Government

Children's Bureau reaches out: State prevention program helps social-services agency enter new areas, lift budget

September 1, 2008

Since its origins as the Widows and Orphans Asylum in 1851, the Children's Bureau has been working to fix broken families in Indianapolis. Now the local not-for-profit has expanded its reach into 37 Indiana counties-growing its budget 22 percent in the process.

Despite the regional push, the agency remains focused on Marion County, where it's building a $9.2 million service center at 16th and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. streets.

The engine driving the organization's recent growth: a statewide program that aims to prevent abuse and neglect before it starts.

Indiana's Department of Child Services launched Community Partners for Child Safety in 2005 as part of a broader prevention plan, allocating $6 million in state and federal funding to 18 regions throughout the state. Agencies then bid on contracts to coordinate regional services.

The Children's Bureau had a leg up since Community Partners is modeled after its Neighborhood Alliance for Child Safety, started in 1999 to connect families with programs and services that could help keep them out of the child-welfare system. DCS Director James Payne, a former Marion County juvenile court judge, knew the NACS program well and wanted to replicate it.

Because of its experience with the program, the Children's Bureau won seven Community Partners contracts the first go-round; it has eight for the contract term that begins Jan. 1.

As a result of the Community Partners contracts, the agency's funding from government sources increased nearly 30 percent from 2005 to 2007, helping to boost revenue 22 percent, to $14.8 million, in the same period.

Children's Bureau CEO Ron Carpenter expects his annual budget to surpass $16 million in the next two years as the organization capitalizes on its "beachhead approach" to score more contracts-and help more families.

"Community Partners provides uniform accessibility to services statewide," he said. "And clients benefit."

Participation is voluntary and free. Parents can come to the program for counseling or help setting goals, for example. Families also can use Community Partners to figure out how to navigate the social-service system to get food stamps or utility assistance.

Regional coordinators work with other agencies to deliver an array of services to families deemed at risk of abuse or neglect, said DCS Deputy Director Celia Leaird.

Although long-term analysis is not yet available, Leaird is pleased with the early results. So far, about 90 percent of the families who participated have avoided getting caught up in the child-welfare system.

She credits the partners that give the program its name. And the Children's Bureau's record in particular speaks for itself: No other Community Partners coordinator is responsible for as many regions.

Carpenter said it made sense for the not-for-profit to jump into the fray, given its experience with the NACS program in Marion County and its prior involvement in many of the other areas it now serves more broadly.

"This has helped us grow our mission," he said.

The agency added 35 employees to ramp up for the Community Partners program-for a total of 314-and Carpenter expects to add another 35 in the next two years.

The Children's Bureau has a long history of helping children in Indianapolis, but it also has been branching out elsewhere in central Indiana for years.

In 2002, for example, it absorbed the operations of Anderson-based Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which it now operates as a subsidiary. The Indianapolis agency also administers a federal childcare voucher program in Madison County-as well as Hamilton and Hendricks counties-among other activities.

And although the Children's Bureau closed its Terre Haute Youth Intervention Center last year after a 10-year run, it picked up the Community Partners gig for Region 8, which includes Vigo County, starting in 2009.

The Children's Bureau also has offices in Logansport, Danville, Muncie, Connersville, New Whiteland, Columbus and Noblesville. All told, it serves residents in 37 of Indiana's 92 counties.

The agency's size gives it an advantage when it comes to one harsh reality of working with the government: Payment often isn't due until at least 60 days after a service is provided, and sometimes it can take as long as six months to arrive.

"As a fairly significant-sized organization, we'll make it" when that happens, Carpenter said. Smaller not-for-profits might not.

About 80 percent of the Children's Bureau budget comes from government grants and contracts. Although many notfor-profits would shudder at having so many eggs in one not-so-stable basket, it's a common situation for such organizations

"In the human-services arena, what you find is that almost all large organizations are overwhelmingly

by the government," said consultant Bryan Orander who owns Fishers-based Charitable Advisors. "It's the nature of the business."

Indeed, government and child-welfare groups in particular have a co-dependent relationship as more functions are privatized, said Floyd Alwon, senior director of special projects for the Virginia-based Child Welfare League of America.

"You'll find some that are pretty close to 100 percent dependent on government funding," he said. Why? "Private organizations often do this work better and cheaper than public agencies can."

The Children's Bureau appears to maintain a "decent balance" between government funding and philanthropic support, Alwon said, adding that organizations always should try to raise additional money.

"It helps to remind communities of their responsibilities," he said.

Philanthropic support also provides organizations some room to maneuver, Orander said, since most government funding can be used only for specific programs-and only as directed. If a government contract sets pay for a particular job at $9 an hour, for example, an agency with money of its own has the option of paying more to hire the best person for the job.

The challenge for such organizations, though, is that the constituents they serve aren't likely to become donors. Humanservice groups also can't count on things like ticket sales or corporate sponsorships the way an arts organization might.

Even so, the Children's Bureau has been holding its own. In addition to raising more than $2 million for its programs each year, the agency has been plowing ahead with a $9.2 million capital campaign to rebuild its aging Family Support Center on 16th Street. Work began this month, and construction is expected to be complete next year.

Campaign leaders still need to line up the final $2 million, but the project got a big boost from a $4 million gift from local philanthropist Gene Glick, $1 million from the United Way's Capital Projects Fund, and $1.2 million from the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation.

Carpenter said the new, LEED-certified facility will give the Children's Bureau room to keep growing and a place to consolidate administrative offices. It also will serve as a conversation piece in the community, thanks to five 18-foot-by-8-foot photos of children that will top the building.

"It will be a landmark for the city," he said, "and send a strong message that we value every child, that we have hope for all kids."

Because of confidentially concerns, the images won't portray children the agency has served. Rather, Carpenter is shopping photos to would-be donors who might be interested in seeing larger-than-life pictures of themselves or family members.

"It's a naming-rights opportunity," he said with a smile.
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