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Shelter helps kids with hardships
A headline in the Yuma Sun in 1978 proclaimed: “Youth have built shelter for others.”
Through donations of time, money and the able bodies of Young Adult Conservation Corps workers, the community gained a temporary shelter and crisis intervention facility for children at risk, run by Yuma County Child Abuse and Neglect Inc. (YuCAN), the accompanying article related.
Today, the facility, now known as Child and Family Services, continues to serve children in need as a result of abuse, neglect or strife in the home.
“They helped me through some really hard times, when I had no where else to go,” wrote one recent resident, a teenage boy. “They taught me a lot about life and responsibility. The staff treated me like their own kid. They help me through hard times and good times and acted like they were my parents I never had.”
Wrote another: “Staying at CFS for a week has really helped get through a rough time in my life. I've been able to calm down in this peaceful environment. Also the staff supervising me have talked to me, helping me be able to control and direct my feelings the correct way.”
The agency's primary goal, explained executive director Judy Smith, is to provide a safe place for children while a support system is built for the family — a “time out” place enabling parents and children to get past a crisis, regroup and be reunited.
“We may not be able to fix everything. But we try to fix today's crisis so they can manage the rest of their life more easily. Generally when we see a child, there's been a very current trauma. If we get them to identify why they're here and ways to resolve those issues, we can get them back into a routine and back home.”
Child and Family Services, 257 S. 3rd Ave., has 12 beds and provides a homelike setting. Residents go to school if they're students and gather around the dining room table in the evenings to do homework. And they all have to pitch in to help with chores such as cleaning and cooking.
“We try to make it as home-like as we can,” Smith said. “We want them to learn self-responsibility and care.”
There's no video games or electronics, she said. Instead, the children are provided board games so they learn to socialize with each other, and arts and crafts for self-expression.
Staff will work with the older children in trying to identify vocational goals. And it provides a safe place for the children to express their feelings in appropriate ways.
The normal stay is seven to 10 days. During that time, the agency's four master-level therapists begin to work with the children and families. Other agencies and even schools may also be part of the team effort to improve the home situation and help the children deal with behavioral issues.
“We're in the phone book,” Smith said. “And we're open 24/7. We're available whenever there's a need.”
In the past, Smith said, 50 percent of the children who came through the doors were under the age of 5, largely due to Child Protective Services.
”Now we usually see them age 10 to the late teens.”
As with every other nonprofit in the community, Child and Family Services is struggling with the aftermath of the economic downturn — a higher level of need and a lower level of available funding, Smith said.
“A lot more people need help with more serious problems because they didn't get help when they needed it.”
Families may be crammed into apartments and dealing with job losses. Or people became parents really young and lack parenting skills. Substance abuse may play a role.
“It's an explosive situation,” Smith said.
HOW TO HELP:
The community has always been very supportive of Child and Family Services, from the time it came together to build the facility, noted executive director Judy Smith.
Today, the agency receives much of its funding through the Department of Health Services Behavioral Health — Cenpatico Health in Yuma County.
It also received United Way funding for what Smith calls "notch kids," those who aren’t involved with law enforcement or Child Protective Services and whose parents don’t have insurance to pay for therapy.
But there’s also a need for donations, Smith said, noting that Child and Family Services qualifies for the $200 Arizona charitable tax credit.
And the agency is looking for alternative funding contracts, including working to re-establish a relationship with CPS to provide shelter services for that agency so children can be kept in the community near their families.
Smith said the best way people can volunteer is by serving on the Child and Family Services board, and applications are always welcome.
The agency also welcomes donations of personal care items for the residents, such as socks, underwear and hygiene items, especially for older children.
Another need, she said, is for donations of suitcases. "We get a lot of kids who don’t have a suitcase. They come in bringing their belongings in a brown paper bag."
For more information, Smith can be reached at 783-2427.