Rantz: Seattle-area group boots foster family, teens for migrants from border

Mar 29, 2021, 8:04 PM | Updated: Mar 30, 2021, 8:51 pm

A private social services nonprofit booted a foster family with four kids from its home in order to house unaccompanied migrants. As a result, one foster teen was hospitalized with anxiety. Another teen ran away and, as of Monday, is still missing.

Kirkland-based Friends of Youth (FOY) owns a property in Renton called the Howard House. They decided to transition to a new source of funding, ditching local foster children for migrants from the border.

The group removed Edmundo Serena Sanchez, his wife, and their four teenage foster kids from the home. FOY is turning the residence into a group home for migrant children. FOY says on a FAQ page that they made the decision to evict once more than $400,000 in federal funding was awarded for six months of the new program’s operation.

Though FOY claims this isn’t about the money, one local lawmaker is suspicious.

Friends of Youth evicted Washington foster family

Sanchez tells KING 5, which first reported this story, that he’s lived in the home for seven years.

During his time as a foster parent, he and his wife helped care for 2o youth, focusing on teens. They tend to have more behavioral issues that need addressing and Sanchez and his wife have the training.

“We choose to do teenagers because they’re really hard to find places for them,” he told KING 5’s Chris Ingalls.

In early February, Sanchez received a letter from FOY that he would lose his house as the group, according to the letter, “have chosen to pursue a different strategic vision.” That new vision apparently means turning its back on Washington children — American citizens — to help unaccompanied migrants at the border.

Sanchez says he will be able to find a new home, but not one large enough to house these four foster children — or any at all.

The news did not go over well for the teens he and his wife care for.

One of the teens, Sanchez notes, was hospitalized with panic attacks, knowing the difficulty settling with yet another foster placement awaits. Another teen ran away from the home and hasn’t yet returned. He may become another foster child to become homeless.

Friends of Youth chasing the money?

The unconscionable decision to evict the foster family, during a pandemic no less, caught the attention of State Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-Port Orchard). She was once a foster child and is a foster parent.

“I hate to say it, but my first response was that that they were getting more money, probably, for these refugees than they were getting for foster kids,” Caldier told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “They were chasing the money, and it’s disgusting. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

FOY Director DeAnn Adams acknowledges to KING 5 that the migrant children offer a new source of funding through the federal government. She claims, however, that they won’t see an increase in funds.

“The new residential program will receive funding from the federal government for the youth in our care. However, the funding will be provided as a reimbursement for costs after they are incurred, under strict federal guidelines,” FOY Director of Marketing and Communications Hannah Mello tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH via an emailed statement.

Follow the money

FOY declined three radio interview requests, relying instead on emailed questions.

“In my experience, a lot of these entities care more about their bottom line, and they tend to chase the dollars than they do about making sure that they’ve preserved home for that [foster] child,” Caldier told me.

Is this about the money?

In her response, Mello notes that they received $410,588 by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. No state dollars, Mello says, goes to the operation. But why would FOY take on a temporary promise of federal dollars if it doesn’t even cover their cost?

Caldier says she’s trying to bring legislation to Olympia to deliver better funding to local foster care families. But she said private social service entities fought against the bill.

“We find that, while the federal funding covers most of the costs of the care of these children, there are additional costs that the agency will incur above what is reimbursed by the federal government – costs that we find worth taking on to be able to serve additional youth,” Mello wrote.

They could, of course, serve additional youth who actually live in Washington state.

Eviction during a moratorium?

More puzzling is the decision by FOY to make this move during a pandemic.

“So right now we’ve got the eviction moratorium going on for able-bodied adults, yet our most vulnerable youth, they get the boot. And it’s wrong,” Caldier says.

But FOY defends the move, arguing the eviction moratorium wouldn’t apply in this case.

“The agreement in place with this family is not a traditional rent/lease agreement and therefore does not fall under the eviction moratorium,” FOY writes on its FAQ page. “The family voluntarily entered into an agreement that clearly stipulated a lack of lease or residential tenancy rights.”

Speaking of taking on agreement: FOY agreed to take care of the vulnerable foster child population. What about these four kids?

This is a soulless decision

This story legitimately sickens me. I think everything about this decision, from the timing of eviction to turning its back on locals, is soulless.

There’s no doubt that the crisis (not challenge) at the border with unaccompanied minors is a human rights disaster. President Joe Biden’s policies caused a flood of kids to make the dangerous, solo journey to the border. He explains his position is compassionate, yet it’s leading to the abuse and mistreatment of kids on the journey, at the border, and in Biden’s cages. Kids sleep on the floor, are not allowed outside, and are staying in detention beyond what the law allows. It’s sickening; it’s not compassionate. And shame on every Democrat who attacked Trump for circumstances not even remotely as bad, yet are staying silent or making excuses for Biden.

But a crisis at the border does not negate the foster child crisis in Washington state. They are victims of unbearable trauma and constantly struggle for some sense of normalcy. These four kids were just revictimized by FOY. Judging by their FAQ, FOY seems more worried about bad PR, than about those kids.

I don’t believe Friends of Youth

I do not believe FOY when they say they won’t benefit financially from the situation either directly or indirectly. At the bare minimum, I suspect FOY would benefit from increased donations at a time when the entire country is focused on the border crisis. If they truly cared about serving more kids, there are plenty of local ones in need of more support.

If somehow the financial situation is a wash — that four teens are worth less than a group home of serving the “largest number of youth we are able” — that’s just as bad.

We shouldn’t turn our backs on the kids here at home, whom we have a paramount duty to care for, to replace them with unaccompanied minors at the border.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Rantz: Seattle-area group boots foster family, teens for migrants from border