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My Day with Assistant Secretary Jennifer Strus

Spokane participant
Josephine Davis Spokane participant Josephine Davis

On October 25th, I had the privilege of job shadowing Jennifer Strus, the Assistant Secretary of Children’s Administration, which runs Washington’s child welfare system. Back in June at the Foster Youth and Alumni Leadership Summit, I won the essay contest and my prize was the opportunity to shadow a policymaker. My day began at a Mockingbird meeting with Jennifer Strus regarding the topics each region presented at the Summit. I am happy to say it went very well! The support Jennifer gave to Yakima Chapter Leader Yazmin Guinn concerning Extended Foster Care is promising. Afterwards, I sat in on a couple more meetings and learned quite a bit, but what stood out to me the most was the Mockingbird Family Model Retention Budget meeting.

Stepping into Jennifer’s shoes for the day was very insightful.

During the MFM Retention Budget meeting, Jim Theofelis, Mockingbird’s Executive Director, spoke to Jennifer and a couple of other officials about a model he is passionate about. Being completely oblivious during the discussion of the model, I asked Jennifer to enlighten me over lunch. In the MFM, there are six to ten family homes connected to a central licensed foster family home called the HUB home. A HUB home “provides assistance in navigating bureaucracy, peer support, social activities and respite care.” Fred Kingston, Mockingbird’s Director of Youth Programs, and Jim describe a HUB home like “going to grandma’s house”. HUB homes serve as a mentor and coach to foster parents. For foster children it is a safety net where they can go to take a break and not feel judged or overwhelmed.

When Fred and I went for a walk around the Capitol, he told me half of all foster parents who experience their first year of care withdraw from their services compared to the 80% retention rate the Mockingbird Family Model has. I’m not just an advocate for foster youth; I am also an advocate for foster parents.

My poor foster mother started off treating her foster children with genuine care, but gradually, we became her job. The lack of support she had made her feel alone and overwhelmed. HUB homes aren’t currently in Spokane, but I’m hoping to see them there in the near future.

Stepping into Jennifer’s shoes for the day was very insightful. From what I learned at one meeting in particular, Jennifer needs to take great consideration before administrating any changes. The slightest adjustment to programing could create massive alterations to the system. Not only did I enjoy being Jennifer’s shadow, but she really made me feel like I was one of her staff. I really appreciated how transparent Jennifer’s leadership style is and how effectively she communicated with her staff while making me feel as though I was part of the team. In one of her meetings, we went off topic for 45 minutes because Jennifer and one of her staff, Nicole Moller, wanted to know my experiences in foster care. Jennifer’s hospitality was so welcoming, I felt like I was someone of importance in her eyes. For that, I will never forget her.