February 19, 2011

Maine Voices: Parents work with child welfare agencies, communities for best results

The Parents as Partners program brings people with experience together with families in crisis.

SOUTH PORTLAND - There has been a lot of commentary recently about the effectiveness and price tag of Maine's child welfare system.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Christine Cassella and Shauntel Workman of South Portland are Parent Partners (www.cppccumberland.org).

As mothers who have at one time been involved with our state's child welfare system and now help parents navigate that same system, we would like to add our voices to this important discussion.

There are alternative and innovative approaches to keeping children safe, in their own homes and united with their families. These approaches are happening right now in neighborhoods near you.

We have long known that public agencies in Maine, like their counterparts nationwide, lack the resources to manage the challenges of supporting vulnerable children and families.

Recognizing this, and the fact that so many of the prevailing models for supporting families were inadequate, parents and community partners in the region began working together and with the Department of Health and Human Services in 2005. This group shared information, improved planning and problem solving, and increased access to resources.

As a result, many communities throughout our region have adopted the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC) approach to connecting families to neighborhood supports.

CPPC works to strengthen communities with "old-fashioned" principles. Families and neighbors watching out for one another, identifying the most critical needs in their neighborhoods and then seeking local resources to fulfill those needs, creates a sense of community child protection.

This approach is changing the way that parents, DHHS, police, social service workers, schools, faith communities and businesses work together. And it works while saving the taxpayer money.

When children are removed from their homes, the stakes are high for the family, as are the costs for the state. Research gathered after years of removing children from their homes shows that a child almost always fares much worse growing up a ward of the state.

In CPPC communities, we have significantly reduced the number of children entering state care. This new approach is helping to change the system, family by family, by providing hope and encouragement to families and supporting parents and providers to work together effectively.

Above all, Community Partnerships keep children safe and help them thrive by keeping them in their own homes, and connected to their friends, schools and neighborhoods.

A critical component of the CPPC work is Parents as Partners, part of a national movement but the first program of its kind in Maine.

Parent Partners are reunified birth parents with extensive training, supervision and support. This program matches parents like us, who have been reunified with our children, with parents who are in crisis.

As Parent Partners, we guide families through the system and provide hope that they too can succeed. Involvement with Child Protective Services brings a flood of emotions and trauma, especially when resulting in the removal of a child.

Being parents who have been in that very situation, we know what it feels like and can offer a compassionate ear. In a system that is, for parents, historically feared and rarely trusted, we are greeted by families with a deep sense of openness and trust that comes from our shared experience.

This trust helps tremendously in our efforts to bridge the gap between the department and families. DHHS works together with Parent Partners to promote a team approach which reduces family anxiety, increases family engagement in the process, and leads to more successful outcomes.

Participation in Parents as Partners is strictly voluntary. We provide education to parents about the child welfare system and help them understand what to expect as they go through the process. In addition, we teach them new skills like effective communication, stress management and how to gain a voice in the process.

We help parents connect to resources in their own communities and will support them at any stage of their involvement in child protective services. We help them navigate multiple systems, meet with the parents weekly, attend Family Team Meetings and offer support at court proceedings.

Unlike any other provider, we can offer first-hand knowledge and experience to support them in successful reunification with their children.

The collaboration of community partners, including neighborhood resources, engages a network of people who share the same mission and approach to supporting families.

Maine families, even those at the highest levels of risk, can be successful. As these innovative approaches clearly demonstrate, we can change the way all parties work together to keep our children safe.

- Special to the Press Herald

 

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