New Horizons’ Family Safety Net – First Responders Stabilizes Families in CrisisPublished Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Ms. W. was the center of attention. Seated at a desk in a secluded meeting room at New Horizons Community Health Center, the single mother of two faced the circle of partners assembled on her behalf.
“You’re hurt, you’re angry, you’re confused – you don’t know what to do,” Ms. W told the group, trying to explain the grief that had stormed into her life over the past year.
|Clinical supervisor Joy Clark facilitates a family team
Two months before, her 20-year-old son had been fatally shot just feet from the front door of their Liberty City home. Earlier in the year, she lost both her husband and a sister – more tragedy than one person could bear.
Ms. W’s life spiraled out of control. She feared for her own life and that of her 17-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, if they stayed in the same home. Feared for her son to return to his high school – that he might be targeted too. Feared losing her job. Feared every time a car with tinted windows pulled up beside her in traffic. The tension and fear were wrenching the family apart. Help was desperately needed.
Help arrived from New Horizon's Family Safety Net – First Responders, a service partnership funded by The Children’s Trust. The program, which operates at three sites – Brownsville, Liberty City and Overtown – coordinated a team conference between community partners and family members to craft an individual course of action for Ms. W.
“Our thrust is to keep children with their families and families intact. We’re a 24-hour service staff on duty – very responsive,” explained Dr. Luvernice Croskey, executive director of New Horizons Community Health Center. “First Responders is not about providing services – we coordinate services. It’s a better way of spending citizens’ money because the services are out there; we make sure that clients access whatever services are needed.”
The partnership mobilizes to stabilize families in crisis – such as Ms. W’s. It helps, too, in other situations where a family’s crisis might lead to the neglect, abuse or abandonment of the children involved. By coordinating the Department of Children and Family, law enforcement and other core partners, families are kept intact, when that is the preferred solution, and further problems are averted.
|New Horizons First Responder Team Members (left to right):
Cheryl Pestaina, Lee Humphrey, Cedric Taylor, Cindy Fils,
Marie Marable, Wilton Escarmant, Marsha Williams, Lauren
Butler and Jeanine Houston.
At the family conference, New Horizon care coordinator Lauren Butler and clinical supervisor Joy Clark established clear ground rules and focused on the strengths of the family members. “We’re going to be positive because this is a positive process. We’re here for this family,” Butler told the group.
They guided the conversation, jotting important points on poster paper as the partners described what they’d done and would continue to do to get Ms. W’s and her family’s lives back on some manageable track.
Chris Stevenson, an administrator with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, arranged for her 17-year-old son to transfer to a different high school so he could graduate on time. Penelope Penny Bivins, of the county’s Public Housing Department, arranged for the family to relocate to new housing in Miami Gardens. Convenient bus routes were discussed, and even how to repair Ms. W’s car’s transmission, damaged the day her son was shot.
Chekia Hill and Willard Mitchell, both from Youth on the Move, a New Horizons initiative funded separately by The Children’s Trust to prevent youth violence and to educate parents, shared that they had counseled the teenage son. “He’s a very good student and we’re not going to let this boy be thrown away,” Mitchell said.
“The affected family has natural supports. We highlight those and help to reduce the isolation of these high-stressed families and to address the issues that lead to neglect,” said Dr. Yvonne McCullough-Wakhisi, chief clinical officer at New Horizons. “Neglect is one of the big issues that spills over to adolescent violence playing out.”
Renita Holmes, a community bereavement specialist with The Women’s Association and Alliance Against Injustice and Violence, said she would continue to provide comfort and care to help Ms. W. through her grief.
New Horizons has been providing mental health services in the Miami community for nearly three decades. First Responders, one of their many services, replicates the Community Partnership for the Protection of Children developed by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. The partnership is based on the notion that children's well-being depends on strong families, and strong families depend on good connections with other families, local organizations, and community institutions.
Cheryl Pestaina, in her second year as the project’s director, said that the partnership’s success depends on training and certifying the care coordinators, those who convene the community partners and help the family identify their strengths and natural helpers. The coordinators’ must earn the trust of the children and family, and engage them and the partners. “We have to educate everybody all at the same time,” she said.
The family selects the site for the team meeting. New Horizons offices are available, but clients often prefer a site that better protects their confidentiality. Wherever the meeting is held, coordinators do their utmost to convene everyone who has a role to play.
Yet despite the best intentions, things don’t always go smoothly. At the family meeting at New Horizons, Ms. W. struggled with the decision to relocate. She would be farther from her job and distant from her friends and the neighborhood she knew. Facilitator Butler empathized that the decision was extremely difficult. She reminded Ms. W that the decision was hers to make - and that the group had worked hard to offer options to improve the family's situation.
“We want to see you succeed and move beyond this,” Butler told her, “We need you to work with us as much as possible.”
Ms. W. grew quiet for a moment and then remembered the situation after her son was shot and killed.
“The police were there for a few minutes and then left saying ‘We don’t know what to do for you.’ Later the woman from New Horizons came – ‘let me get you some guys who can help you,’ she told me. I can’t tell you how thankful I am. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Written by Michael R. Malone