The Family to Family division of the Children and Family Services Department recently hosted their county-wide appreciation event for the
community partnerships in Victorville. Co-chairs of the event were Evelyn Glenn, Community Partner and Dr. Wesley Sanders, chair of the County-wide Building Community
Partnerships. After a breakfast buffet and musical selections by Frances Busby, Dr. Sanders introduced the supervising social services practitioners (SSSP) for the Eastern, Central and Western regions; they in turn introduced their team members present.
Community partner Willie Cockrell, was the instrumentalist for the event; he was joined by soloist Patsy Wright. Wright is also a social services practitioner for the department.
The concept of Family to Family is to utilize community partners to work with the County Department of Children and Family Services. They follow a concept developed by the Annie Casey Foundation, that of bringing in community members to the discussions of child removal and placement in foster homes. That keeps children in the same school, and close to the same neighborhood if that is a safe environment for them.
Keynote speaker was Randall Schultz, Children and Family Services assistant director. He shared reflections of the last seven years the community partners have been active in the department's decision- making process. Family to Family began in 2005 to bring more collaboration; it was introduced in Rialto by Jeff Wagner, Children and Family Deputy Director, for the north desert region. Family to Family emphasizes the impact of children’s removal from their biological parents. It uses care principles that work for improvement. The team working together for input in child placement decisions looks at other options than those that were the primary rule in the past. They have recently added another strategy, that of “Supporting father’s involvement.” Schultz added that the department is good at finding fathers, but not in really involving them. Instead of focusing on family weaknesses, the goal should be the improvement of the family unit.
The Family to Family program has enabled the department to expand its focus; the emphasis is on re-unification, long term foster care is no longer the goal of the department.
Schultz shared some cases from each of the regions represented that changed the course of action. In one case the mother felt comforted by the community partner, and was able to share the hidden secret of domestic violence in the home. That information changed the direction the department would utilize from removal of the children to the family getting a secure safe house. Another community partner commuted to pick up children from a home where the mother had health issues and the children were not attending school. They left home, but never made it to school until they were escorted by the community partner.
He also lauded the faith-based team decision makers, because they are able to look beyond the typical surface problems to assist the families in a non-judgmental way. Children entering foster homes have decreased since Family to Family started, and the number of children placed with their siblings has increased. The time spent in foster families has also decreased.
Supervising Social Services practitioner Damion Wright explained the new initiative that targets fathers. It is growing out of Family to Family. Those cases with multiple issues are usually those without dads engaged actively in their children’s lives. Now they are looking at ways the department can engage these fathers in positive ways that will have an impact on children’s lives. They have been tragically left out of the decision-making process of their own children. He shared a video that chronicles the importance of fathers in their children’s lives. Before the video he shared some of the systemic reason the fathers may be absent from their children’s lives in a safe environment. The video, “Show More Love,” consisted of interviews with children about some of the issues they have with their own dads. The majority were from homes where the father was absent. Most stated their grandfathers were the dominant male and role model in their lives. They unconditionally stated they wanted a different environment for their children when they become parents.
The theme was “You Are the Wind Beneath Our Wings,” sung by Patsy Wright just prior to closing remarks by Dr. Wesley Sanders.
For families dealing with the department and want to know if the Family to Family program is operational in their region, they should ask the case worker, or check the website for Children and Family Services, listed under County of San Bernardino.