2000 Jordan Institute
Serving the Same Families: Fruitful Relationships Between DSS and Family Resource Centers
When she hears people talking about whether family support programs and child welfare services will work together, Berta Hammerstein can't help but smile. Although she doesn't say it in so many words, Hammerstein, a family support specialist for the N. C. Division of Social Services (DSS), thinks they're missing the boat.
"I have found that, while family support and child welfare theorists discuss collaboration, local family support programs and their child protective service counterparts are simply doing it," Hammerstein says. "Particularly in the last two to three years, they've recognized their common goals and have found a variety of effective ways to pursue those goals together."
Hammerstein says that of the 55 family resource centers (FRCs) in North Carolina supported by state and federal funds, at least 20 are actively and systematically engaged with their local DSS child welfare services. "There is no question of how to get DSS and these programs togethermost have had DSS reps on their boards since the beginning," she says.
By way of example, Hammerstein points to Transylvania County, North Carolina, where the county DSS and others collaborated to establish the Family Center of Transylvania County. One of the core components of this FRC is the Transylvania Parent Cooperative.
Transylvania Parent Cooperative
From the very beginning, one of the primary objectives of the Family Center of Transylvania County has been to reduce the instances of child abuse and neglect in its community. Involving the director of Transylvania County DSS, Carson Griffin, and a Guardian ad Litem on its board of directors, this FRC set its sights on building community and supports for parents in a rural county where, for some at least, social isolation and poor social support had been chronic problemsand possibly root problems behind child abuse and neglect.
To address this problem, the FRC established a parent cooperative. The cooperative is a joint child care arrangementif you wish to have free child care for three hours, you must first watch others' children for three hours. Parents must attend preservice and quarterly training if they want to participate, however. Ann Limbaugh, director of the FRC, explains that this instruction teaches parents "about child development, age-appropriate forms of discipline, and accepting and appreciating their child's temperament and the temperament of other children."
The cooperative has been a success. Not only is it teaching parents skills they may not have learned from their parents, it is providing them with a point of contact with other families.
Bladen County: Welfare to Work
In Bladen County, North Carolina, the Welfare to Work program has been a key point of collaboration between the county's family support agency, Bladen Family Support Initiative (BFSI), and DSS.
Bladen County DSS, BFSI, and Bladen Community College formed a partnership to serve welfare recipients. In this arrangement, DSS supplies the referrals, BFSI provides family assessment and support, and the community college provides training to get the people participating in the program ready for work.
The agencies meet once a month to share files and come up with solutions for the families they all serve. DSS hosts the meetings; topics of concern are decided on before the meetings based on input from all agencies. Quessie Peterson, director of BFSI, notes that since they began collaborating, communication between DSS and BFSI has been significantly enhanced.
Peterson initially anticipated an increase in referrals from DSS with Welfare to Work implementation. She suspected that neglect cases might increase when mothers entering the workforce could not find adequate child care. Yet this increase never materialized. Peterson hypothesizes that the Smart Start program (another family support program) in her county addresses this potential problem with child care.
Jackson County: Parenting Classes
Some FRCs and county DSS's are also working together to fill service gaps. For example, when staff from Jackson County, North Carolina, DSS and their local FRC realized there was a need for parenting training for at-risk families in their community, they combined forces. The FRC provided the facility, funding, and other resources. DSS workers volunteered their time to prepare and teach this nine-week course. Other support was provided by the FRC coordinator, a VISTA volunteer, local departments of health and mental health, and the local cooperative extension.
Developed, marketed, and taught by DSS, the class was not mandated. "We were determined to make it successful," says Rhoda Ammons, a family preservation worker at Jackson County DSS. "Therefore we decided that clients could be encouraged to come [to the class], but participation was not allowed to be mandated."
DSS social workers prepared meals for the participants before the class and arranged to have transportation and child care provided. Some activities included children in order to show that having fun with your children is a good parenting skill. Ammons notes that "it was nice [for the DSS workers] to offer something not mandated" and in a different atmosphere.
Ammons believes the class helped DSS workers think in a more family-centered way and that clients' perceptions about workers changed for the better. The class is time-intensive for social workers putting in volunteer hours plus their regular work responsibilities, but overall it appears to be positive experience both for families and workers.
Fairgrove Family Resource Center
Even when they don't have formal arrangements, FRCs and DSS's across the state are finding that families benefit when they work together. Connie Sizemore, director of Davidson (North Carolina) County's Fairgrove FRC, recalls one example of this. A family had its children removed by DSS. As part of their treatment plan, these parents were required to attend a 13-week "Life Learning" class offered at Fairgrove FRC.
At the beginning of the class, the father would barely speak, and there was obvious tension between the husband and wife over their family situation. But over the course of the class they learned a great deal about communicating and building relationships with spouses, parents, and the community. The class also focused on topics that were relevant to the needs of the parents attending the class, such as anger management.
The parents in this particular case became very involved in the class; they were also extraordinarily committed to substance abuse counseling. In a surprisingly short period of time, they managed to turn their lives around. They got their kids back, they are more connected to their community, and they are still in touch with the FRC. As a result, the mother in the family was able to say, "What happened to us is the best thing that could have happened. It wasn't easy, but it was for the best."
© 2000 Jordan Institute for Families