Friday August 15, 2008
When a Louisiana coalition searched for strategies to address the state’s biggest problems of poverty, unemployment, and the lack of education and healthcare, they studied the successes of a Louisville Metro/Jefferson County program.
Jefferson County’s eight Neighborhood Places impressed the coalition so much that Louisiana lawmakers passed a state law to emulate the model. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 701 into law during July.
The Louisiana adoption of the Neighborhood Place model is the latest accolade for the program, which has achieved documented successes and which serves as a national model for streamlining education, human, and health services for children and families.
“Louisville, Kentucky, in this regard, is the model to follow,” says Mark A. Washington, former commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Community-Based Services. “This is the way it should be done everywhere.”
Washington served as a consultant for Louisiana leaders, meeting with them in their home state and organizing tours of three Neighborhood Places in Louisville.
Louisiana plans to open six to eight Neighborhood Places in New Orleans and additional centers in Baton Rouge and other cities. The first New Orleans location is under construction at a former school and should be completed by September 2009. Alabama and Texas are examining the Neighborhood Place model as well, Washington says. For more informtion about Louisiana's plan, visit their website (http://www.dss.state.la.us).
A model that works
Neighborhood Places resulted from the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990, which established Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs) in or near schools to address social issues that hindered a student’s academic performance. Educators noticed that service gaps continued to exist and that families seeking services were sent across the city to wait in long lines and explain their stories multiple times.
A joint effort among local service providers developed the Neighborhood Place as a convenient one-stop center for these families.
The first Neighborhood Place opened in 1993 at Thomas Jefferson Middle. After two years, the pilot site showed such progress that plans were drafted for eight Neighborhood Place locations, all of which now operate.
“It is a very workable approach to bringing health, education, and community agencies together to tackle mutual concerns that affect families,” says JCPS Superintendent Dr. Sheldon H. Berman. “From what I have observed, the connections between the Neighborhood Places and the FRYSCs are particularly beneficial in focusing an entire network of resources on ways to address health and human service-related barriers to students’ educational progress.”
In recent months, JCPS Deputy to Superintendent Marty Bell met with Louisiana state leaders and superintendents to discuss methods for replicating the model. Bell, who was part of the collaborative effort to form Neighborhood Place, says the model cannot be copied in a cookie-cutter style approach because each community will have specific needs and challenges, he says.
“The correct approach is getting all the stakeholders sitting at the table and figuring out how to share resources to benefit families and children,” Bell says. “I think it’s a model that needs to be implemented across the country.”
The effort’s focus is to serve the customer, and annual surveys indicate the positive feedback of families that use Neighborhood Place, Bell says. The eight Jefferson County locations are not clones. Each facility offers customized programs to best meet the changing needs of the customers they serve.
Neighborhood Places are mostly based on JCPS properties because school sites are equally distributed throughout the area and allowed for accessible locations with minimal costs. JCPS is one of many strong partners because a family’s instability creates barriers to a child’s education. Before KERA, many school leaders may have assumed that a chronic problem in a child’s home was someone else’s job.
“We have a vested interest in keeping a stable home family environment so that children have every opportunity possible to do well in school,” Bell says. “We refer to it as reducing barriers to the children learning.”
‘Like a family here’
Woody Miller, administrator of the Greater Cane Run Neighborhood Place, hosted a visiting contingent of Louisiana guests during December, February, and May. The facility shares the grounds of Lassiter Middle and primarily serves residents in the 40216 and 40258 zip codes.
Responding to emerging local trends, Miller says employees are now planning a job fair and plan to make job counseling a priority. Three Neighborhood Place sites are piloting a new job-counseling program.
A dozen clients waited in the lobby on a recent Wednesday for appointments with workers at the Greater Cane Run Neighborhood Place. Within the facility are counselors who meet with families to assess needs and examine the answers on a service questionnaire. City workers are able to provide emergency funding to help clients pay rent or utilities. Five social workers can provide help for children with truancy problems or whose families suffer with abuse or neglect. Two employees coordinate financial assistance to help pay for childcare so adults can work. A substance abuse counselor can assess a client’s history and make appropriate referrals.
Some of the families that wait in the lobby may be seeking one service such as a medical insurance card for a child or employment training for an adult, but most families can benefit from the variety of skilled workers under the same roof, Miller says. Often deeper problems emerge when employees examine the reasons behind a student’s truancy.
“You never know how an issue is going to surface,” Miller says. “Most of the time, it’s more than one issue.”
Sheila Redella, a University of Kentucky targeted assessment specialist at Greater Cane Run Neighborhood Place, assesses clients’ mental health, domestic violence history, and learning disabilities. Often when a client seems to be stuck there are specific reasons that emerge such as illiteracy, drug abuse, lack of education, or the need for daycare, she says. Redella and her colleagues at Neighborhood Place can address each of those issues.
“It’s almost like a family here,” Redella says. “It’s a safe place for people to come. Being on the same premises makes all the difference.”
When pregnant women are spotted in the lobby, they are often steered toward Susan Kaler, a family support worker for Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS). Kaler offers weekly home visits to new parents to discuss a child’s physical and emotional development. Kaler’s main focus is the importance of character building during a child’s early years. Those lessons affect a child’s ability to learn, mature, and build self-esteem, Kaler says.
Employees at Greater Cane Run Neighborhood Place appreciate the ease of steering a client to an additional service provider around the corner—rather than across town. Each Neighborhood Place can adjust its services to provide the specialized needs of residents in the immediate community.
“It’s a model that should be considered statewide in Kentucky,” Washington says.
For more information about Neighborhood Place, call 485-3221 or visit www.louisvilleky.gov/NeighborhoodPlace