KVC Kansas is one of five organizations implementing the Strengthening Families program, which provides early intervention to children from birth to age three who entered foster care due to parental substance abuse. The program is part of a larger $2.9 million, five-year federal grant awarded to the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare.
There’s an enormous amount of research on the brain development that happens in the first few years of life. Children who have been removed from their homes due to parental substance abuse – the number one reason for child removal from the home in Kansas – are at a greater risk of negative effects during these years. The evidence-based Strengthening Families program maximizes this crucial phase of neurobiological and psychological development by teaching families parenting and communication skills. By forging strong relationships between parents and their children, the program seeks to increase child safety and wellbeing in the home and thus increase the likelihood of reunification and permanency.
This is the second time KVC has participated in the program, but the first time it has been for children age three and under. Families participate for 2.5 hours per week for 16 weeks (with 12 families per session and four sessions per year, approximately 48 families served by KVC benefit per year).
KVC has established many community partnerships to enhance the program and make it more sustainable. As an example, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, KS generously hosts the groups who meet in the Kansas City area. Each meeting has three parts: first, a group dinner; then, play group for children while parents learn new skills; and finally, the families are reunited so adults can practice approaches like infant massage, singing and bedtime routines with their children. Other KC-area partners include the Lenexa Police Department, the Regional Prevention Center of Johnson County, Community Corrections and Johnson County Mental Health Center.
“Our community partners help create a better experience for families. For example, many families like that the meetings happen at a church rather than at a government office and they like that a police officer volunteers as a facilitator,” said Lindsey Stephenson, Director of Integrated Services for KVC’s Kansas City Metro Region. “Our partners see participating as a way of showing that they care about vulnerable children and families in their neighborhoods. Their involvement also makes the program more financially sustainable, which is a win for everyone.”
While data on the program’s impact among families with infants and toddlers won’t be available this year, research on the program’s previously demonstrated impact among families with children age four and up is incredibly positive. Strengthening Families reduced the length of time a child spends in foster care or other out-of-home care by more than 240 days, saving significant taxpayer dollars while also achieving strong child and family outcomes.
The nearly $3-million program called Kansas Serves Substance-Affected Families has five main partners: the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF), the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), and the state’s two foster care agencies: Saint Francis Community Services and KVC Kansas.