According to a February 1st article in the Indy Star, the amount of children in foster care has more than doubled in the last 5 years. In fact, according to the article, “Indiana has more children in its child welfare system than any surrounding state — including those with nearly twice Indiana’s overall population”. This is clearly a crisis for Hoosier children and families. While there is substantial disagreement in the Indiana General Assembly as to the reasons for this dramatic rise, both sides agree something needs to be done to address the situation. While people at DCS and in the State House debate what should be done to help Indiana’s most vulnerable children, we here at Fathers and Families Center continue our work.
This year marks Fathers and Families Center’s 25th anniversary of serving Marion County families. During our 25 years we have refined an innovative approach to addressing the issue of children growing up without both parents. Fathers and Families Center’s approach is to assist parents in gaining the life-skills they need through a holistic continuum of programs and services so they can become more engaged and productive parents whose children never end up being involved with DCS. In former DCS Director Mary Bonaventura’s resignation letter last December she stated, among other things, that the opioid epidemic is one of the driving causes of the dramatic increase of children in the child welfare system. Fathers and Families Center has a full-time Licensed Mental Health Counselor on staff and also partners with Fairbanks Hospital to provide drug treatment counseling for our program participants. This is a prime example of Fathers and Families Center’s approach to ensuring child welfare. By helping parents end their addiction to drugs, we dramatically decrease the chances their child will end up in the child welfare system.
Fathers and Families Center provides much more than addiction/mental health counseling, however. We also offer job readiness instruction and advanced training certification. In fact, this year Fathers and Families Center was chosen once again as a recipient of EmployIndy’s Community Development Block Grant. EmployIndy works with Community Based Organizations who have a proven track record of helping low-income, underqualified residents gain the skills necessary to compete for the high-demand, high-skilled jobs of today. This year Fathers and Families Center will partner with a diverse group of local training providers such as Hoosier Occupational Training Services, Health and Science Innovation, The Indiana Plan, and Ivy Tech to offer advanced training opportunities to all of our participants. When a parent is unemployed they are more likely to make dangerous life choices in order to make ends meet, which drastically increases their children’s chances of ending up in the child welfare system; alternatively, when a parent is gainfully employed in a fulfilling job, their children are far less likely to end up in the child welfare system.
The type of interventions discussed above form the crux of Fathers and Families Center’s approach to helping decrease the amount of children who are engaged with the child welfare system. We help their parents so the children never end up there in the first place. While fixing DCS is of the utmost importance to ensure the most vulnerable children in Indiana have a safe place to grow up, addressing the challenges facing parents (that cause children to end up in the care of DCS) is equally.