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Washington Voices

Private foster agency plans fundraiser

Debbie and Barry Officer and their children, from left, Suzanna, 13,  Peter, 12,  Polly, 12, Gus (top right back) and Samantha, 12, gather for a photo  at Franklin Park Nov. 3 in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Debbie and Barry Officer and their children, from left, Suzanna, 13, Peter, 12, Polly, 12, Gus (top right back) and Samantha, 12, gather for a photo at Franklin Park Nov. 3 in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Nine seconds. In America, every nine seconds a child is reported beaten, raped, verbally assaulted or severely neglected, according to a local foster care placement agency, Olive Crest. Who knows how many such incidents go unreported?

That four children also die each day due to abuse, according to Olive Crest, offers proof that society needs to work harder to protect the most vulnerable among us. Since 1973, Olive Crest, a privately run foster care agency, has been doing just that. Its mission states: “Olive Crest is dedicated to preventing child abuse, to treating and educating at-risk children and to preserving the family one life at a time.” Founded in California, the organization provides shelter and care for boys and girls from birth to 22.

In 2006 Olive Crest expanded to Eastern Washington. Area director Carol Plischke said, “We’ve started out doing private foster care with special emphasis on sibling groups and adolescents.” They’ve targeted those two groups because many people will accept an infant or toddler, but teens and siblings often have a difficult time obtaining placement in the foster care system.

According to Plischke, there are key differences between private and public foster care. She said, “The kids come to us through the state, but the biggest difference is we have smaller case loads.” Olive Crest case managers oversee eight to 14 children, far fewer than the average caseworker in Washington. “Our case managers contact our families every week and physically visit the homes every month, at a minimum,” said Plischke.

That additional contact provides support for both foster parents and the children in their care. Jeff and Kelly Malcolm are in the process of fostering to adopt 6- and 7-year-old siblings. Kelly Malcolm knows if she has a question or a concern she can pick up the phone anytime and get the help she needs. “Olive Crest is available 24/7,” she said. She also appreciates the ongoing follow-up she receives from the organization.

“The people I’ve met through Olive Crest are so enjoyable,” Malcolm said. “When they come for their monthly visit they always ask great questions and give positive informational feedback.”

As a private agency, Olive Crest has the opportunity to raise more funds than a public agency, and that makes a huge difference. More dollars translate to more services for foster parents and their kids. For example, the organization sponsors “date nights” for foster parents. Volunteers provide child care for busy couples who often have little time to themselves.

In addition, Olive Crest sponsors holiday parties, creates welcome bags for children being placed in care and conducts ongoing educational classes, such as recent Love and Logic seminar.

Knowing that stability is one thing that many kids in foster care crave, Olive Crest emphasizes its foster-to-adopt program. “We’ve been pretty successful at that,” Plischke said. One of their success stories is the Officer family.

Debbie Officer said she and her husband, Barry Officer, have been licensed foster parents since 1989. “We had three birth children and were looking to adopt a child. That’s how our family grew.” It grew, indeed. The Officers now have 12 children, eight adopted and one in the process of being adopted. Their newest addition is a 6-year-old boy who came to them through Olive Crest. Most of the children are sibling groups.

“It’s really nice for siblings to be together,” Debbie Officer said. “They feel more secure.” She said the family’s 80 acres near Inchelium, Wash., is a great place to raise kids. “They’ve got the freedom to stretch their wings.”

Each child quickly found a place in her heart. “I can’t tell where my birth children leave off and my adopted children begin,” she said.

And while Debbie Officer appreciates the state social workers who helped her with previous placements, she’s noticed the difference in working with Olive Crest. “Our little guy has had all kinds of evaluations. They’ve given him the best care and connected us with great resources.”

Plischke said the agency has a successful placement rate because of the time they can spend on each case. “We try to learn a lot about each child. We want to make sure families have a great fit.”

Olive Crest offers traditional foster care and emergency foster care. Last year the local agency served 33 children, supported 22 families and provided more than 100 opportunities for counseling and training. That adds up to 5,878 safe nights for at-risk children.

“Safe nights” are the most important measure of success for Olive Crest, according to Plischke. That even one child is in a stable, safe home environment makes the effort worth it for her.

Like many nonprofits, Olive Crest has faced the sting of budget cuts. “We’re trying to get innovative with all the cuts in both state and private funding,” Plischke said.

On Saturday, the agency will host a Hometown Heroes Dessert Auction with Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and native Spokanite, serving as master of ceremonies. Plischke said, “We’re honoring people in our community who’ve had an impact in the lives of children.” Among those scheduled to be recognized are Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and child advocate Mary Ann Murphy.

They’ll also be honoring less well-known advocates. Plischke said, “Our heroes are our foster parents.”

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