Center for Healthy Families
In Franklin County, The Center for Healthy Families has become a one-stop shop for teen parents. The organization nurtures coordination and collaboration among eleven service organizations that provide programs touching on various aspects of teen parents’ lives.
Systematic Collaboration Animates “Wrap- Around” Service Approach for Teen Parents
Nearly 1,500 babies were born to teen mothers in Franklin County in 2010 (the most recent year for which data was available). While that is a decrease from a few years earlier (and is in line with a national downward trend in teen pregnancy) it indicates a serious, ongoing challenge. And while the downturn may indicate some progress in teen pregnancy prevention programs it still signals the need for effective services for teens that do get pregnant.
According to Toshia Safford, President and CEO of The Center for Healthy Families, 65 percent of teen parents live in poverty and one in four repeat pregnancies within 18 to 24 months of their first child. Only about 30 percent graduate from high school.
“Their needs are not one, they are many. Teen parents need wrap-around services if they are going to beat these odds,” Safford says. “Their babies need wellness care and the young parents often need educational opportunities, safe housing, parenting skills, and healthy, supportive relationships.” When a teen mom or dad does get the support they need, they can thrive. That is the personal story of The Center for Healthy Families’ founder, Donna James. Though a teen mom herself years ago, James defied the statistics and became a Fortune 500 corporate executive, a director for five corporate boards, and a leader in the Central Ohio community. She attributes her success to not only to a fearless work ethic and determination, but a sustained support system.
Several nonprofits and public agencies in Franklin County offer one or more services relevant to teen parents. But sometimes such groups do not have teens as their primary target audience or they conduct their programs in isolation from one another. “The Center for Healthy Families exists to develop a collaborative infrastructure to address this vulnerable population,” Safford says. “We’re trying to integrate the silos by gathering 11 partner agencies into our Healthy Families Connection project.” The coalition’s members share a desire to see every teen parent graduate from high school and achieve economic self-sufficiency. So far, the approach is bearing fruit. The Center has a small staff of Resource Advocates who come alongside teen moms and dads for a period of up to two years. These staffers build strong relationships with the young parents and connect them to the array of assistance offered by the eleven partner agencies The Center has recruited. Over a two-year cycle, the Center serves over 250 individuals in teen families and last year participants achieved a 75 percent high school graduation rate.
Once each quarter, leaders of the eleven partner agencies gather for the “Presidents Panel” session. “They review strategies and clarify who is doing what and what progress is being made on agreed-upon outcomes,” Safford says. The Panel is currently at work on an overarching vision statement and plans soon to work together on submitting some major grant proposals to potential funders. Meanwhile, every other month, program staff from the partner agencies meet for the “Service Managers Panel.” This group shares information about new programs, engages in some limited case reviews, and discusses how to coordinate services to teens more effectively.
Safford reports that two factors have been decisive to The Center’s success in getting this multi-partner collaborative off the ground. “First, we sought buy-in from the top leaders of the agencies, not just the hands-on service providers.” Sometimes, she explains, frontlines staff from different organizations see benefit in collaboration but these employees don’t have the authority to make such partnerships formal. So Safford didn’t try to build the collaborative from the ground-up, but from the top-down. Yet, by incorporating into the model the Service Managers Panel, the group has achieved good coordination at that ground level. Second, “each organization at the table is offering complementary, not competitive services,” Safford says. This has helped the group to avoid turf wars and build trust.