Agape for Youth
In Agape for Youth’s Family Reunification program, thus far 90 percent of youth initially sent to out-of-home placements remain with their birth families after successfully completing the reunification program.
Award-winning Family Reunification Program Demonstrates Early Successes
Agape for Youth was founded in 1989 to place children into caring foster homes that could guide and support youth in becoming thriving individuals. Executive Director/Founder Stephen Geib states that the non-profits number one goal is “permanency.” Agape desires that the youth they serve find stable, loving, long-term families, whether through foster care, adoption, or reunification. Since its inception, the Family Reunification Program has shown ongoing success, with 90 percent of the participating families served remaining intact. Impressed with the success of this initiative, the Ohio Association of Nonprofits recently named Agape a finalist in its 2013 “Ohio Nonprofit Excellence Awards” competition.
Agape launched the Family Reunification program in 2008 with financial support from the Montgomery County Department of Jobs and Family Services. The County’s Children’s Services Division assesses families for potential involvement in the program. They then refer candidate families to Agape for Youth. Agape served 84 families in the program during 2012.
“This program is designed for 12 weeks”, explains Mr. Geib. “We do an initial assessment with the family including a pre-evaluation in the first week that serves as a guide for focusing our services on the specific needs and areas of challenge of the family. The children can visit, and even reside with their birth family during this 12-week period, and the goal is to have them back in the family permanently by the end of program. These are kids typically sent into foster care because of neglect. Therefore our assistance to the parents might involve helping them to find suitable housing, training them on discipline and parenting strategies, or helping them to find new jobs.” A Family Reunification worker from Agape is in the home at least five hours per week, building relationships with the parents and working with them on goals they’ve identified.
Mr. Geib says the program’s success is based on several factors. “The first is strong relationships. The families we serve really need to be met where they’re at. We don’t get adversarial. We ask them: ‘What are your goals? How can we help you?’” Second, the Family Reunification Specialists are trained specifically for such services to the family unit. As a team, the Reunification staff typically invests 375-400 direct service hours monthly to the participating families, creating trust and momentum towards reunification. Third, the screening process for the program is intense. These families must be ready and willing for reunification. Finally, Agape brings a lot of practical support around the families, including a number of fun family activities like an annual picnic, annual holiday celebration, and field trips to ball games and museums. Reunification families are also invited to attend trainings provided by Agape. “This has been significant in that it has provided an opportunity to breakdown the stereotypes held by reunification families towards foster families and the reverse,” says Geib. Through its partnership with Good360, and other community based programs, Agape is also able to make available to families all manner of new and used household wares for free, thus enabling parents on tight budgets to secure necessary items for clean, safe homes. The youth in the reunification families are also offered participation in other Agape initiatives such as serving on the Agape Youth Council, community service and Youth Activities.
Agape Reunification staff conducts a post-evaluation at the end of the 12-week period to measure the family’s progress in attaining its goals. Staff also follow-up with the families at two, six, and twelve month intervals to ensure family stability and the child(ren)’s wellbeing. In between these times, Mr. Geib emphasizes, “We have an open door policy. These families are encouraged to remain engaged with us through special Agape events, communicating with staff and attending ongoing trainings. We’ll continue to help them any time the need arises.”