After six months of planning and renovations, the Boston-Suffolk County Family Resource Center (FRC) opened earlier this year at The Home for Little Wanderers in Roslindale, Mass. Founded in 1799 and having transitioned through several different organizations over time, The Home now provides adoption, foster care, group home and intensive treatment residential services for children and families.
The new center is part of an almost 10-year journey to make a statewide network of family-oriented community resource centers a reality. With the addition of The Home’s FRC, families in every county in Massachusetts can now receive community-based support and services, says program director Amy McCarthy.
“In a nutshell, the population we’re working with is the state’s most vulnerable children through any stage of child development, birth to age 22, and their families,” she says.
McCarthy says The Home’s 600 staff members help to connect 7,000 kids and their families to appropriate services each year. With the new location, they hope to increase their reach.
In 2012, Massachusetts enacted legislation by which a family could petition the court to acquire Child in Need of Services (CHIN) support for environmental, behavioral or mental health needs.
“Our state lawmakers had this recognition that the court is maybe not the most appropriate place to manage the needs of young people experiencing or dealing with mental health conditions, and the law was eventually changed,” McCarthy says. “A big part of it was decriminalizing the behavior of young people.”
Today, McCarthy says the FRC aims to provide a preventive model for families to access the right places and the right people.
“They don’t have to have a certain type of health insurance, and they don’t have to live in a certain area,” she says. “It’s an open door policy that anyone is welcome to come and get that support from us.”
Families can come into the center, facilitate an intake, meet with a clinician, and take a better look at some of the underlying issues in a young person’s life, McCarthy explains. From there, staff members work with the family to build a team of local specialists to address individual concerns. School liaisons, family partners, and support workers are available to help families as needed and carry out regular follow-ups, while young adult-approved peer mentors provide direct support.
Physical space and beyond
The Boston-Suffolk County Family Resource Center space formerly housed adoption records, according to McCarthy. Today, she says, the facility is a “family-friendly space” with bright, colorful paint and decorations selected to offer a sense of welcoming.
“For me it was really about choosing colors that were energizing” she says. “We have bright orange in one of our rooms and picked a teal color for our technology room. We also have a bright teal photo that spells out ‘Boston,’ but within the letters it spells out all the names of the different neighborhoods in the city to serve as a reminder that we’re rooted in the community.”
Among the community spaces, the technology room allows families to research and print out resources or support materials. At the entrance, a waiting room is equipped with toys, games, puzzles, books, art and craft supplies. Likewise, the multipurpose room has a flat-screen television where groups, intakes and team meetings are held. The center’s kitchen will be used for parent and caregiver-focused groups that are oriented around healthy cooking while also providing food for families during their visit.
“We wanted it to be an overall calming space but also a space that’s comfortable for children and their caregivers,” McCarthy says. “Because we serve the whole lifespan, it needed to be visually appealing to all ages.”
The Home hopes to expand offerings to youth-oriented programming for LGBTQ and teen parents, for example, and also provide fun, nurturing events like craft nights, movie nights, and holiday celebrations.
“Creating a space where families can build memories together and have some positive experiences is important to us,” McCarthy says. “A lot of that will also be determined by the community and the families that we serve with their feedback. There’s some flexibility and creativity in the ability to create what we offer.”
The Home’s FRC is open six days a week with evening hours offered so families can access services at a time that’s convenient. However, McCarthy emphasizes that it’s all about meeting children and families where they are. Two satellite locations are in development now—one at a local charter school and the other at Suffolk County Juvenile Court.
“We’re working with the court to solidify that extended hours be added so families coming in there can be immediately rerouted back to us before going through the court process,” she says. “If they can’t make it to our physical location, we work to figure out a closer place or we can come to them.”