Special to Philanthropy Journal
In Catawba County, N.C., the Duke Endowment’s “Success Coaches” service is helping to keep parents and kids together, and Hickory resident Kelley Walker is only half-joking when she says her Success Coach saved her sanity.
Walker had held temporary custody of her 1-year-old granddaughter Karsyn since the girl was 2-weeks-old, but permanent custody wasn’t what Walker expected.
“I thought, you know, I can do this. I’ve already been a parent before. But I was wrong,” she says. “It’s completely different when it’s your own granddaughter. My friends, my family, my church-nobody I knew had gone through what I was going through. But my Success Coach understood.”
Success Coaches are a voluntary service that the Duke Endowment’s Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project has provided since 2010 for over 50 families with adoptees, children reunified with their parents, and other children from foster care under new guardianship or legal custody. Administered through Catawba County Social Services, the project is the first specifically designed to support families after they welcome children into their homes and out of foster care.
In 2007, Catawba County and the Duke Endowment established a design team to plan the shape and scope of the project and provide critical input. The following year, the National Implementation Research Network at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute began providing intensive technical assistance focused on developing and carrying out the project.
Allison Metz, scientist and an associate director of NIRN, led the team that helped to implement the project. “We wanted to provide a sustainable program with a range of services to enhance the wellbeing of children and to give support to families so fewer children would return to foster care,” says Metz.
The Duke Endowment provided the grant that enabled Metz’s team and administrators from Catawba County Social Services take Success Coaches from plans to practice.
“We heard the need for ongoing support and for families to have someone who was on their side,” says Dawn Wilson, the project’s director at Social Services.
In Kelley Walker’s case, that support was critical. “I felt very alone,” she says. “It helped to know there was someone I could call.”
Walker’s Success Coach, Christina DeNard, serves as a highly involved advocate for families, making home visits, providing assistance, and offering options. “From the beginning Kelley has always been ready to learn and do anything to strengthen Karsyn’s chances for success,” says DeNard. “I was always impressed with Kelley’s commitment.”
DeNard suggested that Walker and her granddaughter take advantage of the project’s Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, which Walker jokingly calls “Anger Management Classes.”
“Children don’t come with a manual,” says Walker. “The classes were the biggest help in making me a better mother. I think every parent should be able to do them with their child.”
Chrissy Triplett, who oversees the Success Coaches, says that FPG’s NIRN team provided the tools to help locate and hire the right coaches, who are on call 24/7. Despite the intense demands on coaches, the project still has the people Triplett originally hired. “I attribute that to the skills that FPG’s team taught me to use when I trained the coaches.”
Today, Karsyn is almost 4-years-old. According to Walker, her granddaughter has proven very resilient, and the Success Coach service recently closed Walker’s case.
“But they can call us anytime if anything changes,” says Triplett.
The initial evidence suggests that Kelley and Karsyn’s success story isn’t unusual for the Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project, which helps to reduce parenting needs and to correct children’s behaviors.
“The Success Coach is a stabilizing influence,” says Wilson, who has served as project director since early in the planning process. “Fewer children whose families have used Success Coaches come back into foster care.”
FPG’s Metz believes the Duke Endowment project’s initial results show promise, and Wilson currently is working to fund a second phase to look at long-term benefits. “We want to help these children become successful, productive members of society,” says Wilson.
Walker says her experience with a Success Coach continues to help Karsyn and her. “Christina not only saved my sanity,” Walker says. “She probably saved Karsyn’s, too.”
For information about Success Coaches services available to Catawba County residents, contact Dawn Wilson, Catawba County Social Services Program Manager, at 828-695-5702