt called us and she just cried and she said I didn't think anybody was going to help me with anything or even cared that I was doing this for my sister's kids or so and so's kids and to have everyone come around me like that just made all the difference and it helped make her feel like she could do it.
Michael Sipe 14:48
What cool stories and and cool stories of community. What other type of partnerships can can help you in in pulling off this huge task who can help and are they There are some key things that that you need.
Unknown Speaker 15:03
Yeah, absolutely. So one is always awareness. I mean, being on here today is just a gift to us. You know, if you know someone or have somebody and you want us to come speak at one of your events, please invite us, we would love to speak, we'd love to continue to spread the word of the work that we're doing, but also the great need, whether it be with your team, meeting your staff meetings, a public event, we're always open to that. Secondary, I would say we always need financial partners, and those really willing to step into this work with us and believe in what we're doing. We're launching a new program right now called homes for homes. So we have a lot of people moving here. And so we're partnering with local real estate partners, whether that be mortgages, or realtors, and so for every transaction that they close, they're giving a kick back to our program to help recruit more foster homes, and then also to share our messaging with those moving into this community or buying a new home or relocating, because maybe they're meant to be a foster home, or maybe they're meant to engage. And so again, using our platform to share with our community, the needs, and then always are my neighbor platform, which is on our website, every child, Central Oregon, and then you just click my neighbor, you can see our urgent needs there. They're updated every single day. So going there looking at it, seeing what the needs are in our community, and then doing exactly what happened with the lady who rallied for the four kids rally your community say, Hey, I can't meet all these needs by myself. But I could certainly tell somebody and I could share the need.
Michael Sipe 16:47
Given this conversation about partnerships, as we move toward wrapping up here, what are a couple of key objectives that you have for every child over the next year or two? Maybe that's a way that people can directly help if you could share a couple of the things that are sort of on your dream list.
Unknown Speaker 17:02
Yeah, absolutely. So we started every child in 2019, which you know, nothing like starting a new nonprofit right before a pandemic hit that you didn't know what's going to happen. We've just been running ever since. So it started with me, we've continued to add staff, we're a lean main team are two and a half FTE. And our goal over the next two years is one, just that continued awareness of who we are, we have the structure in place, we have the growth potential in place. And we've also just seen what this community can do when they get behind the work that we're doing. So we know more people jumping in is is what we need. And then we're recalled every child that didn't say this upfront. So our mission and our heart is is that every child who enters foster care in Central Oregon has an appropriate home. And that someday there's a waitlist of homes and not a waitlist of kids. And unfortunately, we're not there right now in Central Oregon. So continuing to let people know that we're going after that, we're gonna go after that every child here locally has a place to go.
Michael Sipe 18:14
What a great objective. And you're right, Central Oregon is very generous place. Awareness is really critical. Because when people find out about needs in Central Oregon, the response is quite remarkable. And so to our listeners, I hope you'll spread the word about the need and about the opportunity. I want to circle back before we close here just to question that you have kind of answered as we've gone through this, but but I'd like to circle back to it a bit. And that's about how to be a foster family. So if someone's being nudged a little bit by this conversation we're having today, like, what should they know and remind us how they should go about learning about how to do it? Yeah, so
Unknown Speaker 19:01
go to our website, every child Central oregon.org, click Foster, or click Connect, and just check that box that says you're interested in fostering, know that you're not signed up by doing that you haven't made a commitment, nobody's showing up with kids at your house the next day, like you are literally just saying, I'd like to explore the thought of this. And we're going to help you explore that thought whether it be you, you come to an explore fostering and even if you don't, we're gonna send you really well crafted emails every month with video, and just a reminder about the need and education and help you understand what's going on in our community. And you know what we're finding right now or at least last year as those who say, hey, I'm interested and those who actually make it all the way through the process is about less than 12%. So we know that it's going to Take a lot of effort and a lot more people click in that box to get them all the way through the process because it's not right for everybody. And we don't pretend that it is. But we do know that it is right for more people than they think. And over and over again, we're amazed by people who come in and learn and start to engage in the work. And then they, they do jump in. And they're amazing at it. I mean, just amazing. And they're making such a huge impact for children. And they wouldn't be here if they didn't know there was a Nate.
Michael Sipe 20:38
Well, listen, it's been really great having you on the show. I'm really grateful for the work that you do to serve our community. I think my main takeaway out of our conversation today is that you've created an on ramp, that there there is a way for people to to learn more, and some easy steps to figure out if and and how they might participate and helping this also the The numbers are staggering. And but but they're not staggering in that it's totally doable that in this community, we could accomplish what you have as an objective that we have a waiting list of homes instead of a waiting list of children. I mean, it's Tell me again, how many kids are, are unharmed if you will, or or what's the disparity between houses and kids?
Unknown Speaker 21:24
Yeah, so about 600 kids spend one night and care between Child Welfare Oh, DHS, and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. So we cover both territories here in Central Oregon. And there's 249 homes in total. So nowhere near enough to meet the need, and nowhere near enough for people to even take a break. You know, there's no one there's no backups.
Michael Sipe 21:50
Sure, I think maybe from your perspective, it seems like, like an enormous number. And, and it is a lot but guys, you know, it's not like 40,000 or, or 400,000 or something, it's only 400. So the community could certainly help you hit your objective of, of resources in order to serve that relatively small population in a region of our size.
Unknown Speaker 22:17
I would agree I would 100% agree with you. I believe that this community 100% has the ability to meet that goal and that there are people out there who are ready and waiting but just didn't know that there was a need.
Michael Sipe 22:34
Wow, this has been great. My guest for this show has been Melissa Williams, who's the director of every child, Central Oregon. You can learn more, and I would urge you to learn more about the organization that every child is central oregon.org Thanks, everybody for joining in.
Thanks for listening to cascade views with Michael SIPE. To find out more about Mike the upcoming election. The key issues he's focused on in his campaign to represent Central Oregon and Salem as a state representative. Visit www dot a voice for Central oregon.com that's www dot a voice for Central oregon.com You can get your own copy of Michael sites best selling book the Avada firstname.lastname@example.org. And finally, please vote in the upcoming election. Your Voice Matters