Shrounda Selivanoff Lee-Williams on the Seen and Heard Podcast

Episode 2

LOOKING FOR THAT WARM HUG ALL MY LIFE

How can being seen and acknowledged help one mom chose a new path for her family?

Shrounda Selivanoff takes us on a journey from childhood to motherhood, including a head-on collision with the child welfare system. Hear from Shrounda on how being seen and acknowledged for who she was changed her life forever. Shrounda is a passionate mother, kinship caregiver, and parent ally who inspires and helps other parents who experience the system through her work as public policy director at Children’s Home Society of Washington.

00:00:50

Meet Shrounda Selivanoff, who talks about the result of growing up in an isolated, overburdened family.

00:04:45

Shrounda shares that school was her haven and that at 13 years old, a newfound friend offered to help in her moment of need.

00:06:08

The beginnings of motherhood and battling substance use disorder.

00:20:02

Finding courage in a hard place. How being seen by her counselor, while in treatment, for who she was at that moment was life-changing.

00:22:14

Shrounda describes how stepping into being loved for exactly who she is and not feeling the need to be something else helped her change the direction of her life. The power of relationship without the pretense. Finding community for life and doing the work, which included exploring these personal questions:   

  • How we’re showing up in the world around us? 
  • What’s our contribution?  
  • What are we willing to give or sacrifice?  
  • What are we willing to admit that we don’t know?
00:34:32

As a mom, professional, and advocate for children and families, Shrounda says “my story is your story. We’re in this together.”

00:36:00

Matt and Shrounda share final thoughts.

Matt: I’m Matt Anderson and welcome to another episode of seen and heard by Institute for family. On this podcast, we engage in stories and conversations that recognize child welfare transformation, starts with seeing families for who they truly are. You know, one of my favorite colleagues, and just one of my favorite people, in general, is Shrounda Selivanoff.

Shrounda does the public policy director at children’s home society of Washington. But more than that, she has a really long history as a leader in the parent ally movement and being a fierce advocate for families. So today’s conversation, I wanted to start with where that story begins. I know a lot about Shrounda’s work today, but I wanted to know where her story really starts.

Shrounda: My childhood was lonely. Our household was abusive. I had quite the sticky fingers as a child. We were in poverty. We didn’t have very much of anything. And so I found myself in grocery stores and in department stores, fulfilling whatever childhood need I thought was important at the time. I do want to say that my mom always had food on the table. So the basic necessities were certainly met, but I had a sweet tooth and so it needed to be fed. And I went in and I fed it.

Matt: A sweet tooth and sticky fingers.

Shrounda: Yeah, they went well together. Yeah. And I got caught stealing a lot. I remember this one time I got caught stealing at Bon Marche. Now it’s called Macy’s. And I was stealing some clothes, and I had gotten caught for the umpteenth time. And I actually never went home after getting caught because my mom recourse was physical abuse. My mom used to strip us down naked and whip us with chords that you would plug into the wall. And I entered that for years.

Matt: Wow. So I want to come back to that comment that you just made about never coming back after that incident, but where’s your mom now she living, do you have a relationship today?

Shrounda: Yeah, my mom’s right down the street. We definitely have a relationship. I have great respect for my mother. And also great frustration with my mother. So it sounds like an atypical parent-child relationship.

Matt: Or quite typical, maybe. Yeah. You might know this, but I have a fair number of conversations like this about just people’s family experiences and family stories. I actually hear that quite a bit, you know, difficult childhoods parent-child relationships that weren’t ideal in certain ways, but then in adulthood, there’s this kind of coming back together and it might be really tense or have some conflict still, but there’s sometimes a reconciliation of sorts that happens later in life. Does that resonate? Is that been happening with you and your mom or is it difficult?

Shrounda: No, I mean, I, I think we have our own work to do as a child. I really hungered for a level of affection and connection with my mother. What I can tell you is as an adulthood, I had some, my own reconciliation of what I needed to do for myself and how I needed to.

Recognize what my needs were and also recognize what my mom could and couldn’t do. And as I gained a new level of awareness around that, what I go to my mom for is what she can offer. She gives me the best of what she has. I know what that is. And it’s enough. I bet you, if you asked my children, they’d have a long list too, and I hope that they would afford me as much grace, as I’ve afforded my mother. Because I don’t think that this is perfection. We are just constantly in a place of growth of growth, evolution, revelation. And we take all of that knowing and learning forward and we bring that into our relationships.

Matt: Hmm. So I want to go back to, I think he said you were 12 years old and went into the​​ Bon Marche walked out with some things that you didn’t pay for. And you said you never went back home. So can you just tell me a little bit more about that? Did you run away? 

Shrounda: Oh yeah. I have a long, long history of running away. I actually stayed homeless for a year, interestingly enough. And I’m always kind of just baffled by this. I always went to school. Didn’t matter what was going on in my life. That was like my safety zone. And for a year I literally lived in bushes and under people’s beds and on their couches until one day I was in this drama class, and I’ll never forget it. I was paired with a person. Become my lifelong friend. And, uh, we had this drama exercise, and you were to pretend that you were moving your lips with strings.

And my newfound friend had a real affection for drama. So she was having just a heyday with the exercise and I couldn’t do it. I just fell into a barrel of tears. And, uh, she inquired and said, you know, what’s wrong? And I just told her I was sleeping outside and I just didn’t know where I was going to stay.

And she said, well, you can stay at my house. I’ll never forget her father. And her brother came and picked me up. I had my stuff stuffed in the bushes, brown garbage sack, and they picked me up. They took me to their home and I never left.

Matt: Wow. How old were you then I was about 13. You stayed with that family and your friend for the rest of teenage years, high school.

Shrounda: Yup. Of high school. I graduated high school and they would all go off to college. That was never really an aspiration of mine.

Matt: So what happened like after high school? So you graduate high school, your friends go off to college. You don’t, what is happening at 18, 19 years old?

Shrounda: The basic story of if I’m with him, I’ll be better. So I, uh, find a real handsome guy find myself pregnant. I have a child, and then soon after we have a child, but now what’s happening is partying. Getting loaded is starting to take priority. 

As a child I didn’t have much. So now I’m giving my kids a lot, but what, I’m not giving them as enough of me. So I’m giving them lots of presents, but I’m not giving them my presence. I can remember as a kid, we would never have Christmas. So we, you know, we’d have salvation army. And so, you know, I made that important, right.

My kids always had a fantastic Christmas and they always had a big birthday. I mean, I could do all of that, but like really the day to day. Like hands-on, you are the center, you are my priority. That was just not the case. It’s hard to drink. And to parent you’re either in a state of drinking or you’re in a state of recovery and the everyday navigation of children becomes “I’ll get to it when I get to it.”

Matt: Did the drinking start kind of early in life. Or did that happen during this time with raising little kids.

Shrounda: I remember my first drink, just thinking about it right now, brings a nice warm covering over me. And I remember that feeling. I’ve been looking for that warm hug all my life. And so I had gotten the first one about 15 or 16.

And I would pursue that warm hug until I got sober. So I’ve always been a drinker and I’ve always drank to oblivion. I’ve never, ever been a, let’s have a glass of wine. I am like, let me check out and I’ll see you tomorrow from the first drink I drank like that.

Matt: The warm hug imagery is powerful. Was that the feeling at the very beginning?

Shrounda: Yeah, my mom was very unaffected, but I had never had a real warm hug from a mama. And I’ve always liked hard alcohol. So I will say Jack Daniels gave me a nice big, oh, burley brown hug. And I’m like, where have you been.

Matt: From the candy to the Jack Daniels?

Shrounda: Always working on the serotonin. I definitely liked that a lot.

Matt: We’ve got to fill those needs somehow, right? For love for the hug for the good feeling.

Shrounda: Yeah, that’s a fantastic observation. And I don’t think I’m wrong for that. I think the way I went about it was, but I don’t think I’m wrong for that.

Matt: That’s right. I mean, it sounds like your mom wasn’t capable to give that feeling. And what about with your husband? Was he able to give you that kind of warm hug, loving kind of feeling, or were you still, even in your relationship as an adult still seeking.

Shrounda: First of all, I’m going to tell you that my ex-husband is, I don’t want to use the word dashingly, but in my time, you know, I can say it was incredibly hot. Good looking man.

And, uh, I would walk into places and I’ve had this just incredible, beautiful guy on my arm. And I would associate that to something of me. So, you know, he fed that. I want to say, I probably have had one love in my life. And that was it. You know, as dysfunctional as we are, we also had a real magic and if I could go back and do my life again, it would have been with him.

My addiction destroyed all of that, but he was a good man and he gave me a lot and he really, really tried hard. He tried really, really hard.

So my ex-husband and I, we buy this house, we’re getting ready to buy the house and I’m living in this other house. And my neighbor says, Hey, where you’re buying that house at Shrounda, that’s a high drag neighborhood.

And at the time I wasn’t in illicit drug use, I was always a drinker, but I wasn’t, you know, I mean, I dabbled in drugs, but nothing that really kind of took over my life. So interestingly enough, I had started working at Safeway. I was actually introduced to crack cocaine at Safeway, by coworkers. And so we’re buying this house and when I’m scoring the drugs, we’re scoring the drugs in the neighborhood that I’m getting ready to buy the house in.

So we buy the house in August. By October, I’m in full-fledge addiction. My ex-husband’s gone. He has to come back home and he ends up pretty much for about a good year and a half, two years devoting his life towards seeing if I can get sober, which means he’s not working, you know? Sailor. So he’s gotta be gone.

I’ve left him with the kids. And at some point he has to make a career decision because there’s only so long you can live without any money. So he ends up moving to Florida and takes one of my kids. And then my other son stays here. So now I’m in addiction for about three or four years. But in that time, when my ex-husband leaves to Florida, he ends up divorcing me and I am just kind of running and gunning.

I always liked this part of my story because it’s very interesting when you have the moment of clarity, like you have really done it this time, even though I wasn’t living in the house. Even though he had moved to Florida, even though my kids were gone. And even though I was in the streets of Portland with no real place to go home, I’ll never forget when I saw that for sale sign on our house.

That was the moment that I knew I was all alone. Like somewhere in my mind, I still had ownership of that house. I still had ownership of that family. God I mean, obviously I was delusional, but it, that was a moment where I knew I had really sunk to a level that there was no going back when I saw the for sale sign on my house.And I knew that I had no place to really [00:12:30] call home and that I was really out here on the streets of Portland alone and that my addiction had just ruined my life.

Matt: Wow. Okay. In that moment of realization, your husband’s gone now, ex-husband, he’s in Florida with your son and your other son is still in Portland.Is that right? Where is he?

Shrounda: He’s still in Portland? And so my son came to me and said, Hey, can we go to Seattle to see your mom? And so. We took the train together. And I came here and I then was on heroin. And very few people knew that I was on heroin. And so heroin, you have to have it every day. It’s not, you can get by.

And so I started to be dope, sick, and I ended up on Thanksgiving going to treatment. I was insured, I had decent insurance. And so I went into a treatment center and I actually ended up staying sober for about nine or 10 months. Now in the piece of the story that’s missing is, is I, you know, of course now I’m starting to acquire some drug addicted boyfriends.

I acquire one, who’s a DV perpetrator. And I actually, when I had left Thanksgiving, I was leaving from him because I couldn’t get away from this guy. I get sober for about nine months. He comes over here to Seattle and I end up going back on drugs probably a month after he’s re-introduced back into my life.

And then that’s when I end up pregnant. Now, as I said, I was sober there for a minute, so I slept with one person and then I had slept with him and I ended up pregnant. Now I’m back on dope. And I’m back in full throttle addiction. He ends up going back to Portland. He ends up dying two weeks later from a drug overdose.

I stay loaded. I know I’m pregnant, but I don’t go to the doctor. So I never got any prenatal care. I’m an IV drug user. I’m on my way to get some heroin and I get hit by a car. And when I get hit by a car, the car sends me into labor. They take me over to University of Washington and that’s where I deliver my daughter.

And CPS has called immediately because as I said, I’m an IV drug abuser. So now I’ve got track marks on me and the state comes and informs me probably a day later that my daughter’s not coming home with me. 

Matt: Wow. Was that the moment of like, what is going on with my life? And there’s some changes that I need to make. Was that a wake up moment or not quite yet ?

Shrounda: No, I there’s wake-up moments all throughout my school. I really want it to be clear. I was suffering and I don’t think people recognize that about addiction. I don’t think that people are open to the notion that a person wants out desperately. I remember going to sleep and I’d be like, please God, please don’t let me wake up and do this again.

And it’d be the last thing I say at night. And I get loaded the first thing in the morning. You know, I had lots of moments of clarity losing my husband was devastating. My children gone was devastating and I had to come back and reformalize what my destiny was to be without the stuff, without all of the things that I had said, this will make me enough.

All of that’s nonsense. You know, the real purpose of this world that we live in is really about giving and receiving love. I hadn’t really been the recipient of love, and I certainly didn’t know how to give it. I had to start from the ground floor and kind of re-establish what that meant for me. And what I needed people to do was to remind me of my inherent worth.

That wasn’t based in materials, but it was based in what I already had. I just needed to unearth. More than anything else I got to tell you the thing that is the most treasured possession that I own is my peace of mind. That warm hug. I talked to you about that peace, right? That’s mine. It’s not wrapped up in address is not wrapped up in my bank account. It’s a state of being, and I needed to find that.

 Matt: I want to come back to how that transition happened or that transformation happened for you, that healing happened, but want to go back to an earlier part in the story? So you’re in Portland, your husband leaves your husband takes your son. You still have yours, other son with you in Portland. But your house gets is sold.

You know, things are getting pretty rough. And so you go to Seattle for Thanksgiving to be with your mom. You had a period of sobriety, but it didn’t last. And then you said you kind of were running pretty hard for a while and there’s this moment when you get hit by a car, can you just tell me a little bit more of what happened.

Shrounda: It’s all her fault? With that noted, I was on my way to go get some hair. And I got hit and, you know, car accidents, everyone’s pointing their finger at the other person. I went into labor. I gave birth. I gave birth.

Matt: It’s like child protective services called in at that point. I mean, is that, does that start to happen pretty quickly then?

Shrounda: Yeah. I mean, they’re, they’re there within hours and they’re asking a bunch of questions and, you know, I’m telling all types of stories at this point. I got to tell you, I don’t think a truth came out of my mouth because you know, who has a baby with no prenatal care stuff. That’s red flag. I remember I was in the hospital and there was this other woman.

And she was a pot smoker, and CPS was there too. And at some point they let her know that they’re going to let her take her baby with her and they’re not going to let me take my baby. Like in all of my oblivion, I wanted to care for her. I didn’t have a capacity at that moment. That’s for sure. 

Matt: So you were separated from your daughter two and a half years after she was born.

So what, what did happen in that moment? Maybe just kind of walk me through a little. You have this feeling of wanting to care for her, but was she taken away that same day? And then, then what happened?

Shrounda: They may have a decision, but I can’t care for her. They do a meeting. So we’re all just sitting there talking about my addiction, where I’m at, what’s going on.

Where’s my daughter going. And so my memory is not as vivid as I would like it to be. You know, if I recall correctly, they make the decision, she goes into this home and she starts to exhibit withdrawal symptoms. So they take her to PIC, which is the hospital here in Washington state for children that are withdrawing from drugs.

And so I went to PIC four weeks and visited my daughter because she wasn’t in a home she was in the hospital unit and then she got released and she went into the foster family that she ended up staying with until I reunified with her. So it felt like the conversation of where she was going. I don’t recall it ever, including me.

Matt: How old were you at this point? 

Shrounda: I had my daughter when I was 38.

Matt: Just trying to understand, even for somebody that has no concept of addiction and addiction as a mom, like what’s happening for you. Those two years, two and a half years is you’re separated from your daughter internally what’s the struggle?

Shrounda: When you turn around and your life is what I’m describing.You stand in disbelief as you watch your life unfolding. And you’re like, you’ve got to be kidding me. I could not believe that was my. Um, I couldn’t believe that I had made all of these bad choices and that this is where I was that I had, you know, abandoned a child and not just my daughter, but my sons and every part of me wanted it to be better. It was a really, really hard place to be.

 I remember when I left my sons and they came running after me and they said, mom, please come back. I said, you guys will be better off without me. Now nothing could have been further from the truth, but in that moment, I hadn’t connected to how much I had and how much even in that I had to give to my children and they needed that and they deserve that. And I couldn’t connect to it.

Matt: It’s a dark place to be like, you feel this deep shame and sorrow and fear all about yourself. And that I’m not good enough for my kids. And yet your kids are saying, I just want you to be with me. I can only imagine the pain and there and then what it makes me think is the courage, like the strength to come out of that dark place and say, I am going to show up for myself and for my kids.

And I just wonder how that came to be like, how did you move out of that place and find your courage and strength to say I’m, I am going to show up for myself. For my kids and I am going to heal.

Shrounda: Well, I’m never forget this time when I was in treatment and the woman’s gone on and she’s passed on, but she was an incredible chemical dependency professional.

One time I was sitting in her office and my mom was angry with me and she was chastising me and my mom had a way of chastising me that even as a grown woman, it would reduce me down to a five-year-old child. And I remember I was talking with, uh, the counselor and the counselor was there during the conversation.

And at the end of the conversation, you know, I was getting ready to just kind of sulk away and she acknowledge my pain. Like she saw me. She saw the broken child, she saw the shattered woman, and I have to tell you very few people have ever acknowledged my own pain. And that was such a life changing moment that someone saw me.

Like they saw who I was and it wasn’t, this you’re not enough. It was, I see your pain. And I want to really comfort that that woman nurtured my soul and she changed my absolute life. That was one of the biggest and most amazing people I’ve ever come into contact with. It was something.

Matt: It’s really powerful. It’s that level of sort of deep relationship with another person, somebody actually seeing you.

Shrounda: And I think we don’t do that. Right. We wait for people to come and we say, when you’re ready, you got to show up like this.

Matt: Prove it to me. 

Shrounda: Yeah. And it’s just like, you know, I see you. I see you in this moment for who you are. You don’t have to be anyone, but you, it changed everything for me. No one, my entire. Had ever just acknowledged my pain. Yeah.

Matt: What a gift. Yeah. So where did that take you next?

Shrounda: I, um, stay in treatment and this is a hard treatment. That’s no longer around, but they had about 400 people that went through that treatment. And maybe about 40 of them graduated because most people just blew out of there. And so I  graduated and I got. I got a job site unseen as a commercial painter and I painted in a hospital and then a job said, you know, can you do something else? They lost the contract. And they said, what else can you do? I said, what do you need? They said, we need a bookkeeper. I said, I don’t know anything about keeping books, but I’m going to figure it out.

Believe it or not. I’m still their bookkeeper today. Um, I just did some work. Right. I, uh, went into the rooms of AA. With a bunch of misfits and I fit right in, it was the best thing ever. One of the ways I describe it is as you know, that broken girl inside of me just couldn’t come out. And so I, I pushed my daughter into the rooms of AA.

What I got and what I got to witness was that loving on her once I trusted and watched them week after week, month after month love on my daughter, the little girl inside of me came out. And they said, we can love on you too Shrounda long as you let us and my crew, the people I hung out with, they’re all sober today, but I just continued to do my work and I still continue to do my work.

And the work really does just about how we’re showing up in the world around us. What’s our contribution? What are we willing to give? What are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to admit that we don’t know? Those are the things that they’ve taught me and the basis of it is it’s just being led for exactly who I am and not feeling like I needed to be something else.

You know, you are in your perfection of Shrounda in this moment. They taught me how to do that.

Matt: So you kind of walked into two communities over that two or three year period of being separated from your daughter. It sounds like. So first as in treatment and your counselor shows this like just deep expression of love, and then you walk into the AA community, same thing, they just see you for who you are, but also your daughter’s now back with you.

And they are expressing their love for her too. And just demonstrating the power of relationship, the power of community without the pretense. And I know you more now, today, right. But we’re now fast forward. How long, how does your now?

Shrounda: My daughter is 14.

Matt: You reunified with your daughter when she was two.

So 12 years later to today, you’re a mom to a 14 year. What’s that like?

Shrounda: Well, I’ll tell you what Alexis is like and what it’s like to be her mom. First of all, she is very giving. She’s extremely helpful. She’s very funny. She’s carefree. She’s an incredible athlete. And I think the most wonderful attribute I can say about Alexis is she’s authentically herself.

And all of her glory and all of its destruction. And she’s been a great teacher for me. I always tell people, you know, Alexis has been my greatest teacher. My grandson has been my greatest love, but Alexis has been my greatest teacher. I’ve learned more about how to do this from that kid than. I always asked myself, what would I need as a 14 year old child?

What did I need? And are you doing that now? I explain stuff. Right? I explain my thinking behind a decision, because as I grew up as a child, you know what the reason was the reason. Right. And what I decided in my adulthood is, is I never want to silence your voice. I may not change my mind. But you can definitely voice what’s going on for you.

And she’s actually helped build the little girl inside of me recognizing you weren’t that off. You just needed a little bit more every day. I just decided, you know, how can I give that to her? And she’s really one of the most loveliest people I’ve ever met.

Matt: Really give me an example.

Shrounda: She’s just a nice person. She, you know, what’s really lovely about her.

I had some friends over the other day. And then she comes in and the first thing she does is she loves on my grandson. And I know we haven’t touched on that, but most would think, you know, this baby comes into your house and you’re buying for someone’s affection, right? Like, oh my God, here comes this guy and I’ve just watched her, just embrace him.

Like there’s no competition because she knows who she is. I love watching that. And I love watching how silly she is. One of the things in my own child was my household was so serious. There was no laughter and I just watched the two of them and she’s silly and she knows how to be silly. I’m not a silly person even today right. And I sit fascinated and watching her on how easy it is for her just to be fun. And, and to be honest with you, I wish I had more courage for that to come out of me, but I don’t think it will ever. 

Matt: Hang around here long enough. You never know. It’s cool. It’s beautiful though. I mean, and you’ve given so much to her clearly for her to be that way to your grandson.

So you said your grandson is the love of your life. So tell me about your grandson and how did he come to be with. 

Shrounda: Well so I’ve got a son in addiction and my grandson’s mother is an addiction and my grandson was 10 weeks early. So he was in the NICU and I visited him there. I’ll never forget when I went first time I seen him.

And if you’ve ever seen a child, 1.9 pounds, it’s a sight that what I came in, he smiled. And I feel like he was like, that was his signal of she’s here. His parents were not able to get their act together. And so I took him home from the hospital. His mom came here, his mother had another open CPS case at the time. And my son was adamant not to speak to the department. And they decided that he was too much of a risk. And we were able to get the children to come here. The mom was going to be able to be here with her child. And so she came into my home for two weeks and she left and she didn’t come back. It was me and my grandson.

And it’s been us ever since. 

Matt: He’s how old now? 

Shrounda: He’s three.

Matt: Three. Okay. Yeah. 

Shrounda: Terrible threes. Threes are hard age, but we’re making it. Yeah. So if you were to ask me to go into the court and say, Keen’s coming here to stay with me. I don’t think I would have said yes. I’ve never been prepared for a baby.

I don’t think I would have said yes. And when she’d left and wasn’t coming back, I still wasn’t convinced that he was going to be here permanently. I started to identify a foster family that I could stay connected to because I had envisioned that I would be connected to him that he would be cared by someone else.

At the time I had gotten him, I was afull-time student. I was working full time. He was 10 weeks early, so he was special needs. He had a whole host of requirements and testing and appointments. And I was just like, this is just too much. And each day, whatever needed to happen, did. Everything just fell into place 

Today I show up in love and faith and do the next indicated step. And I’ve got a three-year-old grandson we’re raising. And I want to say we’re raising cause he’s got a heck of a community. It’s that is a community baby.

Matt: Yeah, another community showing up to pour into you and you pour into them. I’m sure as well. Do you think king will be with you for forever? What, what do you envision?

Shrounda: We do not want king to be with me forever. I would love for him to launch and go on. Is that, yeah, let’s get that clear. Yeah. I mean, March 26, the state of Washington terminated his mother’s rights over the phone. No legal representation.

And currently my son is in negotiations for an open adoption agreement and we are headed towards adoption. So probably in the next 30 to 45 days, his perinatal rights will be relinquished. And then we’ll be moving on to the next phase. So, yeah, he’s not going anywhere.

Matt: It sounds like things are working fairly well with your son. And what about King’s mom? Is she still around? 

Shrounda: mean, I wouldn’t say things are working fairly well for my son. I would say the door is open for him. I think relationships are built fair investments and we received the dividend for that. And I don’t know what that looks like for his mother. And I don’t really know what that looks like for his father.

Matt: One day at a time.

Shrounda: That’s it? And you know, as my good friend said, whoever lived more than one day at a time anyway. 

Matt: Yeah. Right. Maybe it maybe a moment at a time is better. So now the family is you and your daughter and king that’s the immediate family. And then are there warm hugs in the family?

Shrounda: Oh, my gosh. Yes, of course, of course. I get a hug and a kiss and a demand for muffins every morning from king. That’s how we start our morning. My daughter always gives me a hug at night. She’s not a morning hugger, but she always asks me how my day is. The house is full of affection. I can not go a day without touching that kid. And I’m sure he would prefer if I would get my grubbies off of him, that I love that baby. More than anything in this world, King has my heart. I love that kid. 

Matt: Shrounda I want to zoom out to end this conversation because I know that in addition to being a mom, you know, you’re a professional you’re advocating for parents and families. You’re working on public policy, you’re doing a number of different things. So I want to ask. What your story means for the millions of families across the country that are dealing with some of the, the very same challenges and struggles that you’ve dealt with. And what does your story mean for all of those families?

Shrounda: The story is your story. We’re in this together. We are here to embrace and to uplift and to empower one another. If you have privilege, use it in a way that strengthens a family, that somewhere along the lines may not even have the foresight or the understanding of the barriers and the systems that are in play.

And I’m really grateful that people along my pathway have encouraged me and empowered me to take my rightful place as the mother to Alexis and the grandmother to King. I have that right.

Matt: Shawnda. You said something one time. I think I asked you, what does it mean to invest in families or what does it mean to invest in people?

And you said, the first thing we need to do is to make the investment of believing in people. And I think your story is a powerful example of that. So I just, I can’t thank you enough. I’m grateful. And, uh, always just love being with you. So thanks for spending your time with me.

Shrounda: your time. Thank you. I will end with your wonderful words that you just said that doesn’t just speak for child welfare. That speaks for your marriages. That speaks for your time with your children that speaks to your job, right? If there’s no separation. So please join us to build something that matters the most and what matters the most is each and every one of us.

Matt: You know throughout this conversation, Shrounda and I covered a lot of ground about her personal story, but we didn’t touch as much on her professional experience and expertise. And so before we wrap this episode, I just want to share a little bit of what I know about her work today. As I mentioned, Shrounda is a fierce advocate a parent ally ,she’s also a policy director for children’s home society of Washington, and she’s been busy over the last number of months as their legislative session has gone on. And then in Washington they’ve passed one bill. House bill 1227, the keeping families together act. This is really prioritizing, making sure that we’re not removing children when there are other alternatives to help keep families together.

She’s also been working on a bill to prioritize guardianship with relatives, for kids who are in the foster care system. So she’s out there doing a lot . To make our systems better for families. But what I think is really interesting about Shrounda’s story or her, her example of leadership is that, you know, she’s obviously had this major personal life transformation, and now she’s in a position to use her experiences to reach back and lift up other parents.

And she’s showing us what’s possible when people change. When we believe in. And when parents are in a position to lead us forward and create better opportunities in the future. And I just want to thanks Shrounda for that work. And again, I want to thank her for being on our podcast and sharing her story.

And before we end, let me kick it over to Isaiah.

Isaiah: I got you, man. Hey guys, I’m Isaiah Strozier and I am a part of the creative team. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of seen and heard by Institute for family, go to SeenAndHeardPodcast.com for videos, articles, additional clips about our guests and topics that we discussed on the show.

Be sure to rate and leave us a review because we want to know how these stories are influencing your work. A big, thanks goes out to our executive producer, Michael Osborne, editorial assistance from Paige Williams, mixing mastering and sound designed by Morgan Honaker. And our composer is Christian Haigus as always. Thank you guys so much for listening and I hope to see you next week.

More from this season / 6 Episodes

WHAT IF WE DIDN'T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL BAD ENOUGH

Spoken word poet, Slam Anderson, and her mom, Lillie Lee-Williams, engage in an emotional conversation with host Matt Anderson that demonstrates the strength of family bonds despite a 14-year child welfare-initiated separation. This episode questions what would happen if the child welfare system was designed to support root causes of family stress instead of waiting for late-stage intervention. Plus, Slam recites her spoken word poem “My Need for Change,” detailing her experiences with the system, which Matt Anderson refers to as the anthem” of the family well-being movement.  

PEOPLE CHANGE THROUGH STORIES

Systems change when people change. And people change through stories. Dr. Bruce Perry candidly offers compelling insights on the power and science of storytelling. This episode demonstrates how some of the most important things we can do to improve family well-being and change systems starts with listening.

MY DARKEST MOMENT WAS NO LONGER GOING TO BE BLEAK

Hear from Alise Morrissey about the impacts of individualsa volunteer, a judge, an attorney, and a program leaderwho offered glimmers of hope by seeing her for who she was instead of her circumstances. Alise tells her story of going from straight-A student to giving birth amidst a prison sentence. She reveals how her faith, the people who showed her kindness, and the determination of being there for her child led to recovery from substance use disorder and reunification with her daughter.

CRACK THE CONCRETE WHEN YOU WALK

Experience what life was like for Jaquia Wilson, the youngest of nine children, who went from growing up with a loving mother in the Bronx to aging out of foster care without a support system. Jaquia demonstrates resilience through the tragedy of losing her mother, becoming isolated from her siblings, experiencing an abortion, and entering foster care. With a little help from a caring social worker, Jaquia’s fighting spirit leads her to college and, now, advocacy work for youth in care.

THE WALLS STARTED TO COME DOWN

Hear about the loving relationship that developed between one foster family looking to adopt and one family fighting for reunification when they moved past the status quo and let their walls come down. Brett and Jessica Crisp decided to abandon their original plan of adoption to help a little girl placed in their care reunify with her parents. See what’s possible when this foster family decided to put their personal agenda aside and shift perspective to “what would I want to have happen if I were the birth parent?”

THE MOMENTUM IS BUILDING

From the national to community level, hear how the movement to prioritize family well-being is gaining momentum. In this season finale, Matt interviews three guests to hear the types of conversations taking place across the country around supporting families and recognizing their value. Jerry Milner, former Associate Commissioner at the Children’s Bureau, shares his perspective on the progress of the child welfare transformation work on a national scale. Sharee Pemberton and Hope B. Haywood of a rural county in North Carolina discuss how community leaders can bring about change and build trust through listening to families and meeting them where they are.