When Amy Scott was 11, her father was stabbed to death in downtown Seattle.
Between her 16th and 17th birthdays, she lost a half-dozen friends to violence.
When she was 19, the first boy she ever loved killed himself.
By then, Scott was battling depression, abusing drugs and alcohol and running with a rough crowd on the streets of West Seattle.
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She was in real danger of repeating the same cycle that years earlier had introduced her and her two sisters to Childhaven, a therapeutic child-care center that serves abused and neglected kids.
The boy who killed himself had also gone to Childhaven, and after he died, a favorite teacher who had cared for Scott as a preschooler at Childhaven wrote her a long letter.
That letter, Scott said, helped her to begin to chart a different trajectory for her life.
“They gave me hope and the ability to heal after the storm. They gave me the courage to ask for help, they gave me the courage to believe in myself and the courage to move forward,” Scott said of the staff at Childhaven, one of 12 agencies that benefit from The Seattle Times’ annual Fund For The Needy.
Now 30 and a mother of two, Scott, who lives in Federal Way, recently earned her associate degree in human services from Highline College. She plans to return to school in January to begin work on her bachelor’s degree.
She’s a regular volunteer at the Childhaven branch in Burien and does other work — like helping with luncheons and the annual fundraising auction — at the agency’s Seattle headquarters, where she went as a child.
“I feel like I have definitely broken the cycle and I’m proud to be Childhaven’s ambassador,” said Scott, adding that people who donate to the agency are investing long term in the lives of vulnerable children.
Half of Childhaven’s $8.5 million annual budget comes from donations. Until recently, the other half was split between the state Legislature and the federal Medicaid plan.
But last year, the agency’s leadership was notified the early-intervention program didn’t qualify for Medicaid because it wasn’t offered statewide, said Andrea Solomon, Childhaven’s vice president of resource development.
Legislators stepped in to cover the funding shortfall through the 2014 fiscal year, which ends in late June 2015, she said. The agency is now working with the state’s health care authority, which administers Medicaid, to requalify for $2 million in federal funds.
“Childhaven has been here for over 100 years. This is something we can overcome, and there are a lot of people rooting for it and helping us get there,” Solomon said.
The agency was founded in 1909 as the Seattle Day Nursery for children of working mothers. In the 1970s, then executive-director Pat Gogerty — who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father — introduced a therapeutic child-care program for children from birth to age 5.
While it used to be that most children would be referred to Childhaven after Child Protective Services (CPS) became involved in their families’ lives, now public-health nurses and officials with a federal welfare program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) can also refer children deemed at risk of abuse or neglect.
“Why children are here has changed. It used to be much heavier on CPS cases for abuse. Now, neglect is the more prevalent reason kids are here,” Solomon said.
Oftentimes, parents dealing with their own issues — homelessness, mental illness, joblessness or addictions — don’t intentionally neglect their children. Some are overwhelmed and often don’t have anyone to provide even short-term relief from the stresses of parenting.
“Parents can be socially isolated and when you don’t have that support network, it’s so much harder,” Solomon said.
Childhaven’s entire model is aimed at helping children overcome abuse and neglect and form attachments to caregivers, she said.
“When kids have been abused or neglected, they don’t trust adults to meet their needs,” Solomon said. Meeting a child’s needs — from emotional to nutritional — is what Childhaven is all about, she said.
To rebuild a child’s trust and encourage bonds between a child and caregiver, child-to-teacher ratios are deliberately kept small. Children are assigned to classes not by age, but by developmental stage.
And routines are set so the kids’ days are predictable, giving them a sense of control and consistency despite their chaotic home lives.
Childhaven teachers drive the vans that pick up children from wherever they’re living and drop them off at the end of the day. In each classroom, breakfast, lunch and a snack are served family-style and children can have as many servings as they want.
“They need to know the same thing is going to happen in the same way every day,” Solomon said. “When they come here, they know what to expect. There are no surprises.”
Therapists from the Northwest Center regularly visit Childhaven to help kids with developmental delays catch up. A health-care coordinator also works with parents to make sure children are up to date on their vaccinations and have a primary-care doctor.
Parents who don’t have custody of their children can also come to Childhaven for supervised visits, said Solomon, recalling one father who was in prison when his daughter was born.
“He came every day, and at first, she’d have nothing to do with him,” Solomon said.
Then one day, the girl ran to him and called him “daddy.”
“He said that’s what gave him the strength to turn his life around and get clean and sober,” she said.
For Scott, the love she was showered with as a child has stretched into her adulthood. Diagnosed with lupus several years ago, she recalled being so sick she couldn’t walk. Teachers from Childhaven showed up at her apartment with food and gifts for her and her kids that Christmas.
Her own mother was depressed and alcoholic through much of Scott’s childhood and, “She didn’t tell us she loved us so much,” said Scott, whose mom has been sober for years and is a pastor at a Burien church.
Now that she’s the parent, Scott said, she makes a point to kiss and cuddle her kids, Maya, 8, and Kaleb, 5.
“I’m able to love them and I try not to let my own emotional state and depression and fears inside get the best of my parenting,” she said. “I’m in their business and I don’t let them disrespect elders or other kids. My kids are the sweet kids. I just teach them love.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com