New center for child and family services approved

The faculty senate approved a proposal in early May that would create a center dedicated to more effectively helping Oregon’s struggling children and families.

The Center for the Improvement of Child and Family Services would aim to keep more children from entering foster homes, the largest group being children whose parents have untreated drug problems. Located within the Graduate School of Social Work, the center would help research, train and educate groups outside of traditional public welfare agencies, working to keep more kids in healthy, stable family environments.

For the last 12 years, PSU has worked together with the Oregon Department of Health Services to train and develop its workforce, offering the only online certification course in the state. This new center will build upon that union, through the Portland State Child Welfare Partnership, based in the School of Social Work.

“In conjunction with the state of Oregon, we developed one of the first [nationally] large scale integrated partnerships with a state child welfare agency,” said Vice Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies Bill Feyerherm. “But because of business and funding restrictions, that partnership was limited.”

Community groups sharing the same concern for children repeatedly approached the staff, hoping they could learn from the work the PSU staff was doing. At the same time, Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work Kristine Nelson and Director of the Child Welfare Project Katharine Cahn saw a chance to incorporate relevant work that other professors were doing around campus.

“PSU is uniquely situated to form these partnerships and collaborate with the community,” Nelson said. “We really want to move forward along with other departments here at PSU doing related work, and there are so many rich possibilities for collaboration,”

With more and more children falling through the cracks of the current child welfare practices, the need for private agencies to get involved has become clear, according to Cahn.

“Now we can flex that same muscle to benefit families outside of the system,” Cahn said. The biggest challenge for families and children in Oregon, she said, is that more kids are shuffled through foster care and the “system” when parents do not get treated for drug problems.

Eight such projects are already in the works, organized by agencies that serve children from diverse backgrounds. The WrapAround Project is one such agency, helping the youngest children with mental health issues.

“Our program really offers family-driven services, where the family has an opportunity to tell us what their needs are,” said Rob Abrams, the project director for WrapAround’s early childhood program. Their work is to help the family find a fit for those needs, possibly keeping a child from needing assistance from a government agency, Abrams said.

Cahn said the WrapAround Project is the kind of work the developing child improvement program will be doing more of in the future. Cahn helped the organization write a six-year grant proposal for $9 million in federal health and human services funding towards the project’s goals. Together with matching funds from non-government sources, the total will be $20 million.

Funding for the proposed center comes from numerous grants and contracts. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has committed to a five-year, $1 million contribution and the Albertina Kerr Centers and the City of Portland have each pledged over $300,000.