Family resource centers support Indiana families to prevent child maltreatment
Thursday, September 08, 2022
According to a 2020 report from the U.S. Children’s Bureau, over 618,000 children nationally and 22,658 here in Indiana are victims of child maltreatment annually. Finding ways to prevent neglect and abuse before it happens – while ultimately helping all children reach their full potential – is critical and requires community support.
A major challenge for maltreatment prevention efforts is that services and supports are often stigmatized, and it can be difficult to know what’s available and where to find it. To find a solution to that challenge, researchers at the IU School of Social Work have collaborated over the last two and a half years with the Indiana Department of Health, the Indiana Department of Child Services, Firefly Children and Family Alliance, Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana and many other state and local partners on Strengthening Indiana Families.
Now at its midway point, the project has had nearly 6,000 visitors walk through the doors of their new family resource centers in four Indiana counties, offering support and resources to local families and providing a proof of concept for other communities interested in offering similar programs. A one-stop-shop for services and supports, each family resource center is staffed by members of the local community and host regular family fun events and programming for kids and adolescents and offer families access to food, baby supplies, computers, printers and a range of services offered by organizations in their community.
“In collaboration with our partners, we are working to create strong and caring communities where Hoosier families have equitable access to the resources they need to be connected and safe,” said Susana Mariscal, IU School of Social Work associate professor and project director. “We are working with our partners to prevent child maltreatment by supporting families before any abuse occurs, building on their strengths and connections, reducing potential risks and engaging community resources around families. Our project is part of a nationwide shift toward prevention by supporting families in our communities so that all children can reach their full potential.”
To do that, the Strengthening Indiana Families project has opened a family resource center in Indiana’s Delaware, Grant, Tipton and Madison counties. These communities were selected based on data collected during the project’s first year – including a comprehensive needs assessment, interviews and focus groups, and the development of a statewide steering committee and local multi-system implementation teams.
The location of each center corresponds to zip codes in each county with the highest rates of foster care entry to ensure that the families in the area can easily access its services, resources and events. The team moved away from a more traditional clinical feel and opened centers in places where families would feel more comfortable and want to congregate and build relationships, like local churches.
“Being a part of the implementation of the Family Resource Centers has been an amazing adventure,” said Jill Kelly, vice president of prevention services at Firefly Children & Family Alliance, implementing partner on the project. “The communities have come together to focus on family strengths and normalize how difficult parenting can be for every single parent. It warms my heart to know that our centers are a safe place for families to come, ask for help and work together to keep children and families healthy.”
The support and resources offered in each center is tailored to its community’s unique needs, with community partners, center coordinators and community navigators playing a key role in identifying the best ways to support local families. While not every service can be provided there, those that can be – such as recovery supports, safe sleep education, nutrition classes, registration for health insurance or job counseling – are offered in the center rather than referring families to another agency where they might not feel as comfortable.
“This is truly a community-driven, community-discerned and community-led project,” said Bryan Victor, an assistant professor at Wayne State University, who helped launch the program while at the IU School of Social Work. “We couldn’t have done this without the outpouring of support across the state and within each county. These counties have really taken ownership in and feel proud of the centers in their communities, and they should be.”
Each community has mobilized resources to support their families – from hairstylists who provide free haircuts, librarians who held story time at each location, music centers who hosted free workshops for families to build musical instruments, community agencies who sponsored free laundry days and more.
“This is exactly what we wanted – to create a space where families would feel comfortable coming to, sitting and relaxing and to feel like they’re not alone,” Mariscal said. “We have allowed ourselves to dream, and we are so happy and inspired by how this project is turning out. It is far beyond what we initially imagined, and our dreams are even bigger now because our amazing staff and community partners are making our dreams a reality.”
Other communities and collaborators across the state have expressed interest in taking a similar approach in their own towns. The team plans to develop and share a toolkit to help guide these communities through the process of opening and operating their own family resource centers.
“We have shown that family resource centers can be part of a comprehensive approach to supporting families and preventing maltreatment,” Victor said. “Families are showing up in a big way, and we really think this can be an innovative and useful model in promoting cross-system collaboration, strengthening families and promoting protective factors. We hope this project can be a source of learning and support for other communities who want to bring family resource centers to their area.”
The team is also addressing race, equity and inclusion in the program, including enhanced education around trauma and culturally responsive services, and increased outreach to minoritized communities, whose children, Mariscal said, are overrepresented in the foster care system.
“Many people who experienced adversity may have trauma responses at different times in their life, and by supporting families, we can prevent that,” Mariscal said. “It is necessary to invest more in preventing maltreatment related traumatic experiences in the first place rather than trying to heal them – it’s not just about the monetary cost, but also about the emotional cost and consequences it has on the life of that person, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, substance misuse and the like – prevention should always be a priority. For prevention to be effective, we need everybody in the community to be part of this effort. Let’s all support families in our communities to enhance their wellbeing and build on their resilience, strengths and connections so that all children can fulfill their promise and reach their whole potential.”
Strengthening Indiana Families is funded through a $2.85 million, five-year grant by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Over 200 local and state partners, including implementing partner Firefly Children & Family Alliance, have helped the project reach its goal of making stronger, more resilient Hoosier families.
This product was supported by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, USDHHS, under grant 90CA1864. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Children’s Bureau.
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