Children's Voice Nov/Dec 2006

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Answering the Call for Help

CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund has helped child welfare agencies get back on their feet again.


By Jennifer Michael

A resource center for foster families, a neighborhood tutoring program, dozens of maintenance projects, and a postadoption services program--these are just a few of the projects made possible through CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund. Since December 2005, CWLA has awarded grants from $14,000 to $150,000 to child welfare agencies adversely affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

The Katrina Kids Fund was made possible through donations to CWLA, a financial contribution from the Freddie Mac Foundation, and the proceeds from the uBid for Hurricane Relief live celebrity auction and online auction in October 2005.

"The Katrina Kids fund has made a tangible difference in the lives of children and families affected by last year's hurricanes in the Gulf Region," says Maxine B. Baker, President and CEO of the Freddie Mac Foundation. "The Freddie Mac Foundation is committed to children, and especially in the aftermath of tragedy and disaster, we are proud to work with groups such as the Child Welfare League of America to ensure that our most vulnerable population, our children, are taken care of."

Following are more details about how CWLA's support has helped agencies get their facilities back up and running, pay down debt, revive programs disrupted by the storm, and ensure a smoother poststorm transition for the families and children they serve.

Lightening the Burden

Never in its 45-year history has Devereux Texas Treatment Network undergone an evacuation of the magnitude caused by Hurricane Rita.

Ninety-five staff at Devereux's League City, Texas, facility evacuated with the 110 severely emotionally disturbed adolescents they serve, many of them having long histories of severe abuse and neglect. The group successfully made the 240-mile trip to their evacuation site, but only after long hours on the road.

What Rita left behind were devastated families and a large financial burden for Devereux--the only local provider of acute care programs for children and adolescents. Its costs included the expense of evacuating, restoring the campus to full operational status, and lost revenue from closing programs for 10 days.

In the months following the storm, donor fatigue set in, and Devereux found it difficult to meet its fundraising goals. Last spring, the agency was approximately $400,000 behind its normal fundraising totals for that time of the year.

"Our losses are minimal compared to those experienced by many due to Rita and Katrina," Devereux explained in its grant request to CWLA, "but we feel considerable strain on our ability to operate as normal."

To lighten Devereux's burden and enhance its ability to meet the needs of the children it serves, CWLA awarded the agency $100,000 from the Katrina Kids Fund. This money will help Devereux pay for staff salaries and benefits, repairs and clean-up to its facility, operating expenses, and the travel expenses of the evacuation from and return to its League City campus.

"Our organization will be stronger in several ways as a result of this need being met," Devereux said in its grant request. "Receiving external recognition of our efforts and financial support from CWLA will be a big boost to both staff morale and our finances. We will be much more likely to meet our financial expectations and ensure the future of these much needed programs."

Preparing for the Future

With the help of CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund, Kingsley House is fortifying its New Orleans campus to withstand the furies of hurricanes to come.

Using an $80,000 gift from CWLA, Kingsley House is embarking on deferred maintenance projects throughout the 63,000 square feet of space it maintains in downtown New Orleans. These projects include exterior painting, replacing and sealing parapets, replacing doors and inadequate security devices, repairing air conditioning, inspecting water drainage, ensuring the campus architectural elements meet historic district requirements, and hiring a project manager to guide the deferred maintenance work.

Executive Director Keith Leiderman says his organization, which has been serving children and families in New Orleans for 110 years, is grateful to receive the funds from CWLA because facility repair monies are hard to come by.

"There are so few funders who recognize that, even with good insurance coverage and some FEMA assistance, there is additional work that neither of those entities will cover that must be done to mitigate future storm-related damages," Leiderman says. "CWLA's foresightedness is helping us to do exactly that."

Kingsley House sustained more than $1.5 million in damage to its historic facility due to Hurricane Katrina. Nine of its 11 historic buildings sustained minor to significant damage. All of the losses were due to wind or water entering the facility through damaged roofing, dormers, windows, and doors.

All Kingsley House staff were temporarily displaced following the storm, and today, only about 30% of staff have been retained to assist the agency's recovery.

Leiderman is crossing his fingers another hurricane doesn't blow through New Orleans this year before Kingsley House has completed all of its repairs, but he notes that, at the very least, "CWLA's support has brought us the flexibility we need to manage the process well."

Focusing on Families

As evacuees from areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina began to stream into Fort Worth, Texas, the American Red Cross and the City of Fort Worth turned to Lena Pope Home to help provide mental health support to displaced individuals living in shelters.

Lena Pope Home was established in 1930 to meet the needs of children and families during the Great Depression and postwar years. Today, the organization serves more than 20,000 children and families each year.

Lena Pope Home put its resources to work immediately as hurricane evacuees began to stream into the area last fall. In addition to the general counseling services the agency provided, one family received a car through the organization's car donation program, two received assistance through the home's Holiday Assistance Program, two received transportation help to and from appointments, and the agency adopted a family by making living arrangements for them and paying their utilities, as well as hiring one of the family members as a behavior interventionist consultant.

A $14,000 award from CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund will help Lena Pope Home recover much of the costs it incurred providing these resources outside of its normal duties. Most of the money will cover the costs of food and housing the agency provided evacuees. The other funds will cover regular and overtime salaries, benefits, and transportation costs for about 50 staff who served evacuees staying in shelters and motels. The grant will also cover the cost of a translator who was hired for two young, hearing-impaired evacuees.

"A lot of agencies out there are still struggling, and we're just very appreciative that our application was granted," says Associate Director of Development Angie Gofredo. "We will continue to serve the families from Katrina, but having this grant helps us continue to serve them. There's not a lot of money out there being offered to those organizations that are helping after Katrina. It's great when you see organizations like CWLA make that commitment and support their member agencies."

Supporting Foster Parents

The Southern Mississippi Foster Parent Association (SMFPA) created its Family Resource Center in Moss Point, Mississippi--located between Gulfport and Biloxi--to provide foster families with donated items to help them better care for their children. The center gives out such items as clothing, household goods, cribs, and car seats. When Hurricane Katrina hit the state, the center became a rock amid the storm.

Though the center was damaged by the massive storm, then looted, SMFPA members went into the building and made it a distribution center for much needed supplies for families, such as diapers, hygiene products, and clothing during the initial chaotic days of recovery.

SMFPA's Resource Center has since been condemned, but funding from CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund will help revive it. In April, CWLA awarded $43,400 to the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA; SMFPA is an affiliate member) to oversee the Family Resource Center's restoration. The money will cover one year's rent for a new center, new equipment and furnishings, support group training, and administrative and operating costs.

SMFPA reopened the center last summer. In addition to once again providing extra resources for area foster families, the center will also resume training classes for families whose foster parent licenses are due to expire.

"As families move back into the area, either into repaired houses or into FEMA-supplied trailers while repairs are under way, their need for the kind of support provided by SMFPA and its resources is even more critical," NFPA wrote in its grant application. "This grant will provide them the seed money to get back on their feetOe[and] continue to operate as a support for familiesOeThis association has been very resourceful in the past, and with a little hand up, they can be again." NFPA's hope is for SMFPA's Family Resource Center to become a model for similar programs in other states.

Southeastern Louisiana will become the next recipient of such a center, thanks to a second CWLA Katrina Kids Fund grant to NFPA. Similar to the Mississippi project, a CWLA grant to NFPA totaling $42,300 will fund one-year's rent, equipment and furnishing, training, and administrative and operating costs for a center in Metairie, Louisiana. NFPA will work with the Southeast Foster and Adoptive Parents' Association (SFAPA) to establish the center to serve the more than 100 foster families in the six-parish region, including New Orleans.

"This is a support group that is anxious to grow," according to NFPA's grant application, "and the members are excited about the opportunity to develop a resource center to meet the needs of families. Foster parent support groups are a well-recognized means for these families to help each other in many ways...This is...especially true in this region, where so many have lost so much."

Filling a Funding Gap

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Raintree Children and Family Services was inundated with calls seeking placement of children in foster care. The storm had interrupted training and recruiting of foster parents, and the number of available foster homes was dwindling.

To make matters worse, Raintree found it was the only foster group home for girls still operating in New Orleans during the months following the storm. In addition to the group home, Raintree also oversees a private family foster care program.

Raintree remained operational after the storm, despite damage to its buildings and a brief evacuation to Houston, but its efforts have been compromised by the storm's interruption of fundraising. With postal service unavailable throughout the city, and Raintree's donor base displaced, the nonprofit organization's annual end-of-year donation appeal and its annual March gala--activities that usually generate more than $85,000 in proceeds--had to be set aside.

To help make up for this loss, CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund awarded $65,882 to Raintree to hire and train foster care case managers; to recruit, screen, and train foster families; and to implement a media campaign to recruit foster families. The grant will also offset utility, and maintenance, repair expenses.

Supporting Postadoption Services

Adoption is a lifelong commitment for both parents and child, but adoption doesn't always mean a happy ending. Nationally, 14% of adoptions end up disrupted, and the children are placed back into the child welfare system. Four years ago, Mississippi was facing an adoption disruption rate of 30%.

A new statewide postadoption services program, created through a partnership between the Mississippi Department of Human Services and Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, has tackled the problem and helped lowered the disruption rate to 7%.

Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, however, the success of these efforts have been compromised. Southern Christian Services lost equipment and was unable to operate out of its Gulfport office--the organization's main office is in Jackson.

"Katrina affected our ability to deliver postadoption services to families affected by Katrina," a grant application from Southern Christian Services explains. "No other agency is delivering these services. As families move into long-term recovery following Katrina, they are experiencing very stressful situations that will undoubtedly impact their parenting capabilities. Families who are at this time still living in tents, trailers, motels, and damaged dwellings are in dire circumstances. Adoptive families with special-needs children are at risk of disruptions and family conflict."

A $74,855 grant from CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund is helping launch the organization's Partners in Permanency program. Most of the funding is paying the salaries and benefits of four permanency specialists in Gulfport, Indianola, Jackson, and Tupelo. The rest is offsetting the program's rent and utility expenses.

Adoptive and foster-adoptive families of children with special needs are receiving a comprehensive array of permanency services through Partners in Permanency, including on-call crisis case management, daily and weekly respite in homes of trained respite families, a toll-free hotline for foster and adoptive parents to call if they need help, training classes, support groups, newsletters, a website, and an extensive lending library of resource information on children's behaviors.

Cleaning Up

Saint Francis Academy's (SFA) facilities in Mississippi were so damaged by Hurricane Katrina that the staff and 20 children at the nonprofit child welfare agency found themselves in Kansas.

Although far from home, evacuating to SFA's Midwest headquarters ensured their safety. It also gave them time to instigate a recovery plan and seek funding to repair $360,000 in damage to two facilities--Bascot Home for Youth in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and St. Michael's Campus for Youth in Picayune, both of which provide 24-hour residential care for boys ages 10-18 coping with emotional and behavioral issues.

As a CWLA member, SFA immediately looked to CWLA's Katrina Kids Fund for help and received a $150,000 award. The funding has taken care of many of the $450,000 in losses not covered by insurance, including fence repair, tree removal, grounds cleanup, a new septic tank, and new flooring at the St. Michael's campus. At the Bascot Home, the grant purchased two industrial freezers and a dishwasher, and repaired fencing and buildings damaged by flooding. The award also covered insurance deductibles and travel expenses from evacuating the children and staff to Kansas and transporting them back to Mississippi.

"In receiving such a grant, we were able to begin cleanup...and get those campuses back to at least being a safe environment," says Vice President of Development Sharon Ringler. "These are kids with extremely high special needs, and we are just so grateful that we are able to continue those programs and not have to close them down."

Filling Needs

Hurricane Katrina drove approximately 20,000 evacuees from New Orleans to [Port Arthur, Texas], overwhelming its thin resources. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Rita struck...Few organizations in Port Arthur [are] providing needed services to children and families.

Three grocery stores, an entire shopping mall, a pharmacy, and various businesses have closed...Jobs were lost, and many resources that would have been dedicated to assisting children and families are now going to assist hurricane recovery.

Finally, information about disaster relief and planning are limited. This funding request will allow DFPS to move beyond prehurricane levels by restoring social services, enhancing educational programs and job training opportunities, and preventing future problems of this magnitude through disaster preparation.

This description in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' (DFPS) grant application summed up the extent of the situation facing the agency's work in Port Arthur, where 25% of the 57,755 residents live in poverty.

CWLA awarded $41,200 to help support DFPS relief efforts in Port Arthur, including providing residents with evacuation preparedness information and planning, as well as health services, emergency needs, food, and shelter. The award will also support a neighborhood tutoring program projected to conduct 800 tutoring sessions for some 270 children--about 15 sessions per child.

"As a result of the CWLA and [other] grant awards, residents in Port Arthur...will receive needed services to address some of the impact caused by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita," said Joyce James, Assistant Child Protective Services Commissioner for DFPS. "The services...we will be able to provide due to the grant...will have a profound impact on the lives of the children in this area. In addition, the community will become knowledgeable on hurricane preparedness and will have an evacuation plan in place."

Jennifer Michael is Managing Editor of Children's Voice.

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