COLUMBIA, S.C. – State leaders today announced a new public-private initiative to prevent child maltreatment, strengthen families, and improve mental health outcomes for families involved in child welfare services.
Connected Families is designed to prevent the unnecessary removal of children from their homes and prevent further involvement in child welfare by providing families with voluntary, coordinated services from multiple agencies.
The first-of-its-kind state initiative is a partnership between South Carolina First Steps, the SC Department of Social Services, and the SC Department of Mental Health. It is funded by three-year grants totaling $3.8 million from The Duke Endowment and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
“This historic investment of private funds builds on the power of local, community-based First Steps partnerships to reach the most vulnerable children and families in our state,” said Georgia Mjartan, executive director of South Carolina First Steps. “Because of the collaboration of multiple agencies, funders, and local First Steps nonprofits, infants and toddlers across South Carolina will be safe, loved, and nurtured.”
According to DSS, approximately 5,232 SC children ages 0-5 are at imminent risk of entering foster care. To prevent the trauma of family separation, DSS provides Family Preservation Services: short-term, family-focused services designed to assist families in crisis and keep children safely in their homes. Connected Families supports the aims of Family Preservation Services by building a continuum of accessible, high-quality family support programs, while reducing the burden on the foster care system.
“Across the nation, the landscape of child welfare is transforming as agencies move toward preventative intervention strategies that aim to strengthen families and prevent children from entering foster care,” said DSS State Director Michael Leach. “Here at DSS, we are working diligently to build a robust service array to reach underserved populations and promote equity. The Connected Families program, in partnership with First Steps and the Department of Mental Health, is at the forefront of this work by being the first large-scale cross-collaboration between child welfare and early childhood initially serving families in seven of the state’s 46 counties. This project is the first to integrate and align services from multiple agencies and programs to bring effective, equitable prevention services to scale for children and families in South Carolina.”
Through Connected Families, DSS can refer families to a local First Steps, where they can participate in Parents as Teachers, an evidence-based home visitation program. Families who need additional support may receive Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC) services. ABC is an in-home mental health intervention that is proven to increase parent sensitivity and promote positive parent-child interactions.
"This new effort will expand the reach of existing high-quality home visitation programs, potentially helping more families resolve problems before child removal is necessary," said Phil Redmond, director of the Endowment's Child and Family Well-Being program area. "We are proud to support this exciting initiative."
“We are excited to join forces with The Duke Endowment on this initiative that promotes and strengthens cross-sector collaboration across multiple state agencies and local nonprofits,” said Rumeli Banik, senior program officer for child well-being at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “With Mjartan’s expertise in two-generational approaches informing this critical work, this effort promises to improve outcomes for both children and their parents.”
A two-generation approach describes a program that focuses equally and intentionally on services and opportunities for both children and the adults in their lives.
“Connected Families is about the success of both parents and their young children,” said Mjartan. “Parents will learn the skills they need to be responsive to their children’s needs, to successfully bond with their young ones even in times of stress, and to establish the foundation their children need for a lifetime of stability and success.”
Connected Families is now operating in seven SC counties: Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Lexington, Richland, Pickens, and York. The initiative is expected to serve up to 250 families per year.
Photo: DSS Director of Family and Community Services Lauren Tinman (from left), DSS Deputy Director of Child Welfare Services Karen Jointer Bryant, SC First Steps Parenting Program Coordinator Lis Guimaraes, DMH Deputy Director of Community Mental Health Services Deborah Blalock, and SC First Steps Executive Director Georgia Mjartan.