Through Childhaven's individual therapy, parenting classes and family fun nights, Jackie Rosario and her children are living a stable, healthy life. Childhaven is one of 12 organizations that benefit from the annual Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
Sober now for four years, Jackie Rosario still marvels at how her children have blossomed and how she has grown as a parent since she first walked through the doors of Childhaven’s Eli Creekmore Memorial Branch in Burien.
Her old life feels like an entirely different person. And just as the kids have thrived, she, too, has found a confidence born from the nurturing support of the teachers and therapists who all greet her by name and cheer her successes.
“To me, this all was a miracle,” Rosario said of Childhaven, one of 12 agencies serving children, families and seniors that benefit annually from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, which last year raised a record $1.4 million.
Busted in 2009 for selling crack cocaine to a police informant in Tukwila, Rosario gave birth to one of her daughters in prison, then after her release, she went right back to selling and using drugs while pregnant with another daughter.
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.
In September 2012 — on what Rosario says was the worst day of her life — Child Protective Services came into her home and took away her three young children.
“It was bad. I really regret doing all that,” said Rosario, 39. “CPS had to take the kids away from me to open my eyes. It was a big deal, having the police come into my home.”
It took six months and a round of inpatient treatment in Yakima before her children — a son, now 8, daughters 5 and 4 — were returned to Rosario and her husband, who live in White Center.
But one of CPS’s conditions for reuniting the family was the enrollment of the two girls in Childhaven, a therapeutic day care for abused, neglected and chemically impacted children up to age 5.
“Jackie doesn’t dwell on the past. She owns it and it helps inform her decisions today,” said Sarah Kier, the child and family therapist who works with Rosario and her children at Childhaven’s Burien branch.
Rosario has taken advantage of individual therapy, parenting classes and family fun nights at Childhaven and embraced the support and advice offered by Kier and Samantha Mele, who conducts monthly in-home visits with the family.
When Rosario unexpectedly got pregnant last year with twins, now 11 months old, Kier fought to get the babies into the early intervention program even though the family had stabilized to such an extent they technically no longer qualified.
Kier wanted to ensure the stress of having two infants didn’t jeopardize all the progress the family had made.
Though both parents work, money is tight — and yet despite their struggles, “The family has definitely flourished,” Kier said.
It’s the kind of success story that is the legacy of Childhaven’s founder, Patrick Gogerty. Though the agency began providing child care to working mothers in 1909 as the Seattle Day Nursery, Gogerty came along in the 1970s and transformed it into the nation’s first program of its kind, with a focus on abused and neglected babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
“He was visionary. I feel like I’m here to continue his legacy,” Beth Larsen, Childhaven’s chief program officer, said of Gogerty, a childhood-abuse survivor who was 86 when he died in August.
“The core of what we do is based on relationships,” creating trust and emotional bonds — ideally between child and parent but if that’s not possible, between child and caregiver, said Larsen, who has been with the agency for 26 years.
“We teach kids they’re worthy of love, worthy of the care and the protection that should be part of any normal childhood. That’s our job, to make kids feel safe,” Larsen said. “If you’re safe, then your brain can grow, you can explore your environment, you can take risks.”
Science has shown that adverse childhood experiences — physical abuse, or witnessing domestic violence, or experiencing neglect caused by a parent’s substance abuse or mental illness — can have lasting impacts on how the brain develops.
Childhaven is a therapeutic day-care program with locations in Seattle, Burien and Auburn that helps abused, neglected and chemically impacted babies, toddlers and preschoolers overcome trauma.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Childhaven can do with your donation:
$25: Buy 150 diapers for infants and toddlers
$50: One car seat for the safe transport of a child to and from Childhaven
$100: A one-month supply of baby formula for a drug-affected infant
For information: https://childhaven.org/
Childhaven seeks to interrupt and intervene in the critical years between birth and age 5, when the majority of the brain’s neural pathways get established, Larsen said.
“Those early experiences set the tone for what the rest of our lives will be like. It’s the foundation,” she said.
Childhaven serves about 350 children a year between its three locations, with children staying in the program an average of 18 months. Sixty percent are children of color. Seventy percent live with their biological parents; the remainder are in foster care.
Kids are picked up from home and dropped off every weekday by buses driven by Childhaven employees. Child-to-adult classroom ratios are deliberately kept small and the kids are fed hot, nutritious meals — again, important for healthy development. All classroom staff are licensed therapists and mental-health counselors who diagnose children based on their levels of attachment to a primary caregiver.
When babies cry, they’re always picked up and cuddled. And no child is ever suspended or expelled from Childhaven, no matter their behavior, Larsen said.
“It’s OK to be mad but it’s not OK to hurt people or hit or throw toys. Those are the messages kids get here every day,” she said.
Half of Childhaven’s $10 million budget comes from the state, the other half from donations.
For Rosario, who works as a cashier, the services Childhaven provides are priceless.
Her 5-year-old — who was born in the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor — is now ahead of her peers in kindergarten. “She’s perfect, thanks to this place,” Rosario said, referring to Childhaven.
The 4-year-old is already learning to read.
As for the twins, it was Rosario’s first pregnancy sober and she has experienced their infancy in a brand-new way.
It’s been easier to bond and communicate with the babies “and just enjoy them more,” she said.
“The twins, they make my day every day … I feel this is just a big change in my life.”