Carneisha Grace, 34, would take care of her son with special needs and her two brothers on her own no matter what. She believed that self-sufficiency was the mark of a good mother.
But when the end of a long-term relationship left her homeless and her son Shawn still didn’t walk or speak, she struggled. Childhaven reached out to her and she was finally ready to accept help.
Now, with the help of the agency, one of 13 nonprofits that benefit from donations from readers to the Seattle Times Fund for Those in Need, Grace is provided with stable housing and her children are thriving.
“We’re not supposed to do it alone,” she said during a recent visit to Childhaven’s Auburn branch. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to take it. We all need it. Learning that changed everything for us.
Tangible help with child care, education, therapy and housing provided by Childhaven and its partners across the community was essential, she said.
But so do the thousands of little lessons she’s learned along the way: how to play with her kids, train patience when she’s thin, communicate clearly when frustration is high, and take a few. minutes to herself when needed.
Her youngest son, Samari, 5, is doing well at Childhaven School, where he is enrolled in the Wrap Around with Intensive Services program which allows the agency to stay in touch with the whole family.
Josiah, 12, is at Rainier Middle School, where he recently pulled a winning basket. Shawn, 9, is now able to walk and communicate. He likes to call the friend and family leader in Childhaven, Barbie Jo Wagner, and ask her, “What’s going on?
Wagner was Shawn’s first teacher at the agency. She later became the family’s case manager and parent partner, what Childhaven calls staff members who have experienced and overcome many of the same challenges their clients face.
“Sometimes people ask if seeing all the needs can put you off,” Wagner said. “But when I see Shawn light up and play and see how resilient mom is and how well the other kids are doing, it’s wonderful and totally worth it. I love to see them prosper and grow.
Founded over 100 years ago as a daycare center, Childhaven was the first on the West Coast to implement the Federal Head Start Child Development Program to deliver a year-round preschool program for help prepare young children for school.
Childhaven works to address childhood trauma and adversity that is at the root of the most pressing and costly problems afflicting children, families and communities.
More than two-thirds of children in the United States are exposed to some form of toxic stress from several possible causes, including domestic violence, abuse, neglect, racism, disease, indifference and bullying, according to the ‘agency. Children who experience adversity early carry the impact into adulthood with studies now showing links to crime, substance abuse, suicide, homelessness, mental health issues and even cancer. and diabetes.
Grace was in foster care for most of her childhood. A little devil, by her own description, she was not adopted even after her photo and profile was featured as a child in need of a forever home in the Seattle Times.
She had fun running around the streets for a while, she said, but when she got pregnant she vowed she would be a better parent than she had been.
When his second son was born with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of refractory epilepsy that causes seizures and developmental delays, he was told he was unlikely to live beyond 5 years.
” I did not know what to do. I did not know there was help for parents of children with special needs. I just curled up, ”she said. “Let me tell you this: depression is real. “
After a relationship breakdown forced her and the kids to take refuge in a Seattle-area shelter, she heard about Childhaven and how they could help her.
She wasn’t impatient at first – past experiences with social agencies made her feel like she was being lectured, criticized and unheard, she said.
But Childhaven recently underwent a complete “paradigm shift” to avoid that, said Mark Fadool, the agency’s director of programs and operations. “We have moved from the mindset of thinking that we are the experts to understanding rather than that they are the experts. It’s a major overhaul.
The agency’s new flexibility follows a period of “deep listening” to families and communities, Childhaven CEO Jon Botten said in a recent interview. Parents know their needs and those of their children better than anyone, he said.
According to the agency, healing occurs when people feel safe and supported.
Recent mergers with Art with Heart and Renton Area Youth and Family Services as well as partnerships with other community organizations, such as Renton Innovation Zone Partnership, Renton School District and the Skyway Coalition, help the agency expand its reach and broaden its impact, agency officials said.
Childhaven now offers a host of offerings, such as Kaleidoscope Play and Learn, Healthy Start, and the pioneering Family Boating program that together aim to provide families with one-stop, comprehensive support. The breadth of the offer allows Childhaven and all of its new partners to meet people in their homes, schools, community centers and shelters.
The agency’s first priority is to meet people where they are with what they need, make services convenient and develop a greater continuum of care, Botten said.
Another top priority is to increase the number of people assisted each year. Last year, the agency served more than 2,000 children, youth and families with therapeutic services, including early learning and counseling for children and families.
Explaining the focus on helping mental health, agency communications director Knox Duncan said, “We believe early childhood mental health has the potential to change the world and our community.
A network of supportive relationships between adults early in a child’s life mitigates the effects of trauma and adversity, builds resilience, and lays the foundation for optimal and lasting health and well-being, did he declare.
“I feel like we’re doing really well,” Grace said. “I have my own car, my own house and I pay my own bills. I have everyone on a schedule and we’re doing better than ever.
“I have to say the resources are there if you want them,” she said. “But it’s up to you to take them. Don’t waste an opportunity to become a better parent and a better person in general. Don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed. There is help, really good, life changing help out there. ”