The days preceding a child’s entry into foster care may represent the darkest of their life.
Some have a place to go next, but others will sit in a Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) office while a social worker makes calls on their behalf.
Sarah Desjarlais and her husband were foster parents for nine years. One day in a DCYF office, she saw an 8-year-old boy sitting alone. He had a happy meal and a box full of goodies, but Desjarlais realized he didn’t have the one thing he needed: someone to show him he was safe.
This moment inspired the creation of Vancouver-based nonprofit Office Moms and Dads, which pairs volunteers with children in DCYF offices. A volunteer may only sit with the child for an hour and their task is to simply be present for the child.
The organization now has 26 locations with over 500 volunteers across Washington and Idaho, mainly along the Interstate 5 corridor. And the organization is seeking Centralia and Kelso volunteers for an upcoming training via zoom on Aug. 31 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
“These kids come in and they haven’t had anyone maybe positive or nurturing and they’re ready, they’re ready for that. And they will even ask if they can go home with us, the social workers, or they will ask if they can go home with the Office Moms and Dads,” said Julie Jager, supervisor in the Centralia DCYF office. “It can be beneficial, so beneficial, for the kiddos. But it can also be beneficial for the adults because they are giving back to the community.”
Many of those who get involved, Desjarlais said, are those considering foster care, and the time spent volunteering allows them to test the waters. Right now, the need to find people willing to get involved in the program is becoming more dire, as is the need to find more foster care parents in general.
In rural areas such as Lewis County, DCYF struggles to find new families to take kids in, so they often end up calling the same reliable families case after case. Those families are cornerstones of the system, but they only have so many beds.
“We know that the child abuse rate mirrors the rate of unemployment. There’s also studies out there showing what natural disasters due to domestic violence rates: they skyrocket. So we know that things are coming. We haven’t really even begun to uncover the damage that the past year and a half has done or is doing, because we’re not out of (the pandemic) yet,” Desjarlais said. “It’s more urgent than ever that we recruit.”
They’ve also had some volunteers across the state drop out of the program because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s recently issued COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, which includes volunteers in programs like Office Moms and Dads. The mandate does not apply to people living in DCYF-licensed foster care homes.
Besides being fully-vaccinated, volunteers must pass a background check. But the most important variable they should consider when determining whether or not to join the program is their availability. DCYF office hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, so folks who want to get involved must have open hours during those times.
Those who do volunteer will have the opportunity to make a positive impact on children who are actively experiencing trauma.
“We need volunteers,” Jager said. “There’s a lot of people who have empty nests or you know, kids that are transitioned out and they kind of feel like ‘I want to do that, I’m not done.’ And it’s a perfect time to try that out.”
Those interested in the Aug. 31 training should email email@example.com. For more information, visit officemomsanddads.com.