Prevention program demonstrates potential to keep kids out of foster care


PORT ST. LUCIE — Communities Connected for Kids, the non-profit organization that oversees the child welfare community in Okeechobee and the Treasure Coast, made several improvements to its system in 2022 that have the potential to keep children out of foster care.

Among services with the most potential is Family Functioning Therapy, an evidence-based, short-term family treatment model for at-risk young people at risk of entering the dependency or juvenile justice systems.

Locally, the program serves 11-17 year-old youth and their families and is administered by Camelot Community Care, one of the many agencies already part of CCKids’ extensive provider network.

“We decided to invest in this program because of its evidence-based and family-centered approach to addressing youth substance use issues, mental health concerns, trauma-based issues and family conflict,” said CCKids Chief Operating Officer Cheri Sheffer. “It’s scientifically proven to help at-risk youth and their families overcome behavior problems, conduct disorder, substance abuse and delinquency.”

The program started officially in October 2021 and serves each of CCKids’ four communities of Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.

Its already making a difference in the lives of young people, said Leslie Serena, Camelot Community Care CEO. She said the nonprofit is excited to partner with CCKids to create opportunities for families to improve their communication and relationships.

“It has improved me a lot,” a young person recently in the program said. “I learned new techniques on how to communicate with my family and different ways to act.”

Locally, program results from the first year show potential for greater use over time. An average of seven families were referred to the program per month, with the year’s total referrals coming in at 84.

Most of those referrals were from child protective investigators, demonstrating a trust in the program that CCKids officials hope will prevent more families from coming into the dependency system.

“When investigators trust a program and its record for safety, they are less likely to remove children from their homes,” said Christina Kaiser, CCKids Community Relations Director. “And that means fewer children in foster care.”

Results from the first year include an engagement rate of 65 percent and a successful completion rate of 13 percent.

“We are reviewing these outcomes against industry standards and will be working with Camelot to increase awareness of and engagement in the program this year,” Sheffer said.

Establishing new prevention programs takes time, she said.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the positive impacts from FFT in the lives of many families”

Communities Connected for Kids, foster care, child welfare