As a long-time foster mother, adoptive mother and guardian to many children and volunteer teacher and helper to even more, Anna Kagley also deserves recognition.
Anna Kagley is single-handedly responsible for turning my thoughts about being a foster parent into action. I met Anna at a retreat for families of kids with a combined vision and hearing loss. That was nearly two decades ago. Meeting her seriously changed the trajectory of my life. She taught me that a full-time career and an already full house and life are not reasons to keep you from finding ways to help kids in need. Simply put, listening to a woman like Anna takes away all the excuses. She challenges you to really evaluate yourself if you’re not involved in some kind of child-safety advocacy.
Anna's involvement with children has run far longer than our relationship. She and her husband, Robert, have tried to help the children in his family since they first got together. Robert is Native American and sadly, as is the case for many Natives, addiction issues ran strong in his family. He had several siblings caught in addiction that couldn't take care of their kids safely. Even though they didn’t engage with any state or private services, they helped out on a casual basis with them for years. When Anna got pregnant with her first born son they got a call about their nephew Gage.
Anna and Robert had sheltered and helped Gage’s parents when they were younger, and now the state was involved. They were nervous to help because of how unstable the family was but later on, when they got a call about Ethan, Robert's nephew, they just couldn’t say no. Ethan’s mom was a severe drug addict and he was born addicted to drugs and dramatically delayed because of her use. Additionally his vision, hearing, motor control and cognition were all damaged. He needed care and Anna and Robert stepped in and loved and cared for Ethan until he passed away in February of 2021.
They took Ethan in, and like my interaction with Anna fired me up to child safety advocacy, their family interactions with him sparked the flame for them. Anna and Robert and their whole family have participated in countless advocacy opportunities. From Deaf-Blind sensory disability services, to fostering and lobbying, Anna’s done it all and then some. She helped to organize and operate a Foster Closet in Snohomish county to provide clothing, toys and supplies to foster families and parents living in poverty. Anna has lobbied congress at our state level for better services and rights for foster parents and people with special needs. She has helped with Walk Me Home events and public school co-op science classes. Their family has been a foster home to over 2 dozen children and they’ve adopted children as well.
It is a tireless, and often thankless endeavor. Though there have been regrets along the way Anna is still a huge advocate for helping kids. As she put it, “On the Pollyanna side of things, I think my kids are more appreciative of their own parents because they've heard and seen what abuse is. It has built compassion and empathy for others in them. They’re not just sympathetic, they really know and feel what these kids go through. I don't think many kids their age have that strong empathetic response the way they do.” Anna’s proud her kids can celebrate even the smallest successes in other people’s lives and links it, as well as their understanding how poverty influences poor choices, to seeing it first hand, reflected in the kids they’ve taken in over the years.
On the negative side she’s regretful that the exposure has taken away her own children’s innocence. She knows the choice to shelter and foster abused and neglected kids introduced them to a level of trauma they wouldn't have otherwise known. Anna believes strongly that home should be a safe place and worries that her desire to offer sanctuary to some kids actually took it away from her own.
The other challenge and strain on foster families is the lack of stable respite. She goes to far as to say it is crippling to the foster care system. Foster families of even normally functioning children get burned out, for those with special needs kiddos the attrition is even higher. Good stable respite would go a long way to helping keep up the number of foster parents. She postulates, and I concur, that making foster parenting a respected profession of its own would probably help too.
Even with all the emotional pain her service has caused her family she’s quick to point out that for all the bad examples there are so many good ones too. She uses the example of her adopted son Kian. He is a treasure to their whole family. Kian was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, is developmentally delayed, and deals with a slew of symptoms. He is also an overcomer and amazes them every day. When he masters a simple task or goal it's a celebration for their whole family. He is not a bitter or angry adolescent, he embraces each day with joy. Anna says, “Kian is the reason I get out of bed every morning.” Even Ethan, who could give nothing back filled her up with no strings attached.
Anna encourages everyone to please, please somehow get involved. Do something to help stop the cycle of childhood abuse and neglect. She will be the first in line to tell anyone that fostering or adopting isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be attempted without serious thought and family discussion but each of us can do something.
There is so much need and so many areas where one can advocate. The obvious is to “be” a safe person in the lives of abused and neglected children. Whether that’s fostering, adopting, or even just showing up at their school for a lunch visit regularly, being a safe person can positively impact a child for life. People can vote to support more mental health services, early intervention services, parenting skills services. You can volunteer time or offer financial support to organizations helping kids.
I personally appreciated Anna’s admonition to Pro-Lifers. She feels strongly, as I do, that if ease of abortion is taken away, child abuse and neglect will skyrocket into an even bigger social scourge than it already is. If we do not allow abortion as an option then society, and especially the pro-life sign holders and financial contributors, must also make the time and energy commitment to keep kids who would otherwise be aborted safe.
All in all, given the ups and downs, the sadness, tears and treasures in between, Anna continues to be a giant in the child advocacy arena. She has my respect and always inspires me to be a better, safer human!
Last book read:
Understanding Methods of Fish Biology – for work
Braiding Sweet Grass - leisure but she said she didn't love it. It was too touchy-feely for her.
Understanding Jane ~ Ruthie Rayburn
All Creatures Great and Small w/Kian ~ James Herriot
A Planet of Viruses ~ Carl Zimmer
Book recs for us:
Apple: (Skin to the core) ~ Eric Gansworth
Brainstorm: The power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain ~ Daniel J. Siegel
Parasite Rex ~ Carl Zimmer
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a SPED (Special Education) teacher and mother of two children adopted from foster care I'm highlighting Jeanell Climer as one of Lucy's Ladies of the Season!
Jeanell Climer has been near and dear to me for years. We met because of our work with children and in many ways children have kept us connected through the years. Not just our own children, but school children and children in foster care. Jeanell is all about the children (I like to describe her as a Mama Duck, she just watches over the children like a sweet mama duck!) so there's no better person to interview this season and this month. Her faithfulness to the Lord and kids in special need is so inspirational and admirable. Jeanell truly makes the world a better place and daily helps to keep kids safe! Without further ado, I give you an interview with a child advocacy queen:
When did you first know you wanted to work with/advocate for kids?
I don’t feel like there was ever an “aha moment” but rather I often found myself talking to or helping the underdog. I do recall being a secretary at a high school and often having conversations with a young lady about all kinds of things. She was struggling with things at home and she often shared things with me when she stopped by to say hello. As the year progressed, her visits increased. At one point, she noticed a special cross necklace that I had on. It opened the door for us to talk about church, and she asked a lot of great questions. I was always very careful talking about my faith in a public school, but the memory of those conversations have stayed with me 18 years later.
What made you hone your focus onto SPED?
There are two things that come to mind. The first is the first high school I worked at, we had a sunshine group that would celebrate birthdays and other special events. A teacher thought the life skills class students might want to share in the celebrations. A conversation happened, and I was the lucky one chosen to work with the students, and their teacher, to have them participate in celebrating birthdays. The second thing that made me consider SPED is a former neighbor. Her son, who happens to be six months younger than my oldest daughter, is on the spectrum and her stories always made me smile. (Our house was called the three girl house because he knew we had three daughters, and he was FASCINATED that the garbage truck came every week to take the “stinky trash” away - he would watch them come down the street and giggle as they picked up at each of the 20 houses.)
What sorts of advocacy for children have you participated in throughout your life and career?
I was part of the iFrosh team at Wenatchee High School, which gave me some great conversations with kids and parents. I had the privilege of being part of JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) when I worked at Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center. My husband and I helped with the Special Olympics ski team for a few years. I was the “lodge mom” so I helped the head coach with paperwork, and kept attendance for each practice. I was a volunteer with Girls on the Run for two different seasons. The first year I was a running buddy for a student in Chelan. I was able to run a 5k with her. The second time I volunteered, I was one of three coaches at Sterling.
How did you find yourself the mother of two special needs girlie girls adopted from foster care?
This was totally a God thing! The girls were students of mine during the 2019-20 school year. I tell the story that on the first day of school, I came home and told my husband that I have new students – twins – and there is something special about them. Little did I know how special they would be! As a teacher, I want my students to know that I am a safe person and they can tell me anything without judgment. I want to help them find solutions to things that might be a challenge. The girls each shared things they were struggling with. Based upon the things they were telling me, I ended up having to contact their DCYF Case Worker to report things. During these conversations, there was a hint on both our ends regarding the possibility of my husband and I becoming foster parents. My husband was not on board. I also knew that if we were to do this, we had to commit to the long-haul as these girls had been in multiple foster homes in a short period of time. There was a big incident in January 2020 that resulted in my husband deciding he could commit to bringing the girls into our home with the goal of adopting or being their foster parents until they aged out. We started the process at the end of January and then the Covid shut-down happened, which delayed things. We received a call on April 16, 2020 that the girls needed to be moved that day, and asked if we were ready for them. We were, and the rest is history. Due to their disabilities and all of the changes happening (we were their seventh placement), the girls needed extra time to process all the things. The state wanted us to begin the adoption process after six months, but the girls were not ready. We officially adopted the girls in November 2021.
What is life like now?
Life now is interesting. Texas has been something we have talked about off and on for many years. My father-in-law was born in Texas. We talked over the years of moving to Texas, but the doors were never opened for us. There was always a big obstacle that blocked the idea from moving forward. In mid to late September 2021, a friend of mine randomly called me and asked if we were still thinking about Texas. I told her it would probably always be something we would dream about, but that was it. She suggested we consider it. I laughed and told her I would pray about it, because that would be a BIG move. Random (more like God winks) conversations started happening that all tied back to Texas. In early October, we started looking at the possibility of relocating to Texas when the school year finished. By the end of October, we decided we should probably go visit Texas to make sure this was something that could work for us. We decided to spend Thanksgiving week in Texas. During the month of November, God laid it on our hearts that we should move before the school year ended. As a teacher, I was freaking out. We trusted that He had a better plan than we did, so I started to apply for positions. We made plans to visit five different areas, but when the trip actually happened, God had other plans. We only went to one area - Bryan/College Station which is near Texas A&M University. We came back to Washington with a house offer in the works and I had three virtual job interviews scheduled that week. I accepted a job offer one week after we returned from Texas, we put our house on the market, and we moved 2,100 miles away from all our friends and family to an adventure in Texas six weeks later in early January 2022.
We adopted the girls in November 2021, the week before we visited Texas. They are juniors in high school. I am currently working as a special education teacher in College Station ISD, but I will be moving to a smaller district next school year, which I am really excited about. I will be moving to a self-contained classroom, which is very much like my first two years of teaching. Remember that friend who randomly asked me if I wanted to move to Texas? Her family bought a house in the same neighborhood we live in. She works in the same small district I will be working in next year. God had a much bigger and better plan than I could have ever dreamt.
What inspiration/encouragement do you have for others who may be interested in advocating for abused and neglected children?
When I reflect on this question, I think it is important for people to know that you need to do what is comfortable for you. There are a lot of programs that are seeking volunteers to help abused and neglected children. For all kids (and people), knowing that someone is in their corner is a HUGE thing. With my adopted daughters, they knew when they came to school every day that my classroom was a safe place, and a place where they could tell an adult anything. I tell my students all the time, you are safe at school and you can tell me anything and I will still love you. They all know there are some things they share with me that I have to share with others to keep them safe. For some kids, it is knowing that someone is going to show up at school to eat lunch with them. I would say if you feel like you want to volunteer in this area, make some phone calls and find the place that fits you best. Big Sisters/Big Brothers is a great option in bigger cities. Many schools have a Lunch Buddy program. The CASA Program is another amazing opportunity to show up and show love and kindness to kids in need.
Last book read:
The Maid by Nita Prose
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron
His & Hers by Alice Feeney
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
In addition to ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) training, four books that have helped me as a teacher, and now as a mom of twin girls on the spectrum, are:
Population: One by Tyler McNamer
Lost At School by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.
Eyes Are Never Quiet by Lori L. Desautels, Ph.D. and Michael McKnight, M.A.
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