A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in a meeting at the Family Resource Center in Springfield, MA. The setting was just right for a meeting aimed at fostering collaboration.
Funded by the Department of Children & Families (DCF), this Family Resource Center has programming and services to meet a range of family needs (e.g., housing information, access to Department of Transitional Assistance services, etc.). Tucked between a Dunkin Donuts and a high school, the space (and its staff) is cheerful – with a colorful, sunny room full of toys and books for their littlest “customers” – and another bright room with desks and computers for families to meet with Resource Center staff to help them sort through a range of service options available to them. In a couple of “neighborhood closets,” racks hang with clothes for adults and children in the community who need them, and storage closets contain diapers and new toys.
With members of the DCF Springfield area office (including the Director who is leading this initiative), administrators from the Springfield Public Schools, the Executive Director of the Family Resource Center, and an intern from Springfield College at the table – hopes were high for a pilot initiative that will demonstrate that DCF and the Springfield Public Schools can work together in new ways to produce better educational outcomes for children in state custody.
The basis for this pilot initiative is a formal agreement between the Department of Children & Families’ local Springfield office and the Springfield Public Schools to share educational data about foster children. In order to learn more about the students in its custody, DCF has offered to deploy two of its Springfield College social work interns to review the cases and education data on a sample (approximately 30 to 40) of foster children who have high absence rates and/or poor academic performance. The interns will work with case workers at DCF and staff at SPS to look closely at the students’ individual circumstances and match those students and their families with community resources and services they need.
That’s where the Family Resource Center enters the picture. Because the Resource Center already offers a variety of services and supports to families in Springfield, they are at the table as full partners. They are willing to expand services and programming, depending on the needs that the interns uncover. They are willing to offer a homework club, teen parenting group, and tutoring services – and they have other ideas brewing as well. As a result of these discussions, SPS is now bringing some of its Parent Academy courses – for families of children in the Springfield Public Schools - on site to the Family Resource Center. These courses are free of charge to families and range from parenting to career development to learning about local and statewide resources available to families.
The give and take between the school department and this particular state agency is a critical step in making real the Child & Youth Readiness Cabinet’s charge to foster collaboration and coordination among state agencies to better support the Commonwealth’s children, youth and families. We are hard at work developing other such exciting examples with the hope that pilots such as this can be replicated throughout the state, so that we can improve service delivery to and outcomes for our state’s most vulnerable children.