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DHS announces Family Empowerment Centers to stabilize at-risk families

The new centers are designed for intervention and prevention.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) announced the opening of two new Family Empowerment Centers, with the goal of child abuse prevention for at-risk families.

These programs, which will be fully operational on May 6 seek to reduce the number of children placed with the department by diverting families to prevention services before something happens that would result in them getting involved with DHS.

They are specifically targeting families who may have had previous negative experiences with social services, child welfare, or government offices. The DHS recognizes that such experiences can be a barrier to accessing services that help parents better care for their children, so family engagement is the keystone of these new programs.

“The idea here is making sure that [the] family is stabilized so that we can help reduce the number of kids that are coming into our system,” said Waleska Maldonado, deputy commissioner for Community Based Prevention Services.

These centers are designed for families who:

  • Are at risk of child abuse, neglect, or delinquency.
  • Were referred to DHS and not accepted for formal services, but may still be involved in a DHS investigation.
  • Have children ages 0-17 once referred for maltreatment who have addressed all safety threats for now, but are still at risk for future problems.
  • Are transitioning from the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.

These programs are voluntary for families.

Maldonado said that the families are found via referrals from a hotline or a phone call from school or a neighbor.

“So when we receive the call, it is our job to be able to look at the severity of the case, and then we determine whether or not this is a good case for the Family Empowerment Center,” she said.

“Our goal is to make sure there is no sign of child abuse and/or neglect. If there is a sign that there has been child abuse and/or neglect, then we have to formally open the case up for child welfare services. However, if there is not any sign of child abuse and/or neglect, but we see that there are factors in this home that would put the family at risk for being open for a case, then we send them to the center.”

For example, if DHS is notified that a child is in a home during the winter that has no heat or in a home with no food in it, the family may be referred to the centers.

The centers will be operated by two private providers – the Village in the southwest section of Philadelphia and Congreso de Latinos Unidos in North Philadelphia. They were chosen after a competitive bidding process. Each center will have a contract for $1.5 million for the 2020 fiscal year.

Once at the centers, families will be connected to community-based support systems to meet ongoing needs. With services such as parenting groups, housing supports, access to funding for food, cribs, and clothing, and education and employment support, these centers seek to take a community approach to familial assistance. In addition, they will be offering intensive case management, including home visits, referrals to mental health or substance abuse services, health care connections, and social development support.

Said Maldonado: “We don’t want them to come into our system, so we are giving them resources and different supports to keep them out of our system.”

The Notebook’s coverage of system-involved youth is made possible by a grant from the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

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