Decatur has been top five in the state for the past five years. Since 2006 Decatur has remained one of the top five Illinois communities in terms of numbers of children taken into protective custody. One year ago the Old King Orchard Community Center board (OKOCC) met to discuss this issue. The board couldn’t have predicted that now, a year later, they would be opening the Family Advocacy Center to help families who come into contact with the child welfare system.
The Family Advocacy Center sits behind Grace United Methodist Church, a small, nondescript, one-story building converted from a doctor’s office to a day care facility to a youth community center and now, finally, to the Family Advocacy Center.
In partnership with Old Kings Orchard Community Center, Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Youth Advocate Program, Grace United Methodist Church, and Primed for Life in Springfield, the Family Advocacy Center directly assists families who have come in contact with the child welfare system. By working with families one-on-one and collaborating with other community agencies, the Center assists families in navigating the system to work toward reunification and stabilization. It also serves in-tact families that are at risk of having children removed. Families in need of services will be referred to the Center from DCFS, courts, police, hospitals, school officials, and other agencies.
On Monday I attended the Family Advocacy Center open-house to celebrate and learn more about this new resource for the community. The open house began with a warm welcoming from the OKOCC board president, Alida Graham, followed by an flood of energy coming from the OKOCC board, and continued with an array of enthusiastic, straight-talking, honest speakers.
Robert Blackwell, State Regional Advisor for DCFS, spoke eagerly of how the Family Advocacy Center can help Decatur, stating, “we already know that this works, so you are sitting in success”. Family Advocacy Centers, which are evidence-based and utilize the recovery coach approach, have been implemented in other at-risk communities throughout the state, such as Peoria and Springfield.
Blackwell emphasized that the system cannot be replicated on a state level. Over and over again, Leshonda Rogers, Executive Director of both the Family Advocacy Center and Primed of Life, stated the need for community agencies to collaborate and partner. As funding continually decreases, agencies should band together to extend to one another without service duplication. The Family Advocacy Center seeks to be an extension of preexisting services in the community, while serving their target community.
As an educator and social service provider to many families who might need to seek assistance from the Family Advocacy Center, I am personally excited about its presence in our community. As community members, we need to address the root causes of larger community issues. The Family Advocacy Center and its partners are attacking the roots. If we, as a community, want to be able to “get real” with families, we need to follow the Center’s lead and be willing to “get real” with ourselves and address the roots causes of trauma, disorder, and child neglect abuse within at-risk families.