When leaders in our community set out to reduce the incidences of child abuse in Brevard County, as well as the number of children in the dependency system, it seemed a lofty goal, especially for a startup agency with no track record.
That in the five years Brevard Family Partnership, Brevard’s lead child welfare agency, has been in existence the incidence of child abuse been greatly reduced and the number of children in dependency or foster care on the Space Coast has dropped by over fifty percent, from over 1,500 in 2005 to an average of 700 this year is no coincidence, nor a small feat. With support from over 70 community partners, including Children’s Home Society and Devereux, programs and services have been developed that reach families before a situation escalates to abuse, resulting in more children being kept safe and remaining in their homes.
“When we began serving the children and families of Brevard, the community, through Together in Partnership and the Leadership Roundtable Alliance, established the chief priorities for Brevard’s vulnerable children and families,” said BFP’s CEO, Dr. Patricia Nellius-Guthrie. “These included a shift to family-centered practice; an aggressive front-end abuse prevention and diversion program; caseloads that remain below a ratio of one case manager to 20 children; national accreditation; and, the implementation of a 24/7 mobile response team, all of which have been achieved in the five years we’ve been in operation.”
The program that supports BFP’s system of care is called Brevard C.A.R.E.S. (Coordination, Advocacy, Resources, Education and Support). It employs a “wraparound” model that is family-centered, strength-based and community-driven. Brevard C.A.R.E.S. offers a full-array of support services to families experiencing stressors that often lead to child abuse and neglect. Since its inception, Brevard C.A.R.E.S. has provided support to over 5,800 children and more than 2,700 families in Brevard County.
A key component is the concept of Family Team Conferencing which provides families with natural supports such as extended family, friends, clergy and counselors that help them to develop and implement plans to ensure their stability and the health and welfare of their children.
In December 2009, Brevard C.A.R.E.S. became a wholly-owned subsidiary of BFP and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and moved to a central location in Rockledge. In doing this, Brevard C.A.R.E.S. can reach more families and provide additional services throughout the community, further reducing the chances for child abuse. It also serves as the pilot facility for BFP’s C.A.R.E.S. replication model and will be used to showcase the program and its services to agencies throughout the country wishing to bring C.A.R.E.S. to their community.
“We often tell people that our goal is to put ourselves out of business because there are no more incidences of child abuse,” said Dr. Nellius. “And every day we get a little closer to that goal.”