Foster care alumni community loses ‘shining star’

The foster care alumni community lost a champion with the recent death of Misty Stenslie Claassen.

Claassen died peacefully at her Minnesota home on April 30 after a six-year battle with tick-borne diseases and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. A private memorial service was held May 4.

She served as director of Alumni Relations at Casey Family Programs from January 2001 to November 2002 before founding Foster Care Alumni of America in 2004.

“She was a shining star,” said Chiemi Davis, a senior director for Strategic Consulting at Casey Family Programs.

“‘Nothing about us without us’ is a phrase she coined. Casey Family Programs took that to heart,” Davis said. “If we were going to develop services or materials to support work we were doing in child welfare, we couldn’t do it without people who had been consumers of the service.”

Claassen created a curriculum for child welfare professionals called “Better Together,” still in use around the country, that incorporates alumni experiences and invites them to the table to have a voice, Davis said.

“I think that she had some of the most profound impact on child welfare in looking at the older youth in care and the importance of permanency,” Davis said.

Bill Stanton served as the board chair of Foster Care Alumni of America for five years during Claassen’s tenure there.

“I would describe Misty as the mother of Foster Care Alumni of America,” said Stanton, now a senior director for Strategic Consulting at Casey. “It was her baby. It was her vision that people who grew up in foster care needed to have a voice.”

Claassen “really started this movement of involving youth who were in foster care in the decision-making about what happens to them in their lives,” he added.

‘Nothing about us without us’ is a phrase she coined. Casey took that to heart.

– Chiemi Davis, senior director for Strategic Consulting

In a post on its website, FCAA recognized her contributions.

Misty founded Foster Care Alumni of America in 2004 and brought alumni from across the country together to raise their voices for change. She inspired, mentored, made us laugh and feel loved. She was courageous and led us all to dream big. Misty was dearly cherished by countless friends and colleagues. She left her mark on the world and on the foster care community. Help us to honor her memory by carrying on her legacy.

Claassen was “a pioneer during a time when three landmark foster care alumni studies were being conducted,” said Dr. Peter Pecora, managing director of Research Services for Casey Family Programs. “She helped Casey develop approaches for engaging foster care alumni, helping them learn how to share their stories in ways that were powerful but not hurtful to the alumni. Misty testified before legislators about the service gaps and lack of youth involvement in case planning and services provision. And she supported the movement to have more siblings placed together. … We miss her spirit and energy.”

Her national contributions included powerful, personal testimony to a congressional committee in 2008 about the overmedication of youth in foster care.

“We know that sometimes that medication serves as a lifeline — it makes it possible for the young person to get through a particular crisis. … We also know that medications often are given as a substitute for what young people really need — stability, love, power, hope, and someone who sees them and hears them.”

A foster care alumna who became a foster mother herself, she received a Casey Excellence for Children Award for alumni from Casey Family Programs in 2011 in recognition of her work.

“She created so many opportunities and was so sensitive to the complexities of young people either in care or as they transitioned out,” Davis said. “She was a gift in so many ways.”

Donations in her memory can be made on the Foster Care Alumni of America’s website.

Condolences and memories can be shared with the family here.