“I was a fighter!” KC, a mother of two, declares when asked about her first interaction with the staff of BronxWorks’ Family Enrichment Program (FEP). She worked hard at pushing people away, believing that everything she tried would fail, and was convinced that no one could help her.
It’s not hard to understand why she felt this way. She moved to New York at 16 with the grandmother who’d raised her; her mother was in and out of her life, but mostly out. Within a short timeframe, her grandmother passed away and she became pregnant at 21 with Shannon (now 11 years old), who is a special needs child with Down syndrome. Soon after Shannon’s birth, she ended up in a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
She was able to secure a subsidized apartment and in 2009, Christopher was born. He is now a lively, inquisitive 4-year-old. As a young, single mother, KC struggled with her parental responsibilities that included the demands of one special needs child and a baby, bringing on depression and anxiety. Two incidents involving the children resulted in a neighbor’s call to the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which referred the family to BronxWorks' FEP services in 2010.
Tara Baker, a BronxWorks case manager, began to work with the family, starting with an assessment of the children’s safety in the home. Jonathan Morgenstern, FEP’s program director, explains that safety is their highest priority because a family’s living situation is directly related to the neglect and abuse that too many children experience. Poverty, homelessness (or fear of it), mental health issues, and many other of life’s challenges put tremendous strain on families, causing frustration and anger directed at the most vulnerable ones in the home. When FEP enters the picture, it employs a comprehensive “toolbox” of preventive actions and services to strengthen the entire family and avoid the need to place children in foster care.
The key to Shannon and Christopher’s safety, as well as keeping the family together, was helping KC work through her personal issues and giving her the practical tools for stronger parenting. Tara focused on empowering KC, which meant guiding her through the process to acquire public assistance for the children, including engaging a Medicaid service coordinator who will ensure that Shannon has the special education and support she needs for the rest of her life. FEP served as an advocate with the family’s landlord to get the apartment painted and purchased a new, sturdier bed for Shannon. It is the combination of simple tasks and critical services like these that can help alleviate the stress and impact of poverty on families like KC’s.
With Tara’s encouragement, KC signed up for a GED course which she completed in 2011. KC said she never thought she could do anything like that and it is thanks to the steady, calm guidance of Tara and the FEP staff that she has her sights set on college. She liked to sew as a child so she would love to study fashion, and she constantly reads any self-improvement books she can find to keep her mind strong and confidence high.
Today KC is still fighting, except now it is for herself and her children’s future, thanks to BronxWorks’ great friends and partners who support our mission to help individuals and families improve their economic and social well-being.
The BronxWorks Family Enrichment Program (FEP) works with families in Bronx Community District 4. Its goals are to ensure that children are safe, prevent the placement or re-placement of youngsters into the foster care system, and strengthen families and the community. Case managers provide case management and counseling, using the broad and diverse spectrum of services that BronxWorks offers to address families' needs. Questions or comments? Send them to email@example.com.
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