Class Acts: Kai Radford

Danforth Scholar to work with St. Louis foster children

Senior Kai Radford started serving St. Louis’ children when she, herself, was a child — reading at story times, helping at camps, supporting victims of violence. A decade later, she is poised to continue that work as a foster care case manager, building strong families and advocating for some of the 4,500 local children in the foster care system. 

“I’m very blessed and thankful to come from a family that is strong and united,” said Radford, a Danforth Scholar. “Helping support the whole family will be at the center of what I will be doing in my new role. This work is hard. I can’t fix everything, and I don’t expect myself to. But we owe these families more.”

Radford is slated to graduate in May with a degree in African and African American studies, and a minor in children’s studies, from Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Ultimately, she plans to earn a master’s in social work. Here, Radford shares more about her experience with children and why she wants to start her career in her hometown.

Radford with her boyfriend, Jacob Tipton, on the Union Station Ferris wheel.

Radford on where she takes visitors to St. Louis: It may be a cliche, but Forest Park never gets old and is one of the best aspects of St. Louis. Almost everything is free (which is wild) and amazingly fun! Our zoo is one of the best in the country and our art museum is outstanding. Another beautiful place in St. Louis is the public library downtown. The building was built in 1912 and it is a wonderful piece of architecture that isn’t talked about enough.

Why are you interested in working with children?

Ever since middle school, I’ve been volunteering with children. I’ve worked at Head Start, my library, the children’s unit of a domestic violence center and, more recently, I’ve mentored youth in the family court system. When I think about why I want to work with children, I remember this little girl that I met at Head Start. She was so quiet, but day after day she opened up a little more. First she learned my name and then she would come running for me and, by the end of the summer, she was filled with laughter. I saw her open up and learn different things and it was beautiful to see that transformation.

How has your academic work prepared you for this field?

I took an African and African American studies class that was also a children’s studies class — ‘Juvenile Justice and the Black Experience’ — and it made me really want to learn more. So I took classes on Black girlhood and developmental psychology and a class about the importance of play. I never thought you could study play! What I have learned in my classes has influenced how I interact with children. And my experiences with children inform my academic work.

Why stay in St. Louis?

I honestly want some more time to be around my family. And St. Louis also has great need for case managers. I feel like I have a very complicated relationship with St. Louis. Growing up, I would see how everything became nicer as I would drive from my neighborhood to my high school in Frontenac. It was like I was in two different cities, and that disparity made me angry. Now, I have a more nuanced view of St. Louis. There is so much to love about St. Louis, like the amazing food scene. The disparities are there, but there are also so many great people here who are doing the work to make St. Louis better.

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