2004 Jordan Institute
9, No. 2
Families on the Grow
As far as we know, Families
on the Grow is the only child welfare program in North Carolina specifically
designed to serve families where a parent has cognitive limitations. To
learn about this innovative program we spoke with Laura Quinn, MA, the
programs consultant psychologist and lead instructor.
How did Families on
the Grow get started?
It began in 1997 as an idea shared by two employees of Wake County Human
Services: Gaye Styron, CPS Treatment and Program Manager, and Gretchen
Evans, child welfare supervisor. They and other members of the community
recognized that many more families with cognitively limited parents were
being served by DSS in an involuntary way than through other community
agencies. They wanted to find a way to identify and support these parents
before they got involved with the child welfare system.
Families on the Grow took
full form in 1998 as a multi-agency collaboration. Partners included our
CPS treatment unit, the ARC of Wake County, Wake Technical Community College,
and Community Partnerships, which provided in-home training to parents
on a voluntary basis.
This collaborative enterprise struggled to stay together from the beginning.
It had difficulty with conflicting responsibilities and mandates, communication
problems, and a lack of sustainable funding for services to families not
involved with child welfare. The collaborative aspect of the program came
apart in spring 2000, though we kept meeting through spring 2002. Today,
to get the support they need, cognitively limited parents in Wake County
must either be involved with child welfare or be receiving services through
one of the countys DD case managers. Child welfare is by far the
swifter route to serviceswaiting lists for DD services in North
Carolina can be long, and parents arent given priority over other
people, despite the consequences this can have for their children.
What is Families on
the Grow today?
Today Families on the Grow is based completely at Wake County Human Services.
We have a special CPS unit consisting of six specially-trained CPS treatment
case workers, one supervisor, and a part-time psychologist/trainer. The
unit is paid for with a combination of county, state, and federal funding,
just like our other CPS units.
Using information about
the parents we were seeing, we developed an
easy-to-use assessment tool. Parents are assessed using this scale
whenever there is an open CPS/foster care case. Parents identified as
at risk are referred to me or another psychologist for evaluation.
I use the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scale, the Weschler, and other
tools to determine their level of cognitive function. If parents are found
to be limited they are admitted to the program, where they are:
- Enrolled in an intensive,
specialized parenting class. Unlike typical parenting classes, which
meet for two hours or so once a week for ten weeks, Families on the
Grow parenting classes are offered in a 15-week series in which classes
occur three times a week. To meet the needs of parents, these classes
are characterized by more repetition; simpler, more concrete language;
a slower pace; many hands-on activities; and a focus on the small parts
that make up different parenting tasks. Reading materials are geared
to people who read at a second or third grade level.
- Referred to other community
agencies and supportive community services. Referrals are not enough
with this population, Quinn says. Social workers must take the
time to train these parents to make and keep straightforward appointments,
such as doctors appointments. However, if there is any complexity
to the appointment (e.g., one for SSI), parents fare much better when
they have an advocate or professional attend with them.
- In-home services delivered
by specially-trained caseworkers. The program often hires people
with expertise in developmental disabilities or early intervention.
Do you have any advice
for child welfare workers?
Identifying cognitively-limited parents is a critical first step. After
that, provide appropriate referrals and education. Get parents to keep
a daily routineit is great for them and their kids, but it is hard
to do! Be prepared to provide extra support.
For more information about
Families on the Grow, contact Laura Quinn (919/212-7195; firstname.lastname@example.org).
and Children Served by
Families on the Grow
Most are women. 90% of the cognitively-limited parents involved
with Families on the Grow are women. When men are involved, they
are usually a partner/husband. Families on the Grow has never
served a family where the father was the primary caregiver for
disproportionately represented. White parents involved in
Families on the Grow are often from rural areas.
Status of children.
In 50% of families involved with Families on the Grow the children
are still at home. The rate of removal is much higher for
this population, Quinn says. Reunification is rare,
but it happens.
from isolation. Because they often do not work, have no transportation,
and often have no spouse and a limited social support network,
mothers in Families on the Grow get depressed, overwhelmed, and
lonely. When this happens, getting the children into a good daycare
program is extremely useful; it gives the children the stimulation
they need and reduces their mothers stress.
Many have dual
or multi-diagnoses. Many mothers in Families on the Grow also
suffer from depression, anxiety, mental illness, personality disorders,
and substance abuse.
These moms experience disproportionately high rates of domestic
violence. Quinn suspects this is due in part to the fact many
of these mothers depend heavily on their partners for income.
for this and other articles in this issue