Extra funding to support at-risk families

A increase in state funding has allowed Anoka County to boost its parent support outreach program (PSOP) for families that might otherwise be at risk for involvement in child protection services.

To administer the program, the Anoka County Board, on the recommendation of its Management Committee, has approved the hiring of a .8 FTE (full-time equivalent) social worker to coordinate the program contingent on continued state funding.

The PSOP program has been operating since 2005, but with a part-time temporary employee as coordinator.

Funding levels in 2010 and 2011 enabled the county to serve 120 families each year, according to community social services and mental health department staff report to the Management Committee.

With a grant award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services of $200,000 per year for five years (2012-2016), there will be an increase of 32 hours per week to meet the expectations of serving up to 200 families per year, the staff report states.

According to Cindy Cesare, director of community social services and mental health, families eligible for the PSOP program have been reported to child protection, but the case does not rise to the level of needing an investigation.

These families who have a child under the age of 10 are referred to the PSOP program on a voluntary basis in an effort to deal with the issues which prompted the initial report, Cesare said.

The county PSOP social worker talks to the family about the services available from the two vendors that the county contracts with using the grant dollars for the program – Alexandra House and People Inc.

Short-term counseling is provided to families who enter the PSOP program by a case manager at those agencies and grant dollars are also available to meet financial and other issues the family might have that is causing the stress, Cesare said.

“These issues could be struggling to make ends meet, homelessness, unemployment or relationship problems,” she said.

Typically, a family will be in the PSOP program for three to six months and there is flexibility in the funding that is available to help the families financially, Cesare said.

Financial assistance can include one month’s rent deposit for a family moving into an apartment, money to buy groceries or funding for school supplies, according to Cesare.

By involving families on a voluntary basis with services that might not otherwise be available to them, the county has been able to intervene earlier and prevent the crisis from getting worse, Cesare said.

“The program has been very successful,” she said.

“We see very few of these families back in child protection down the line.”

No county dollars are used to fund the program.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health website, the PSOP program is available in 30 Minnesota counties.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]