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'Family to Family' features new approach to dealing with Lower Valley's abused children

GRANDVIEW - The way the Department of Social Health and Services has dealt with abused and neglected children in the past has failed, according to Brian Cox, coordinator for Family to Family, a new approach to how DSHS handles these children.

Cox told Grandview United at a meeting Thursday night that Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of DSHS, have developed a method to deal with abused and neglected children. The answer was to hire experts but this way hasn't worked out as it was intended to.

"CPS is being redesigned," he told the group. "We're making it into what it ought to be."

Citing CPS's negative image and the loss of faith the community has shown in the experts that deal with children, eight counties in Washington are now employing a radical approach that has had proven success where it has been tried.

Family to Family started in New Zealand and worked its way to the United States, where it was tried in Ohio. Cox said that before this program was tried there Ohio recorded 5,000 cases of abused or neglected children each year that had to be put into foster care. Since this new program was put in place, that number has dropped to 2,000, he told Grandview United.

The new approach is to let families, neighborhoods and the community decide the fate of these children, rather than the experts. Cox believes they are better equipped to know what's best for the children.

He said 37 percent of abused and neglected children in Washington are cared for by relatives. Only 1 percent get adopted and 52 percent go to foster homes.

"We need to equip you and listen to you," Cox said.

The Ohio model didn't go out and recruit foster parents, it just became easier to become one and they were treated better.

"The public is just waiting to take care of these kids," Cox said. "Being with someone that loves them is the key to keeping children from running away."

Before, Cox said, if a child was taken out of their home due to a situation, they were put in homes in places where they weren't familiar. The children had to change schools, leave their friends and move to a new area for safety.

"Why have a child that's been abused lose his best friend or a teacher they look up to," Cox asked. "We need to change our thinking."

Family to Family will keep abused or neglected children in their own neighborhoods by placing them in a home where they can be safe. If a child is taken away from their home because their parents are doing drugs, the child and parent can still see each other while the parents get help. This way the child's life won't be changed so abruptly.

He said strategies would be to recruit schools, churches and community members to help decide where these children should be placed, ideally with another family member that can offer the child a safe and loving home but foster parents would also be welcome. The key is to keep the child's life as normal as possible until they can go back to their parents.

Cox said this year DSHS is hoping to fund this program in the Sunnyside, Mabton and Grandview areas for one year to see how it works. A hub would be set up to coordinate with each of the cities and this collaborative would meet periodically to discuss tactics and exchange information.

Cox said he is also hoping to get community partners to provide volunteers to mentor and tutor these kids in foster care.

There would be police officers and mental health experts at these community meetings which decide where to place the child and they would ultimately have veto power if they thought a situation was unsafe.

Members of Grandview United expressed interest in this idea and asked how to become foster parents. Cox suggested going to a website, www.aecf.org. Click on the major initiatives tab and then go to Family to Family for information about the program and how the community can help.

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