Donation helps government kids’ homes unify families

| 31/08/2010

(CNS): A donation of $45,000 from the local hedge fund industry has contributed to some success for the Children and Youth Services (CAYS) Foundation’s family reunification programme. Officials say reuniting children in the care system with families reduces the numbers in protective custody. The process of reunification is an in depth one and the grant from Hedge Funds Care (HFC) was used to employ a full time expert last year who is now seeing the results of her work. Janet Ham who is responsible for bringing families back together says the programme has many challenges but it has improved the number of successful returns.

She explained that the programme is about building better relationships and improving the families understanding of the work by social services while the kids have been in care. Ham also works with the families to assess the strengths of the unit and use them to integrate the children back into their home environments through phased day and overnight visits. Ham works with a team of professionals including a social worker, case manager and residential support workers who collectively determine whether a child has reached a stage in the programme where they can be considered for permanent reintegration.
Ham was employed by CAYS in February 2009 and has more than 25 years experience with children suffering social, emotional, psychological and behavioural problems. Ham says that as part of the Reunification Programme she goes into the homes of families to work alongside them, attempting tohelp their children overcome problems, as well as assisting them with making changes both personally and to the home environment. “My greatest joy is seeing parents make positive steps in overcoming the challenges they face. Many of our youths have parents who themselves, have had difficulties growing up and a number of them are being raised by their grandparents,” she said. “The biggest challenge is getting families to press through the hard work of change and getting them to attend group sessions”.
There is currently no law in place that requires families to attend family support group meetings or group counselling sessions; nothing that ensures their accountability so Ham has to work hard to keep them on board.
“As well as working with the children in care, we really want to work towards a partnership with the families and see this as a key preventative measure for other children in the family unit being taken into care further downstream,” she added.
Angela Sealey, Chief Executive Officer at CAYS said without the programme the foundation looked for a window of opportunity to send the child home. “This new programme slows this process down, as returning children home requires intensive, family-centred services to support a safe and stable family. The programme has also allowed for the families to have a thorough understanding of CAYS expectations which has increased the success rate for reintegration,” she said. “If we can improve the success rate of reintegration then the chances of the child or any of their siblings ending up in protective custody will be greatly reduced.”
One of the main approaches used in the Reunification Programme is therapeutic visitation. This provides an opportunity for parents to spend time with their children while the child moves towards coming back to the family. Each visit is supervised by a family support worker, who works with the parents and caregiver to develop guidelines and goals for the visits. Goals are designed to assure basic safety, identify and develop parents’ strengths, ameliorate any parenting concerns identified by the social worker and present parents with the opportunity to demonstrate improvement that will increase their chances for successful reunification, the CAYS officials explained. 
The key characteristics of the programme include working with the family inside the home during the period towards and during reunification of the child; provision of both concrete services and counselling, with emphasis on techniques that change behaviours and responses among family members; modelling discipline and behaviour strategies; providing coaching and mentoring of parents and contact with the family within 24 hours of a crisis
CAYS is also exploring the publication of a reunification manual which will be an easily accessible tool, providing written objectives and guidelines to parents following the child’s return to the family home. The aim of the Manual is to help the child and family achieve and maintain at any given time, their optimal level of reconnection from full re-entry of the child into the family system to other forms of contact such as visitation that affirms their child’s membership in his/her family.
The CAYS Foundation was established as a not-for-profit government owned company to manage and operatetwo residential homes on Grand Cayman; Bonaventure Boys’ Home and Frances Bodden Girls’ Home. The two facilities serve children and youths between the ages of 11 and 17 who are at risk and deemed to be in need of care and protection. The Family Reunification Programme is designed to strengthen vulnerable families during the transitional period when a child is being returned home from the residential programme and to provide support to the family once the child has been discharged from care.
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