Like many proud grandmothers, Kathi Gladson gets emotional when she talks about her grandkids. She gushes about their playfulness, their laughter and how hard they work to keep up at school. Her relationship with her grandkids is unique; they have come into her life through the Therapeutic Foster Care program (TFC), one of Morrison Child & Family Services’ 22 programs for children and families.

The non-profit Morrison Child & Family Services—headquartered in Parkrose on Sandy Boulevard at 110th Avenue since 2011—has delivered specialized services to children, birth to 18, and to families coping with abuse, neglect, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, criminality and other adversity since 1947. Serving more than 6,000 kids and families annually at 10 different locations, Morrison is Oregon’s largest and longest running children’s mental health agency.

Gladson’s son, Joshua Griffith, and his wife, Kimberly, have been dedicated therapeutic foster parents with Morrison for five years. Gladson was so moved by their devotion to kids in need that she went through Morrison’s 32-hour therapeutic foster parent training to have a more active and influential role in her foster grandchildren’s lives.

Morrison programs have employed TFC since 1984. It establishes safe and nurturing foster family environments for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable children. In addition to a typical foster family setting, TFC provides therapeutic case management, skill building and tailored services to aid kids and their foster families. The goal of TFC is to be the last stop for Morrison kids before they transition to a long-term placement, whether that is adoption or reunification with family, and to end the pattern of disruptive foster-home-to-foster-home placements. Therapeutic foster homes offer a much needed structured and intentional environment for kids to not only work through trauma, but also learn skills how to deal with and overcome adversity. Thanks to TFC families, over time, kids learn to express difficult feelings calmly, and in a safe manner, and, moving forward, how to establish healthy, meaningful relationships.

Kids in Morrison’s TFC program typically stay with foster families for about 14 months, and the average time foster parents work with Morrison is more than five years. Morrison has very dedicated foster families; one has worked with Morrison’s TFC program for nearly 25 years. Because of the trauma these kids have experienced, many have fallen behind in a variety of developmental ways. TFC foster families and the Morrison treatment team work collaboratively to stabilize the child emotionally, mentally and behaviorally.

Over the years, Gladson’s son and daughter-in-law have welcomed children as young as five and as old as 13 into their home, sometimes providing a home for two unrelated foster children at the same time. The goal is always the same: to give these kids an opportunity to heal, grow and make lifelong connections with people who will love them unconditionally. TFC family members go through training that Gladson called “enlightening.” Prior to the TFC training, she didn’t understand the plight of foster kids. “There is an exercise they have us do and it looks like a bull’s eye,” she said. “They have you think about your life, think about the people who are in your inner circle, then you go out a level and out another level until you are out with doctors and social workers and people like that. Foster kids have nobody, nobody in that inner circle. In addition, the only people on the whole bull’s-eye, for lack of a better word, are paid to help. And even they are on the periphery.”

Letting go of foster kids when it is time for them to return to their biological family or an adoptive family can be difficult. In those moments, Gladson reflects on the lasting and life-affirming influence she has had on the amazing kids who have been her temporary grandchildren. Thinking of one child in particular, Kathi says that no matter where his life takes him, “he knows that three people in this world truly know him and love him. He has three people in his corner he didn’t have before. That has transformed him.” His inner circle will never again be empty.

With her hand on her heart and tears welling in her eyes, Gladson says becoming a TFC foster grandparent has been life-affirming, humbling and one of the most important things in which she has taken part. “I don’t know a greater way to make a difference in the world.”

Kathi affirms that being a TFC grandparent has been mutually rewarding. Fostering is not merely an act of charity; there is a lot to be gained. Serving as a foster grandmother has given Kathi the opportunity to change the course of another human life for the better, leaving a legacy and living a purpose-filled life. “The most powerful thing I’ve seen is the resilience in these young people. What has most amazed me is watching a child come into Joshua and Kimberly’s home really guarded, usually not functioning very highly, and then to see, over time, a transformation.”

Currently, Morrison has a foster parent deficit—25 children are on the waitlist—and we encourage you to become a TFC parent for a child in need. TFC families receive extensive training; support groups; a generous tax-free monthly stipend; and they benefit from a collaborative TFC network. In addition to the TFC program, Morrison has four population-specific foster care programs, including programs that serve teenagers and youth in recovery.

To learn more about becoming a foster parent with Morrison, contact Wendy Espitia at 503-278-1183, wendy.espitia@morrisonkids.org, www.morrisonkids.org, or go to an information session Sept. 23 from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 N.E. 40th Ave.

Blythe Pavlik is Communications Coordinator at Morrison Child and Family Services