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Four things that lift people out of poverty (and how foster care provides all but one of them)

Dr. Ruby Payne has studied, worked, and written extensively on the subject of how to overcome generational poverty. She identifies four factors that lift people out of poverty—education, employment, bridging relationships, and hope.


The Skookum approach to foster care is a way to provide three of those four to a child and empower them to lift themselves out of poverty.

Education—When a child’s home life is chaotic, stressful, and dangerous, it becomes (understandably) difficult for them to learn. Many kids in foster care have missed a lot of school and fallen behind. Foster care can be a place where they begin to catch up.

Good foster parents make their home a place of books. They read to the children in their home and encourage kids to take their schooling seriously. Good foster parents participate in their children’s education, volunteering at school, and advocating for the child and their educational needs. And while kids may seem annoyed about a more active approach than they are accustomed to, their learning almost always accelerates.

Employment—Okay, I said three of four. This is the one foster care doesn’t really touch. Though it might for older children. Washington State has a program called Extended Foster Care in which children over 18 can remain in foster care and have their college tuition paid for. For the families who care for older youth like this, helping these kids to find and keep their first job is an important part of the role. But it’s a lot less common that traditional foster care

Bridging Relationships—This is a fancy term for relationships with people who are different than you.

Much as it can create a sense of comfort and familiarity when children are placed in foster homes who remind them of their families of origin, there can be a benefit to placing them in homes that look a little different.

Bridging relationships broaden our horizons, they make the world of our imaginations bigger. Children often enter foster care with a very small idea of what is possible. Their foster parents can introduce them to experiences, lifestyles, and perspectives that they would not have ever encountered otherwise.

Hope—When a child’s whole life has been defined by toxic stress, it can be hard for them to imagine that their experience will ever improve. They may not have ever imagined a future for themselves, a career, a spouse, or a family of their own. But when a foster home becomes a refuge of calm, sometimes the first a child has ever experienced, hope will spring. It doesn’t always happen right away, but eventually a child’s heart will thaw and hope will bloom.

If you’ve never read any of Dr. Payne’s work (you should!), start with A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

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