Agency goal: Protect kids, strengthen families

For struggling Johnson County families, reliable child care can be the difference between breaking out of the cycle of poverty or plunging back into it.

Without someone to watch their children, parents can’t work. But the cost of care can be prohibitive, and often parents don’t have the money to pay for reliable, accredited daycare.

That’s what makes a daycare scholarship program important for Children’s Bureau, an Indiana agency dedicated to strengthening families and protecting children.

“Parents may not have another option, or they may choose a provider who is not licensed,” said Ashlee Donges, assistant director of the Family ACTion Center, a Children’s Bureau location in New Whiteland. “If a parent can only afford to pay $100 to a neighbor who is not licensed, with this scholarship program, they can afford a higher-quality provider.”

Child care is just one area where the Children’s Bureau steps up to help Johnson County families thrive. From helping fathers become bigger parts of their kids’ lives to assisting in adoption, the nonprofit agency tries to cover all of the issues that might affect kids and their parents.

When families are in crisis, the Children’s Bureau aims to offer the resources to help them navigate troubling situations and come out healthier than before.

“There are so many things that kids face that can impact them in adulthood,” said Tina Cloer, president and CEO of Children’s Bureau. “It’s a big program, and one we can do to help people in the community meet their basic needs as it pertains to their kids, to access services.”

Children’s Bureau is an institution in Indiana, having been founded in 1851 to support widows and orphaned children. Since that time, it has grown to become a foremost protector of kids throughout the state. The bureau is a partner agency of the United Way, and received more than $766,000 of its $30 million in revenue from it.

Participation in all Children’s Bureau programs is growing. In 2016, the agency served 47,138 kids statewide, up 8 percent from 43,644 the year before.

Issues such as the opioid crisis are making child abuse and neglect more prevalent, which makes the work Children’s Bureau does so vital, Cloer said.

The goal of the organization is to preserve families and keep them together when possible. But the main focus is protecting children and keeping them safe. More than 20 different programs are established to meet those goals.

At the Family ACTion Center, staff members offer a core group of Children’s Bureau programs, from helping parents learn about safe sleep practices for babies to providing home-based counseling and aid to families where abuse, neglect or juvenile delinquency have occurred.

Childcare assistance is one of its important resource for families. TheĀ Child Care and Development Fund is a federal program that helps low-income families find reliable child care.

In order to qualify for that program, a family has to be at or below 127 percent of the federal poverty level. That means that a family of four cannot make more than $2,604 per month in pre-tax income, or they won’t be able to receive help.

For parents who are just outside those restrictions, the Family ACTion Center also offers the United Way of Johnson County Childcare Scholarship Program. Families who are under 200 percent of the federal guidelines can get subsidies for child care, Donges said.

“We are very much just a scholarship program, so we pay for daycare assistance. Our families pick a childcare provider that has been licensed by the state, and we help subsidize that,” she said.

The scholarship program pays $75 per week per child for the first year. After that, the subsidy decreases to $50 in the second year and $25 for the third year.

Donges keeps a waiting list for the program, and it currently takes families on the list about five months before a spot opens up. The scholarship program has a small budget, but Family ACTion Center staff are trying to spread the word about it, Donges said.

“Last year, we helped about eight families out. This year, we’re increasing that,” she said. “We teeter with how much information we want out there, because we do have a waiting list, but it’s important that we get that information out.”

Other programs are offered at the Family ACTion Center that give parents tools and strategies in order to better support their children.

Community Partners for Child Safety aims to curb child abuse by giving families help during stressful or troubling times. Case managers help them set and meet goals, and connect them with other local agencies that may be able to provide assistance.

“We get calls from parents who are struggling to keep their kids fed or are having parenting problems or are homeless, at risk of eviction — a lot of basic things that affect kids. So we go out and meet with them one-on-one,” Cloer said. “We assess their situation with them, work on the goals that they identify and help them get the resources they need to take care of their kids.”

Fatherhood Engagement offers parenting skills classes and guidance for fathers, focusing on those men whose children have entered the child welfare system at a time when the father was not involved in their life, Cloer said.

“We bring those dads back in and get them re-engaged with their kids,” she said. “We know the life outcomes for kids who are not involved with their dads are far worse than those whose dad is involved at any level, so we go out to find them.”

Often, fathers who go through the program become an option for their kids to be placed with and get out of the child welfare system.

“At the time that we get them, they have a lot of issues, but there is something about their kids that inspires them to have more self-worth and make some changes in their lives and make themselves an option for their kids,” Cloer said.

Access Coordination Team services consist of weekly support given in-home to help parents nurture and develop their children. Staff members provide therapy, supervised visitation if necessary and case management.

The hope is to help teach parents how to appropriately discipline their children, communicate with them and manage their behavior, Cloer said.

“There are significant numbers in child welfare and child abuse, so we’re trying to keep up with the need,” she said. “It’s imperative that we prevent removal and kids being traumatized by being taken away from their families as much as we can.”

At a glance

Children’s Bureau

What: The goal of the organization is to preserve families and keep them together when possible, and protecting children and keeping them safe.

Where: 15 offices serving 43 counties throughout the state. One location, the Family ACTion Center, is in New Whiteland

Kids helped in 2016: 47,138 children in 22,747 unique families

Key programs:

  • Child Care and Development Fund: A federal program that assists low-income families in obtaining child care so that they can work or attend school.
  • Community Partners for Child Safety: A statewide child abuse prevention program that builds community supports to help strengthen at-risk families.
  • Family preservation and home-based services: Provides child-centered services, primarily within the home, to prevent family disruption with children where abuse, neglect or juvenile delinquency has been a problem.
  • Father Engagement services: Brings in fathers to improve safety, stability, well-being and permanency for their children who are involved in the child welfare system.
  • United Way of Johnson County Childcare Scholarship Program: A subsidy to help parents afford child care if they do not qualify for the Child Care and Development Fund.

Information: childrensbureau.org

At a glance

The Children’s Bureau is a partner agency of the United Way of Johnson County, which funds 18 local nonprofit agencies and operates eight internal programs. United Way and agencies it helps support helped 37,000 Johnson County residents last year.

If you want to donate or begin a giving campaign at your employer or organization, contact the United Way of Johnson County.

Address: 594 Ironwood Drive, Franklin

Phone: (317) 736-7840

Online: uwjc.org

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.