AIA Change Agents

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AIA Change Agents – Family Connect

This post a part of an on-going series called AIA Change Agents where we get to know each of the direct service programs funded by the Children’s Bureau under the AIA Act. In this segment, we sat down to chat with Carol Albrecht, Project Director of Family Connect, located in Pinellas Park, FL.

1. Tell us a little about Family Connect.

The Family Connect Program provides comprehensive support services to children and their families affected by substance abuse and/or HIV/AIDS.   Assessment, counseling, advocacy, referrals, concrete assistance, travel assistance, life skills teaching and parenting skills are only some of the important components to the program which is all offered on an in-home basis.  Our referrals come from a wide variety of referral sources throughout the Pinellas County area.  Often, Child Protective Services investigators contact us, hoping we can assist a family in avoiding out of home placement for the children related to the substance use of the parents. At discharge, we seek to ensure safety and well-being of all family members, most importantly the minor children in the home.

2.  Family Connect utilizes Family Advocates in its staffing model. Can you tell us a bit about their role? Have there been any challenges in using peers? Unexpected benefits?

A Family Advocate, one of our bachelor level positions, has approximately 6-10 families that he/she is working with at a particular time. These individuals become very familiar with the families, and a caring, yet professional bond is often quickly formed. Often, the advocates travel to parts of the county that are known to be troubled areas.  They have been trained in personal safety techniques for this reason.  Often, they are very welcomed into the homes of their clients.  The Advocates are often met at their cars by waiting clients, who are quick to show appreciation for our regular presence.

Using peers has had tremendous benefits in that our clients really embrace our workers.  Our clients trust us, lean on us, and believe in us.  They know we are there to help preserve and protect their families.

3. Tell us about your clientele.  Is there a particular family that sticks out in your mind?

The Tampa Bay Area has unfortunately become heavily burdened with a prescription pain pill epidemic.  “Pill Mills” are in abundance and easily accessible.  While local authorities work swiftly to alleviate this problem, approximately 75% of our clients are referred from the local Drug Court or the Child Protective Services Division related to illegal use of prescription opiates.  Substance exposed newborns are, unfortunately, prevalent in our clientele as well.

Many, many clients stick out in my mind.  Below, however, is an excerpt from a handwritten letter to one of the Family Advocates from “Tabitha,” a single mother of 3, facing felony drug charges:

“This program has been helpful in so many ways.  If it weren’t for Tony and his program, I would be in jail now for drugs.  He went with me to Drug Court and told the judge how good I been doing with my meetings with him and doing all the stuff he asked me to do, like look for a job and stuff.  The judge listened to him and now I got a job too!

I learned Parenting Class from Tony, and how to budget my money and how to spend real time with my kids so they know I love them.  I even know how to set some goals for me and my kids.  This service helped me build a future for me and my family.  Thank you very much.”

4. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of this work?

There are several challenges:

  1. Some clients refuse to acknowledge that they are in danger of losing their children related to their drug use, even when they have an open case with Child Protective Services.
  2. 99% of these clients are unemployed and about to be evicted with no transportation, no diapers, sometimes no food.
  3. Sometimes they are “gone” when we go back the next week to see them.  This happens most often when they are about to be out on the streets due to inability to pay rent.

5. If Family Connect were to have a mascot, what would it be? 

Our mascot would be A MOTHER BEAR…..protective, supportive, strong, wise, and always encouraging independence, there to teach “just for a while.”

6. Question 6 was intentionally left blank. What question were you hoping we’d ask? What would you like to tell us that wasn’t covered?

While the primary focus of our visits has been on the adult of the family, we have also been very interested in the other members of the family.  We have made efforts to physically see the children and babies, to ensure that they are indeed “safe and cared for.”  As program director, I accompany my staff on visits at random, and as my schedule allows.    The week before Christmas 2011, we visited a young woman in her very small rental house.

She had given birth to a substance exposed baby, who was now home with her.  As we began our visit, she put the baby on the couch and “propped” a bottle for him and then turned her attention to us.    We were able to stop, assist her in holding her child comfortably while feeding him and explained to her how important it was for her to do this each and every time she fed her son a bottle.

At visit’s end, the baby was asleep in his crib and I felt like maybe, just maybe, “we had done some good.”

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