Haylee Cunningham has watched foster children who come to her home after multiple foster families and chaotic lives have trouble adjusting even for years after they finally find stability with her mother and father, who are licensed foster parents.
The Nooksack Valley Middle School student, 13, took what she saw as an injustice for children and used it to create her required eighth-grade “breakout project,” in which students research and present information about a topic, including social issues.
Cunningham says she found research that showed frequent moves among foster families can damage brain development for children. She suggested in her project that caseworkers be allowed to have more control and to manage transitions of foster children, including investigating the compatibility of the home for the child in more detail before placing them.
The school project also requires at least six hours of community service. Cunningham did almost five times as much time as the project requires.
Cunningham collected donations for several weeks from her church and a friend’s mother’s workplace, and solicited donations from people as they entered a Fred Meyer store. In all, she collected 1,265 individual items of socks and underwear for foster children who are serviced by the local Department of Children and Family Services office.
When she entered the department office with boxes of donations, the entire office staff stood and applauded. It wasn’t until they started unloading the donations that she saw how truly needed her work had been.
“When they showed me the storage room, it was completely empty except for a couple of dollar-store toys,” she said.
Her project was just an extension of helping the children who have become her family. Her family has adopted a foster child and continues to take in other foster children.
“It makes me feel like we’re actually helping people and not just looking at it on the news or on Facebook,” she said.
Spotlight shines on children 12 or younger who excel in arts or education, and shares how their parents helped them achieve success.
To suggest a child to profile, send their name and a brief description of their accomplishments, along with a parent’s name and contact information, to firstname.lastname@example.org.