Childhaven helped Jeanné Cole through tough times as she adopted her granddaughter, saving her from severe neglect. The nonprofit is one of 12 organizations making a difference with The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
At 5 years old, Hope is a smart, happy kindergartner, whirling with dance moves and songs.
But just a few years ago she faced dire circumstances, removed by authorities as a neglected toddler from a filthy apartment crowded with homeless strangers.
With the girl’s mother deemed unable to safely care for Hope, Jeanné Cole, her maternal grandmother, took custody in 2012, and has since adopted her.
They might not have made it through the past few years without the help of Childhaven, the therapeutic child-care nonprofit.
Provides therapeutic day care for babies, toddlers and preschoolers who have experienced trauma, while teaching parents skills to break the cycle of abuse and neglect.
ABOUT THIS SERIESEach year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can make. Click here to donate to Fund For The Needy.
Even as she sought to care for her granddaughter, Cole, who is 51, wrestled with other troubles.
At the time, she was two years sober thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous. She’d been living with a boyfriend who was planning a retirement that didn’t include raising a young child. That left Cole in search of a new apartment and at times facing homelessness. She had to fight her daughter in court over custody of Hope. Meanwhile, Cole’s sister, with whom she’d been very close, abruptly died of pneumonia.
“We’ve been through hell and back, and this was the one constant,” Cole said of Childhaven. “Everything you need is here, for keeping a child safe, for learning how to parent appropriately … a connection to the services in the community you don’t necessarily know about.”
One of 12 charities supported by The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, Childhaven provides therapeutic child care for kids endangered by abuse or neglect, usually sent there by court order or social-service agencies. The nonprofit, which serves 350 kids a year, focuses on children from 1 month to 5 years old.
Those formative years are crucial, as the circuitry of a child’s brain can be permanently damaged by inadequate care or human interaction, leading to long-term emotional problems and lower chances of completing school. That’s why, at Childhaven’s classrooms in Seattle, Auburn and Burien, trained teachers and volunteers hold babies and lead toddlers in games and activities.
“Childhaven is basically a trauma therapy center disguised as a day-care facility, so the children can have a happy, fun place to come,” said Maria Chavez Wilcox, president and CEO of the charity.
Childhaven has partnered in recent years with Harvard University researchers to develop continually improving ways of teaching kids such skills as memory and impulse control through organized game playing.
“They are providing fantastic services to a very at-risk, high-needs population, yet they’re still open to how they can be doing better to serve those families,” said Becky Jaques, director of innovation strategies at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. “They’re very open to this ongoing learning journey.”
Like many children who show up at Childhaven, Hope was sent there by court order after the state removed her from her parents’ custody in early 2012.
She had been living with her mother and father in a squalid Kent apartment. It was no place for a child.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Childhaven can do with your donation:
$25: Two children’s books
$50: Two years of art supplies for a child
$100: Three months of diapers for an infant
For information: childhaven.org
“Or a dog, actually. It was that bad,” said Cole. Authorities found little edible food in the place and mold growing on baby bottles. An ax was sitting next to Hope’s bed.
After she was placed with her grandmother, Hope struggled emotionally, showing effects of neglect. At first she wouldn’t talk or trust anyone. Later she boiled over with anger.
The goal initially was to reunite Hope with her mother, once her mother showed the ability to take care of her properly. But that didn’t work out. Her daughter would show up for some supervised visits at Childhaven and then skip others, Cole said.
“Hope was very smart, right from the beginning,” Cole said. “She’d ask ‘Is my Mom gonna be at school today?’ Her heart got broken a few times. It was a terrible roller coaster.”
Childhaven staff say it’s not uncommon for parents to resent being forced by courts to place their children in the program. There’s sometimes screaming at staff.
“On the other hand, sometimes you have a parent who starts that way, and then later breaks down crying and hugging the therapist,” said Chavez Wilcox.
The parents themselves often come from troubled pasts. Childhaven tries to teach them parenting and coping skills. The agency picks up kids every day in vans — a service that also serves as a way to check in with parents or caregivers.
That routine is a key for kids whose home lives may be chaotic. In classrooms, children are fed breakfast, lunch and a snack in between playtime, reading and naps. Therapists and nurses are on hand. Each child is monitored according to an individualized treatment plan.
The support of Childhaven helped Cole as she navigated tough times in her own life. That included being forced to move out of the home she shared with a boyfriend, who was nearing retirement with plans that did not include raising a toddler. Cole said she has remained good friends with the man and is thankful for his honesty.
Cole rented a room for a while from an elderly man. After the man fell and developed dementia, she became his caregiver. But she said that situation turned dangerous when the dementia led to fits of irrational anger, with the man chasing her through the house.
She was homeless twice, crashing with relatives until she could get back on her feet.
Last year, Cole found a subsidized apartment in Milton. Childhaven helped set them up with towels and other basics. A former court reporter, Cole now works cleaning family areas at Seattle Children’s hospital.
Hope graduated from Childhaven last summer, about the same time she was adopted by Cole. She started kindergarten in September. She’s already reading at first-grade level.
Cole calls Hope “the miracle that set up my priorities.”
Hope used to call her “granny,” then “grinny.” Now, Cole says, it’s usually “gramma-Mom …’ and then, recently, she’s asked to call me ‘Mom.’ ”