Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Treehouse Community: An Innovative Intergenerational Model for Supporting Youth Who Have Experienced Foster Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Treehouse Community: An Innovative Intergenerational Model for Supporting Youth Who Have Experienced Foster Care

Article excerpt

Foster care provides a temporary living arrangement for children who have been abused, neglected, and/or are dependent and need a safe place to live when their parents or guardians cannot properly care for them (Mallon & Hess, 2005). As of September 30, 2012, there were 397,122 children living in foster care in the United States (Administration for Children and Families, 2013a), 8,549 of whom lived in Massachusetts. Ninety-eight percent of the children living in foster care in Massachusetts had experienced neglect, and 15% had experienced physical abuse (Administration for Children and Families, 2013b). Nationally, 47% of youth in foster care were in a non-relative foster family home, and 28% were in a relative foster family home. The mean age of children in foster care was 9.1 years, and 52% of the children were males (Administration for Children and Families, 2013a). Clearly, there is a need for innovative programs that will meet the needs of this large, diverse population of children who have experienced significant maltreatment.

The Treehouse Community, located in western Massachusetts, was developed in response to the poor outcomes documented for the large number of children in the United States who were growing up in foster care rather than in permanent families (Courtney, 2009; Lee, Courtney, & Tajima, 2014). The innovative community concept was designed with two key elements in mind: (a) it was to be an intentional community (e.g., Vaisey, 2007), formed with the express purpose of supporting children who had experienced foster care and the permanent families who were raising them; and (b) it was to be an intergenerational community (Zeldin, Larson, Camino, & O'Connor, 2005), in which elders were drawn to the community in order to be a part of the support system available to the children and their families. Intentional communities, broadly defined, are cooperative living environments formed around a common goal or belief. People are often drawn to intentional communities because they want to be surrounded by like-minded people who offer mutual support and share a common goal or belief (Conover, 1975). In intergenerational communities, three generations all serve as integral members of a community, sharing their time and skills in an effort to support each other and the community as a whole (Zeldin, Larson, Camino, & O'Connor, 2005).

Other than Treehouse, there are only two intentional intergenerational communities in the United States that have the mission of supporting youth who have experienced foster care. Founded in 1994, Hope Meadows (in Rantoul, Illinois) is the oldest of the three intergenerational communities (Generations of Hope, 2014). Although more formal evaluation research is being planned, preliminary reports note positive program effects in three regards: (a) securing adoptions for children who would likely spend the remainder of their childhood in foster care; (b) providing an innovative system of support for families; and (c) providing opportunities for retired persons to remain actively engaged (Hopping, Eheart, Power, & Mitchell, 2013).

Inspired by Hope Meadows and the Treehouse Community, Bridge Meadows of Portland, Oregon, became operational in 2011 and is the newest of the three programs committed to meeting the needs of families who have children who have experienced foster care. Like Hope Meadows and Treehouse, Bridge Meadows strives to support children who have experienced foster care and provide purpose in the lives of the seniors who reside in the community. Evaluation research is in the planning stages.

The goal of Treehouse is to bring children, families, and elders together in an economically and culturally diverse community, grounded in supportive and respectful relationships within the community and dynamic partnerships with individuals and organizations outside of it. The broader mission, now expressed through the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America movement (Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America, 2014) has been to create innovative approaches to moving children out of the public foster care system and into permanent supportive families. …

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