- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Charlotte L. McConnell, executive director of Family and Child Services of Washington, D.C., Inc.

Question: Is Family and Child Services of Washington, D.C. Inc. often confused with the D.C. government's Department of Child and Family Services?
Answer: Yes. It's a big issue for clients, for funders and just in general in trying to get the word out about our services. The names are so closely aligned, people often mix us up.
We're a private, nonprofit organization that is 120 years old. We are one of the oldest social services organizations, if not the oldest, in the city. And as a private organization, we have the flexibility to meet crises in the community.
Q: Give an example of Family and Child Services meeting a crisis situation.
A: A major one was the September 11 tragedy. We were able to send two social workers on a full-time basis to work with the families and co-workers of the victims of the Pentagon attack. Our social workers stayed on the site for two weeks. While they were there, they conducted group sessions with Pentagon employees, and they also had individual sessions with family members.
We continue to work with the families of victims because we received two grants that will allow us to continue to counsel families. And we are working with the employees from the hospitality and tourism industry who have been laid off. They've been hurt by the economic downturn in the D.C. area since September 11 with unemployment.
We think a lot of the symptoms related to September 11 will emerge later. We anticipate post traumatic stress disorder that usually does not appear right away, or people don't realize what happening to them. There's high anxiety, agitation and an inability to sleep. Right now, all that is being is made worse with job layoffs. People are worried about the economy and their jobs. We see the need for mental health services to greatly increase.
Q: Can you describe some of the mental health services available through Family and Child Services?
A: Well, we offer a full range of services that includes individual therapy and individual counseling, family counseling and group counseling for children and adults.
For example, we have a group for people who batter their partners called the Batterer's Group. And we also have a group for the victims both children and adults. [Domestic violence is] a problem, and I don't know why we don't hear more about it. Our batterer's program is sort of an alternative to incarceration: The men come to our group in lieu of more restrictive punishment. We work in conjunction with the D.C. Superior Court.
Since domestic violence is a major issue, this spring [April 23] we are planning a domestic-violence conference called "Developing Domestic Violence Policies for the Workplace," which will be held at the Washington Court Hotel on Capitol Hill. This conference is for people who own and operate businesses. When partners are afraid of being harassed, businesses need a way to protect their employees. Right now, only 5 percent of U.S. businesses have domestic-violence policies.
Q: How does Family and Child Services approach mental health problems?
A: We don't look at the individual in a vacuum. We look at all aspects of a person's life or as many aspects as possible. It's sort of a combination of therapy case management: We address an individual's mental health needs, but we also look at their need for child care or a place to live.
You cannot get mentally healthy without food on the table. We look at a person's need for housing, employment, their working relationships and their family relationships. And in some instances, their spirituality. We think it's important for people to have a well-balanced life.
Q: Can you give an example of how this approach has benefited families?
A: One of our clients enrolled in a drug-rehabilitation service. Today, she no longer uses drugs and has been clean for one year and eight months. We have been able to provide individual counseling for her and her six children. For a while, the children were in foster care, but they've since been reunited with their mother.
We provide her with both individual and family therapy. Three of the younger children are receiving individual counseling. One of the daughters participates in our adolescent girls group. Of course, they are all in family therapy. In addition, the mother is in a housing program, which helps her restabilize her family, and a job-training program as part of a collaborative effort with other community services.
As a special treat, our client and her family were "adopted" by a family for the holiday season. The holiday adoption provided our client and her family with a rather significant financial stipend and toys for the children. We've had the Adopt a Family program here for at least five or six years.
Q: Is the goal of Family and Child Services to help people develop a plan for their lives?
A: What we do is connect people with resources.
The social worker and the client develop a service plan that is mutually agreed upon. Then we work together with the family to make sure we meet the goals of the plan. The first thing we do is determine what a person's needs are whether it's a referral to a job-training facility, housing, [obtaining] Medicaid, Medicare or insurance for their children.
Q: What can people do to help Family and Child Services?
A: We always need money: They can make a donation to Family and Child Services of Washington, D.C. Inc. So much of our support comes from individual donors.
We always need volunteers: We have a program called Families And Schools Together, and we need volunteers for that program. We also need volunteers for our Alzheimer's Respite program, and we always need foster parents, day care providers and adoptive parents.
Q: What does the Families And Schools Together (FAST) program entail?
A: Families And Schools Together is a project between Family and Child Services and two schools in the District Hugh M. Browne Junior High School in Northeast and MacFarland Middle School in Northwest. The schools identify a child at risk of dropping out and then we engage the entire family the mother, the father and the siblings in the FAST program, which is a series of group sessions that lasts 14 weeks. At the end of the program, the entire family graduates. It's a very moving ceremony.
The FAST program gets families involved with their children at schools, and it gets them involved with each other. For example, families and students dine together and discuss different issues, like household chores or house rules. So the children feel supportive, and the parents get involved.
Q: How can people find out about and sign up for programs offered by Family and Child Services?
A: Just call 202/289-1510, extension 180. We have a central intake coordinator on duty Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Of course, it depends on what the person needs. For example, if a person wants to inquire about becoming an adoptive parent, information will be forwarded to them. Or if a person wants mental health services, someone will call them back and set up an appointment.
We will never turn a person away because of their inability to pay. We have a sliding scale fee based on a person's income.

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