New Start Preservation Program
The goal of any social service agency is to keep families together. No one wins when children have to be removed from their homes by the court system. The Baraga Houghton Keweenaw New Start Preservation program has a solid record of not only keeping children in their homes, but affecting change in the parents of those children, a better outcome for all involved.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Lisa Schmierer, Program Supervisor of New Start Preservation Program, and Michael Poma, Executive Director of BHK Child Development Board:
What is remarkable is we take referrals from the Department of Social Services, courts and our own caseloads of people who are in danger of their children being removed by the courts, and we try to keep these families together. We’re at about 85 percent at keeping children and families together over a ten-year period. ...we have a home for families that are homeless or precariously homeless where they can live for about three months and participate in a curriculum called “parents as teachers,” a program that teaches life skills and child care.
Also, we have a home for families that are homeless or precariously homeless where they can live for about three months and participate in a curriculum called “parents as teachers,” a program that teaches life skills and child care. We also offer counseling services to these people. During an independent review of our program, evaluators spoke to a woman who had been in our New Start House. She told them that it had changed her life, that she had no direction at the time she entered the program; she was using drugs, feeding kids chips and pop. Now she is on track, the kids are eating better, and she’s doing better.
A lot of what we do is goal setting with families. They don’t know what they’re doing next; it could be looking for a job, going back to school, etc. And these children usually haven’t been to a doctor, so we hook them up with a doctor or dentist. We also ensure that a slot is open in Early Head Start or Head Start for the children.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
We used to put our clients in our houses in Houghton or Baraga and provided our services to them, but then had to find a place for them to stay after three months. We found it is better to work with them in their own house than put them in the homeless shelter, then try to get them suitable housing afterwards.
We found that if substance abuse is involved, it is better to wait until they are six months clean than just out of a 30-day treatment program. If we don’t wait, it brings on a whole whelm of problems we’re not experienced to deal with.
What are the keys to success for your program?
We have very well trained staff with connections to the community; they know what resources are out there and how to access them.
At BHK we focus on child development, not childcare – how to use resources to advance a family’s situation, rather than offering temporary solutions. We focus on long-term solutions and advancements for the children and families.
How does your program ultimately help children and families?We keep families together, instead of being removed by the court. We try to get them in a routine and keep their goals and be self-sufficient.
We keep families together, instead of being removed by the court. We try to get them in a routine and keep their goals and be self-sufficient. We might have to coach them one or two times, but then we have families do it themselves. They learn how to do things like talk to a power company so that power doesn’t get shut off or return calls to a caseworker so they don’t lose their benefits. We work with them on how to negotiate to keep utilities on, pay bills, get resources they need, learn to be progressive rather than reactive.
How does community play a role in what you do?
Because our workers are collaborating with various resources, we get referrals from doctors, teachers, school officials and the courts. Courts will make a referral to us, but not mandate they work with us. They’re not mandated to be in our program. They have to want to get control of their lives.