The return of Shelly Lacy: Tulalip’s former CEO takes the helm at beda?chelh

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

Shelly Lacy is certainly a woman who needs no introduction. Her resume speaks for itself. However, we thought it was important to include one in this article, because we wouldn’t think of throwing our readers into a Q&A without any context.

During the final week of May, the Interim Executive Director of the Tulalip’s Family Advocacy department, Jade Carela, announced some exciting news through the Tribe’s governmental emailing system. That news was that Shelly Lacy was retiring from retirement and making a return to the Tulalip’s workforce as the new manager of the beda?chelh program. 

Shortly thereafter, Tulalip News scheduled a one-on-one interview with Shelly. And through the interview, we were able to catch a glimpse of her brilliance as she passionately shared the love she has for the future leaders of the Tribe, as well as her desire to help keep families together and reunify children with their parents, if and when possible, while serving in her new position at beda?chelh. 

We invite you to read the following transcription, a series of questions that are often raised within the community, and Shelly’s detailed, straightforward, and heartfelt responses. In turn, we hope you gain a little insight on what beda?chelh is, it’s function and operations in the community, and why it’s an important program for Tulalip children and families. 

Why don’t we start with a little bit about your background – an intro to who are, who your family is…

My parents are Joy Jones Lacy and Cecil Lacy, my dad’s deceased. My grandparents were George and Louella Pratt. I belong to the Jones family. I had one brother and one sister. She’s Cecile “C.C.” Lacy Eastman. And then my brother was Cecil Lacy Jr. And I have one daughter, Joylee, and a new granddaughter, she’s a year old now. 

You’ve had a big hand in shaping the Tribe and its future over the years, can you share a little about your career thus far, and why it’s important for you to work for your people and community?

When I first started working, I worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs for 10 years; I worked in forestry, enrollment, and as contracting officer. I then came back to the Tribe as a health and social services administrator. I also worked in contracts and grants, and I’ve worked as the quality assurance privacy officer, as general manager. 

Then I was principal at Heritage High School for nine and a half years. I came back to the Tribe as the beda?chelh manager for six months before I moved into the CEO position. And then I took a year off to be with my grandbaby and spend her first year with her. 

My family has always told us that it is our job to get an education and come back to help our people. And because I held the beda?chelh job for only six months – it just felt like there’s still work to do here. There’s still work to do to support our social workers in our community. 

Can you explain what beda?chelh is and the purpose it serves the community?

beda?chelh actually means ‘our children’ in our language. We are the child welfare agency for the Tribe. We do have CPS services, but we actually co-investigate with the State. So, the State does the investigation, and our social workers go with them. If it’s decided that a case will be open, we have ongoing social workers that then can take over the case. And all the cases are done in our tribal court.

We have foster care placement teams that are currently looking into licensing our tribal homes as foster homes. They also reach out to families to make sure that if we’re removing a child, that we try to find a family member to place them with. They do check-ins, home studies. And then they also check-in with the families to see what kind of support they need when they first get the kids. And then we have guardianships, so if our kids can’t be moved back home, then their long-term plan might be guardianship. And we have a team that supports the guardianship families as well.

There’s a bit of a negative perception in the community about beda?chelh, can you touch on that, and talk about what you envision the program growing into?

I think that the community has the perception that social workers take their kids. But really, beda?chelh does the investigation, and then presents it to the judge. The judge decides if the kids are going to be placed in home dependency and the parents get services, or if they’re going to be placed out of home while the parents get services. And so, I think that it’s just reminding people that beda?chelh is here to help. 

For example, we had parents – one of their barriers was car insurance. We found resources to help them with that. First, with getting their car insurance and then also helping them budget. Sometimes, it’s those little things that are keeping the parents back. 

We’ve also heard feedback from parents that they need more assistance. We’re looking at how to continue to grow our focus to help parents get the services that they need. 

If reunification is possible, is that the ultimate goal?

Yes, reunification is always the goal. Because kids want to be with their parents. Our goal is always to try to provide whatever services we can to reunite the families. But, addiction, as we all know, is sometimes a hard disease to fight. And sometimes, it takes parents longer to win that addiction battle. Sometimes kids have to go into guardianship, because we just couldn’t reach that point with their parents to keep them safe yet. 

Can you talk about the process and the steps that a parent would need to take in order to be reunified with their children?

Well, every case is a little bit different, because it depends on why the children were taken. The State and the Tribe do a co-investigation, and if the complaint is founded, that means that there’s enough facts to show that the children could be at harm, then the case is open. 

The judge will decide to either do a safety plan and leave the kids in the home with the parents or if the kids are going to be removed from the home. If they’re going to be removed, then we have to have a family meeting to see if we can find family to place the kids with. And then we’re looking at what services do the parents need to get their kids back, but it all depends on why the kids were removed. 

And then the case managers do active efforts – a lot of outreach to the parents, helping them get the services they need. And then, depending on their case, as they complete their services, we’ll move toward the process of setting up supervised visits with their kids, and then unsupervised visits, and then we’ll start working towards weekend visits. We start working on transitioning the kids back in the home. We want to make sure that as the kids are transitioned in the home, we are providing those wraparound services in the homes to help the parents have the support they need to get their kids back in their home. 

You mentioned wraparound services, I know that beda?chelh works with a lot of different programs to bring services and resources to the families. Can you talk about the importance of those relationships and how it helps the families with an open case?

We do a lot of work with Family Haven, they have a lot of our FPS (family preservation services) and our wraparound services. That allows the provider to go into the home and really provide those one-on-one services that are geared to whatever the family needs. It might be ‘we need bins to help our kids keep their toys organized’, or ‘I need help getting my kids on a routine so that they’re doing their homework’. They can help with whatever the family needs. And that’s really useful because then it’s not that cookie cutter kind of services. 

We work with family services, the health clinic, youth services, the tribal police department, housing. There’s a lot of departments that we work with to get whatever services are our clients need.

For those parents who are feeling overwhelmed right now what is the message that you’d like to share with them?

That I hope that they would take a breath and know that we’re here to support them. My door is open they can always call me if they need support. Call us and we can try to work through everything with you. And just know that we’re here as a resource for you, so please reach out to us.

How does it feel when the parents are finally reunified with their kids? 

There’s lots of happy tears – there’s LOTS of it. It’s a hard emotion to explain, because we’re so happy that the kids get to be with their parents. You get to see the smile on their faces. You get to see how proud the parents are of themselves, because they’ve done a lot of work. I kind of don’t have the words for it. It just makes my heart feel really happy. 

When a child does get placed in a home, does beda?chelh keep in contact with the kiddo and the placement family?

It really depends on which kind of placement. When they’re still in foster placement, and when the case is still open, we’re trying to reunify them with their parents. There’s a lot of intensive work that’s done with the family, with the parents, with the kids, and with the foster parents. Usually, once it’s decided that we can’t reunify and we’re moving towards the guardianship, for the first three years the guardianship team is really involved. After that,  it’s more the family reaches out to us if they have an issue. 

Part of my work will be looking at the code (Tulalip tribal codes Chapter 4.05 Juvenile and Family Code) and our policies to see are they up to date. And we’re going to start with guardianship and adoption. We’ll be asking for community input and having some community meetings around that so we can hear from people. Because when kids are in guardianship, we don’t terminate parental rights and the Tribe is still responsible for the children. 

I think that we need to look at the code to see if we are able to continue to do yearly check-ins to see how it’s going. Checking-in with the kids and seeing if there’s anything that we can help them with. Just to let them know that we still love them, that we still care about them, that they’re still part of us. 

Why is it important for the kids to stay with a family member or in the community?

Because they’re our kids. We want to make sure that they’re always a part of our community. They’re our resource. They’re our future. They’re the ones that are going to take care of everyone down the line. We need them here learning our culture, learning that they always have family that cares about them, and really to be wrapped in love by our community. 

As the new beda?chelh manager, what are some things that you want to address right off the bat?

Like I mentioned, the code is really the major thing to start with, because all of our work comes from the code, from our policies to our SOPs for all of our positions. And then it’s really about looking at our code to see if it’s reflective of us as a community. Is it reflective of our cultural values? Because that guides the work that we need to do.

From there, we look at training our staff. Making sure our staff has the knowledge of who we are as Tulalip people, our values, why our kids are important to us, and how we treat our kids and our families. 

Does beda?chelh host events or get togethers for the kids and families in the program? 

Yes, our placement team has done a few in the past and we’re now looking to do an event night once a month. They’re doing cultural activities for our placement families; we’re looking at different projects like that – basket weaving, paddle necklaces, and we’ve talked about bone games or stick games. And we have a Christmas event every year. And because our employees and our community graciously sponsor our kids, they’re able to get extra special Christmases. 

Why is it important to incorporate the culture and make sure that is still a part of their lives?

Because we want them to know where they come from. We don’t have as many kids in non-tribal homes as we have in the past, but we still have some. We also have some Tulalip families who might have just moved back home, and they might not have grown up here and might not know the culture all that well. 

All the research shows us that if kids know where they’re from, they know their background. If they see people like themselves, they can feel that community love and they’re going to be more successful; they’re going to have less issues as they get older. We really want to make sure that our kids know who they are, that they can see us, they can connect with us. This is their community, and they always have a place here. 

Now that you’re in this position, can you describe that feeling and what you’re most looking forward to the most?

I’m just happy to be here. Some of our staff that we have here now were actually my students at Heritage, so it’s nice that I get to see them at work. But for me, my family raised me to always give back to the community, that is our job. Just like it’s our job is to go to general council meetings, because we’re a member of this Tribe – that’s our responsibility. This is my responsibility. I’m here with my education and my experience to give back to my community. Education and our children have always been part of my passion. It’s good to be here, to be able to support our families in any way that I can.

For additional information about beda?chelh and the services that the program offers, please contact (360) 716-3284.