I love fall! I love that this is a time of year where folks appreciate all they have in their life and look for ways to make one another's lives better. We wanted to thank all of you that were able to attend our open house on Thursday, November 9th—now known as "Family Advocates Day" in Idaho per Lt. Governor Brad Little. Woohoo!
We also wanted to invite you to be a part of our Operation Santa collaboration this year. We are fortunate to partner with Easter Seals Goodwill on December 9th to host roughly 50 families for a day of shopping and fun! Santa and elves will be on hand to help parents gather up items for their holiday celebrations and get them wrapped up, all while the children get a gift card to shop in the store with the help of a police officer or firefighter. This should be a fun morning filled with the holiday spirit, a spirit that is much more than basic. It is the joy of building family traditions and helping families reduce their stress during a tough month.
If you would like learn more about being a volunteer elf for Operation Santa, email Alicia at email@example.com. If you would like to contribute new toys or warm clothing for the celebration, or know a family that is looking for some support this season, have them email me at Jaime@strongandsafe.org. Thank you for all you do to make every day a bit brighter for children and families in Idaho!
November really is a wonderful month—and not only because it is my birth-month!
The time dedicated to food and family over Thanksgiving, the treasuring of Halloween's last candy morsels, and the promise of pumpkin spice everything…it's really a fantastic time to be surrounded by loved ones and share your gratitude. This same sentiment is the reason why we want to invite you into our home. On November 9th, our team will be throwing open the doors of our programs and unveiling the hard work that they have done this year to change and grow. We would be honored if you could share in our gratitude that day.
Thursday, November 9th
Family Advocates Office
3010 W. State Street - Boise
To invite your friends to the open house, or to check out the details, share our Facebook invite page here. This is a fun celebration open to the public and we hope to see you there!
Judge Ellis welcomed 23 new volunteer Guardians ad Litem into the 4th District Court Appoint Special Advocates (CASA) Program this month. We admit, they had us teary-eyed. The strengthen and selflessness of these brave volunteers is overwhelming. We were fortunate to be visited by media, KIVI-Channel 6 On Your Side as well as KTVB-Channel 7, were both present to document this momentous occasion. Please view the video below and encourage your social network to join the Family Advocates' family as a volunteer and supporter of children in need. Our website (www.strongandsafe.org) has more information on attending an upcoming volunteer orientation or story tour.
For the past several years, Family Advocates has been the fortunate recipient of the Back to School Drive through Scripps Media and Albertsons. I know what you're thinking, "Aren't these the two businesses that support Family Advocates through the Community Baby Shower?" The answer is YES. To borrow a phrase from one of our Guardians ad Litem, Sue Walch, how cool is that?!
Last year, we were surprised by the team at Albertsons with cart-loads of school supplies as well as a $1,000 check to promote school readiness for our kiddos. The impact was phenomenal. We were able to fill 201 backpacks of all grades for children involved with our programs. We held shopping days where families could stop by and fill a backpack full of essential school items and where volunteers helped the kids pick out the coolest items for their ages. This year, we will be hosting another round of school shopping days and are seeking volunteers to help our kiddos shop the first week in August. If you, your family, and your friends are interested in helping one of those days, please contact us and we'll fill you in on the details.
For more information on last year's event, check out http://www.albertsons.com/schoolsupply/ and stay tuned for details on how many backpacks we are able to fill this year!
In the nonprofit sector, we have a term to sum up the items we receive and pass through to our program participants. We use the same term for the long hours our trained volunteers dedicate to the well-being of our children and parents. When the term is defined by the IRS, it leaves out so much that our programs reap the benefit of. The term "in-kind" is exactly that. The kindness of others given freely to the people left vulnerable and in need of resources. In-kind is a beautiful word in our world. Check out this ADORABLE interview with one of our children, James--a beneficiary of your in-kind.
Did you know that last fiscal year our organization had over half of our budget provided in-kind? That number will only be increasing this year due to people like you. The passionate folks that volunteer, the community members that give diapers and wipes during our Community Baby Shower (June 21st this year!), and the people that give us the financial support that sustains our professional staff. The word in-kind is just that. Your kindness is the only reason why we are able to work with children and families in Idaho.
Some days are tough around the office. The team works hard to help strengthen families and keep kids safe but there are some wicked stories that our volunteers share with us. And some days you get a bright spot—a massive, blinding, amazing light of thanks. A courageous participant in our BabySteps program recently wrote this letter of thanks. I hope it moves you as much as it moved me.
Our volunteers offer support in all four of the Family Advocates programs; BabySteps, Parent Support Groups, Youth Enhancement Program, and, of course, CASA. All programs are desperately seeking volunteers and the children and parents we serve need your help. Who knows the good work we do better than you? You, our donor, volunteer, and community supporter, are poised to help the children who go unserved in CASA and YEP. You know the parents that need education and guidance from amazing volunteers in BabySteps and the Parent Support Groups. HELP!
It is devastating that we have to withdraw from 30% of the cases we are appointed to in CASA. Nothing is more frustrating than have 150 children show up to groups without the adequate people-power to offer them activities that their minds crave.
Our volunteer goals in 2017 are;
- 73 more Guardians ad Litem able to take 1 or more cases per year (about 10-15 hours per month)
- 20 volunteers in our youth programs (about 3 hours per week)
- 4 Parent Group Facilitators and 4 Parent Group Leads (about 2 hours per week)
Do you have a group we can speak to regarding this need? Bunco, Bible Study, Wine Club, Book Club, Lions, Rotary—we need to reach out to the community and tell them how one positive adult can alter the course of a child or family. Do you know a friend or family member that would be a good volunteer? Have them attend one of our volunteer orientations. And, to our current volunteers who put their heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, and personal finances into these jobs….THANK YOU!
Change, new ideas, and artists don't always have to be scary. At least, that is my new mantra. Let's get one thing clear, I am not an artist. I cannot produce a visual representation of an idea and have never taken a marketing class. Thank goodness for professionals. Luckily, through DaviesMoore, the team at Family Advocates is learning about thinking outside the box. Personally, my brain is being stretched in new directions, and it is all due to an amazing group of artists that formed the True Story Project.
The DaviesMoore team somehow convinced (bribed?) the talented True Story Project to provide a spoken word piece showcasing the children in our CASA program. As you know, sharing the stories of our mission is crucial to getting the volunteers and financial support that make all of our programs possible. Our most difficult story to tell is the children's perspective on the abuse, neglect, and abandonment that they endure. Hundreds of children in our CASA program experience unimaginable situations and Family Advocates attempts, using data and general stories, to expose this problem to the community. Let's just say…True Story Project does it MUCH better.
This year, at our annual luncheon, the True Story Project will share a story through a child's lens. An emotional plea for the normalization of abuse, the harsh reality of living away from your biological relatives, and the fear of the unknown future. We couldn't be more impressed with the sensitivity, creativity, and truth that they bring to our children's lives. While seats are almost filled, you can contact Lindsay@strongandsafe.org to see this once-in-a-lifetime story. Plus, if you feel inspired to give while you're there, you know that it will be invested in protecting children and preventing them from ever experiencing abuse in the first place—the Family Advocates' mission.
Even though the weather is growing warmer, sunnier, and increasing everyone's happy dispositions, I have found myself mulling over the cold, hard facts of the child protection system in our state. A few weeks ago, the Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE) presented on their investigation into the child welfare system in Idaho. They uncovered some new information but the simple bottom line is: the system needs improvement. We couldn't agree more, and we include ourselves in that evaluation.
The report offers input from the courts, foster parents, Guardians ad Litem, and the Department of Health and Welfare. The outlook is not great. As we see an increase in kids involved in the child protection system, we also see a decrease in the number of available foster homes (8% decrease between 2014-2017), as well as the continued struggle to find volunteer Guardians for each case. While the report did not go into the CASA program in-depth, it did highlight one area that I found interesting. Of the individuals surveyed by OPE, 77% of Guardians ad Litem said that CASA is an effective source of accountability to the court with 41% of foster parents and 26% of case workers agreeing with that statement.
Those percentages don't worry me. Our Guardians are in court to represent the best interests of children; not the best interests of the biological parents, the foster parents, or the Department of Health and Welfare. Our amazing volunteers work in professional collaboration with each of these groups and value the input of each party to the case, but we are there to present information on behalf of the children.
A few of the recommendations from OPE include; 1) establish a legislative working group to monitor and evaluate the child welfare system, 2) the Department of Health and Welfare should bring in a consultant to assess the organization's culture and address gaps between expectations and practice, and 3) create a comprehensive plan to increase the number of foster homes through recruitment and retention. As a side note, the evaluators also recommended an independent investigation into the CASA programs around the state. Our team here welcomes any audit, investigation, or evaluation that makes us a more effective and efficient program to serve children and families.
In the meantime, we will continue to help children find a healthy home by recruiting 120 more volunteer Guardians for our CASA program or sending folks to PRIDE training to learn how to become a foster home.
If you would like to read the entire OPE report, all 154 pages can be found through this link: https://legislature.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/OPE/Reports/r1701.pdf.
This month brings visions of hearts, sweethearts, secret valentines and roses. While the team at Family Advocates wishes you, and your loved ones, a warm and loving month, we are faced with the harsh reality of the journey of our children and families.
Did you know that the majority of our families, and all of our kids in CASA, have an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score of over 7? What does that mean? It means these folks have faced trauma like physical, emotional, sexual and mental abuse. It means that these brave individuals may adopt risky health behaviors, be susceptible to disease and disability, and may even experience an early death due to the unavoidable trauma in their early lives. (Find out more about ACEs here)
What does ACEs have to with cupid?! For many of the people in our community who have been exposed to violence in their childhood, it means that relationships may look differently. It means that they may have social and emotional barriers to address before a bond can be formed. It means that they may never have seen what a positive adult relationship looked like. That is where each of our programs comes into play. Our CASA program provides a volunteer Guardian ad Litem to advocate on behalf of the children they represent. Our family strengthening programs provide safe, healthy, and nurturing spaces for parents and children to heal. Our mission is to see families and children build or find a loving home.
This month, we ask that you think of your loved ones. That you buy them that bouquet. That you shower your family with affection. Make these loving gestures in solidarity for the individuals who haven't had the opportunity to feel this unadulterated love. And, of course, help us continue to support them on their journey to feeling loved.