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Introductory Remarks to Champions of Family Support 2009 Co-Recipients, Jim & Kathy Youngren

By The Honorable Barbara Mack, Immediate-Past President of Children's Trust Foundation

June 18, 2009. Organizations are like trees. They need strong roots, a stout trunk, and well-formed branches to survive. Janet Miller and Bonnie Riach planted that seed, and many of you joined them as the roots of this organization, the foundation for the strong trunk you grew over 25 years. While Children's Trust Foundation’s trunk is still growing, its branches are now spreading broadly. Without new growth in new directions--change, as Del Miller said--trees cannot thrive, just as they cannot survive without strong roots. The change here is evident in the size of this event, the new and energized board, the amazing Tracy, whose energy, creativity, and vision I’m convinced will make CTF a national model, the new partnerships, the fomenting of new ideas. 

I’ve been privileged to be part of this transition over the last few years. (Actually, it’s been more than a few. Del recruited me to the board when he was chair.) I’ve been privileged to get to know those of you who constitute the roots and the trunk, without whom CTF would not have grown into the strong organization it now is. The only current member of the board who knew Janet is Birte Falconer. I’m telling you this because I want you all to remember that the change that’s so essential to this or any organization, those branches, cannot survive without the roots and the trunk. So please, stay connected and involved.  

Two years ago we initiated this event and the Janet Miller Award to honor Janet’s vision, her pioneering academic and field work, and her implementation of that work through Children’s Trust Foundation. I want to talk for a minute about vision. Janet’s work was based on the scientific information available at the time, and her own impeccable intuition about children, families, and life. Recent scientific studies have shown just how prescient her vision was. A child’s brain weighs about 14 ounces, at birth. By the time that child is 3 years old, her brain weighs 2.4 pounds, having gained 73% of its full adult weight. The single most important factor in brain and neural development during those years, is close relationships. Early childhood attachment to parents and caregivers determines whether a child will be healthy and successful as an adolescent and adult, whether she will have coping skills, be able to adapt to change, learn to deal with stress, be able to self-regulate behaviors and emotions, and impact whether that child will grow up able to have close relationships of his or her own. Janet knew that. But we have technology that was not available when Janet did her initial work. 

New research using brain scans shows unequivocally that childhood trauma leads to permanent changes in the structure of the brain. That occurs whether the trauma is to the child or is a result of mere exposure to domestic or other violence.  There are other stress responses to violence, as well. Early childhood exposure to chronic violence and to parental conflict affects the lungs, causing effects like wheezing and asthma, that are almost identical to being exposed to pre and postnatal tobacco smoke. 

With the state slashing of health insurance, the growth of unemployment, and a poverty rate for children that is about 37,000 in Washington as we speak, CTF’s role is more important than ever. Two weeks ago there was an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times written by the chiefs of the Burien, Renton, and Auburn police departments. The first few paragraphs included statistics about child abuse in Washington, including an estimate based on research that 21,000 children are abused in WA every year. These chiefs of police called on the federal government to include in health care reform, initiatives that prevent child abuse and neglect. You know times have changed when police chiefs write about health care reform. 

Family Support Centers offer community-based, evidence-based programs proven to prevent child abuse and neglect.  Health care reform is not going to fund them. Children's Trust Foundation will. What distinguishes CTF comes directly from the vision Janet and Bonnie had. We support programs that prevent the violence that affects the brains and ultimately the lifelong success of children. These programs, run by the remarkable program providers here today, teach parents how to nurture and bond with their children, how to play with them, help them learn how to deal with stress and where to find resources. These centers, throughout Washington, often run on a shoestring. There are about 70 of them. There should be 400, one in every community that needs or wants one. 

I’d like to ask Jim and Kathy Youngren to step forward. Before I get into the serious part of this I have to tell you a story. I was Googling Jim last night, and I came across this picture (of a somewhat younger Jim, in 1971, standing in front of the sign that says “Would the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?"). Until last night I didn’t know Jim was one of the two people responsible for putting up this famous sign. So here’s a six degrees of separation story. When Jim was a struggling young real estate agent in Seattle in 1971, I was an optimistic young environmentalist lobbying against taxpayer funding for Boeing’s SST, which was defeated in 1971. So Jim, I’m part of the reason you put that sign up. Jim, and then with his wife Kathy, went on to become notable for much more, including their environmental work.

But I want to talk about their long and substantial role in support of Children's Trust Foundation. Jim and Kathy, Janet’s brother and sister-in-law, have been involved since the early days, when they created Chicken and Egg Productions which made log furniture and donated the proceeds to CTF and two other nonprofit organizations. Last year, they made an extraordinary gift of a quarter of a million dollars, which puts CTF on the road to sustainability. Sustainability will allow Children’s Trust to fund more programs, to reach for that goal of a center in every community that needs one, to provide technical support, to help Family Support Centers themselves become sustainable, to foster education in best practices, to become the national model for family support that we should be. In addition, Jim has committed to helping CTF form strategic partnerships with others, and to help shepherd us through the growth process. With Jim and Kathy’s help, we will fulfill Janet’s vision, to prevent child abuse and neglect, to improve the lives of thousands of children and families throughout Washington. Jim and Kathy are true Champions of Children and of family support, and I am honored to give them this award.