By Jimmy Perdue, Chief of Police; and Sergeant Matt Clem, North Richland Hills, Texas, Police Department
n July 2005, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the City of North Richland Hills, led by the North Richland Hills Police Department (NRHPD) and the Tarrant County Youth Collaboration (TCYC), formed a unique partnership aimed at identifying families at risk of child abuse. The creation of this partnership was a reaction to a 54 percent increase in child abuse and neglect cases reported in the area of Texas in which the city is located. This partnership was aptly named Building Connections–Building Community (BC2). In conjunction with civic leaders, the local Birdville Independent School District, and the faith community, the BC2 Family Resource Program was established. The BC2 Program is a multicomponent collaborative partnership project whose main goals are to identify and intervene proactively in the lives of families living within the North Richland Hills community who may be at risk of abusing or neglecting their children, before their children became victims.
Bringing Together Diverse Resources
During the initial stages of the project, the TCYC and the NRHPD were able to solicit input and resources and obtain a lasting commitment to participate in the BC2 project from several organizations, including community centers and school districts. Through continual open dialogue and resource sharing, as well as the ideas generated and maintained in the formation of this community collaboration, BC2 was able to approach and combat the problem of child abuse and neglect from many different angles.
Numerous churches were also asked to participate in the BC2 project. Their participation is a natural fit in a project about the community because, in many respects, they are the community. Not only do they continue to help in the planning of the teams’ efforts, but they also serve a supportive role in a fashion hard to duplicate. Many of these churches already offer divorce care and single-parent support groups, as well as temporary food, clothing, and housing assistance—the same types of assistance and resources needed by the target population. It simply made sense to include them in a project of this scope, and doing so has definitely made the project more successful.
Funding the project required outreach to still other individuals and organizations. The initial funding for the BC2 project was awarded to the TCYC through an earmarked federal grant from U.S. congresswoman Kay Granger; additional funding was received from Tarrant County Judge Whitley and the G. Carter Foundation. With changes in project management, the BC2 Family Resource Program now receives complete funding through the NRHPD.
Designing the Process
A TCYC mapping analysis of cases reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) from 2004 to 2006, conducted using a geographic information system, was able to identify two key school attendance zones within the city that had the greatest need for intervention, as determined by their having the highest number of cases reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and CPS: those of Smithfield and Mullendore Elementary Schools.
The project split into two strategic teams, one to cover each school attendance zone. The goal was to find new and creative ways not only to decrease the number of cases being reported to CPS but also to strengthen family resiliency within the community and to decrease child victimization leading to abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, and a myriad of other youth safety concerns.
Once the problem areas were identified, the BC2 group focused on existing social research. This revealed that families who neglect and abuse children tend to be socially isolated from formal and informal social support systems such as community centers and churches. Additional research indicated that households most likely to experience child abuse or neglect and social isolation usually fall into one of four types: single-parent families, families coping with persistent alcohol or drug abuse, families where grandparents are raising grandchildren, or families with young parents.
To help decrease social isolation and build family resiliency among those living within the targeted school attendance zones, the BC2 teams worked creatively to implement programs and events. These events were designed to promote social support and community connection, facilitate the development of spirituality and cultural roots, promote supportive caregiver-child relationships, and provide the tools for successful parenting.
The objective was to build upon the already-existing social capital infrastructure within the community and connect at-risk families to a wide array of established community resources. By proactively intervening in the lives of these families before the depths of social isolation could lead to abusive, neglectful, and other destructive behaviors, BC2 created a means of successfully and effectively reaching out to the community. The BC2 process had two steps: prevention and intervention.
Prevention: The first step was to create more social outreach opportunities within the community using infrastructure already in place to host events such as street festivals in close-knit neighborhoods and family book reading nights within schools.
Intervention: The second step was to staff a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) inside the police department who would work closely with officers to systematically identify and help those most in need as part of the department’s Family Resource Program. The objective of this step was to prevent child victimization and delinquency before it occurred. As one of the integral parts of the BC2 Program, the FRC was initially proposed by the police department to demonstrate a financial and philosophical commitment to the youth in the community.
Prevention Projects at Neighborhood Festivals
As part of the prevention component, the roles of the program partners were not limited in terms of designing new projects. Initially, the TCYC served a major managerial role, helping the group oversee the project’s inputs, processes, and outputs by acting as a major fiscal agent for the entire group. By design, however, the role of manager was transitioned to the collaboration’s partners, whose teams then became self-managing. During one such project, working with neighborhood family festivals, staff from the TCYC held raffles and awarded door prizes, allowing voluntary surveys to be gathered to help determine further community needs.
As a result of the Smithfield Family Festival, families within the Smithfield Elementary School zone, in the northern part of the city, were targeted. The FRC was able to identify 177 households, with 31 families requesting help connecting with community resources such as churches and faith programs; school programs for children; parenting classes; temporary financial aid; single-parent support networks; and, most importantly, acute crisis intervention. Similarly, at the second family festival, called Parkapalooza, targeting families living within the Mullendore Elementary School attendance zone in the southern part of the city, the FRC was able to reach out to 221 families, with 91 requesting direct assistance.
FRC Referral and Intervention
Serving as liaison and intermediary for the teams, the FRC helps direct and guide families in need to the most appropriate, already-established community resources to suit their particular needs. Working directly within the NRHPD and receiving referrals from police officers, the school district and CPS screeners also helped to identify families demonstrating at-risk behaviors but who did not yet meet the threshold level requiring legal intervention.
The FRC identifies those believed to be living within the community who are at risk of child abuse or neglect, and police officers and teachers then complete and submit referral forms for vulnerable families with whom they have had contact, identifying the circumstances contributing to that risk. In addition to those familial factors already identified as contributing to a risk of child abuse and neglect, officers and teachers also identify other high-risk circumstances: parents who seem overwhelmed or whose households seem stressful, neglectful, or inadequately supervised; children who seem upset or scared; insensitivity expressed toward children; potential injury that could have occurred but did not; inappropriate discipline; or physical or emotional needs that are not being adequately addressed. Officers are still encouraged to take all appropriate legal action and report to CPS in cases where the threshold for legal action has been met, but oftentimes these neglectful behaviors do not meet that level of legal protection. In such instances, CPS case screeners use the FRC as an additional resource for those families.
Roles of City Government and the Local School District
The city government continues to serve a major role in the project, and the city’s leadership fully supports the program. This fact is apparent through the level of cooperation and coordination found among all of the city departments, not just within the police department. Among the most vital of these departments is the parks department, which serves multiple roles. Parks department employees help with a number of administrative aspects including the logistics of festivals and the procurement of food vendors and entertainers as well as the permits that are required for such events. The parks department can also supply the FRC with a multitude of sports, exercise, and educational programs for families. For example, having identified a young family member demonstrating antisocial or withdrawn behaviors, the FRC might connect the child or the entire family to a team activity at the city’s recreation center.
The local school district also ensures that those working most closely with the children and families in need of family support services and resources are identified and referred to the FRC. Additionally, school district officials, principals and teachers, and members of parent-teacher associations continue to work closely with other BC2 members in all planning aspects of special events and projects. Frequently, they ensure not only that personnel are available to help at these events but also, in many cases, that school grounds are used when appropriate.
Successes and Challenges
The successful integration of all of the BC2 partners helped the city realize an 8.7 percent total decrease in child abuse and neglect cases reported to CPS by the end of 2005. Additionally, the Smithfield Elementary School attendance zone experienced a 30 percent decrease in CPS referrals from July 2005 to June 2006, and the Mullendore Elementary School zone experienced a 34 percent decrease during the same period, exceeding progress achieved in nontargeted areas. Furthermore, continuing these efforts, the FRC has received over 1,270 referrals to help connect families in need to various community resources since the project's inception. Needless to say, it would have been very difficult to achieve these kinds of results without full community involvement and a spirit of cooperation among all of the collaborative partners.
The BC2 collaboration teams work diligently to ensure future organizational development and progression of the project’s goals and objectives as the project moves into the future. The project was designed to facilitate a gradual transition of management from the TCYC to the community partners themselves. And although the BC2 partners still enjoy the support and assistance of the TCYC, the fiscal responsibility and management of the first two teams have already been completely transitioned to community partners. This has been the most challenging event thus far; however, the BC2 partners remain undaunted. In fact, since that transition, partnership members have held a series of meetings at which they declared their renewed commitment; strengthened existing channels of communication; reaffirmed their responsibilities; and, most importantly, reinvigorated their dedication to purpose within a shared vision.
Replicating the Model in Other Agencies
The BC2 project serves as a replicable model of success due largely to the level of constructive engagement and communication achieved among all of its partners. The project started with a simple need to identify and engage community stakeholders who could best address the social problems of child abuse and neglect, as well as a wide spectrum of other youth safety and familial concerns within the community. Because of that commonality of purpose, each BC2 team member was able to transcend many typical barriers of communication successfully, such as those naturally occurring among church and state organizations, and work together despite individual organizational ties. In fact, it is this synergistic arrangement of personnel and personalities that continues today to bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to solving problems and meeting objectives.
The project’s members also believe that although there is much work yet to be done, it is clear that this collaborative effort of police, local government, the school district, and various members of the faith community has helped to ensure the continued success of this program into the future. ?