By Chesnie Wardell Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Aug 27, 2022 at 6:01 PM Photography: Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

The Stronger Families Milwaukee program is in its infancy but its goals are ambitious.

It collaborates with agencies to make sure families that attract the attention of Milwaukee Child Protective Services get the help they need.

Community Advocates Public Policy Institute launched the program in April under a five-year contract with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

Stronger Families Milwaukee aims to help families prevent the kinds of circumstances that erode their abilities to sustain themselves and risk further Child Protective Services intervention.

Voluntary services include rental assistance, child care, energy assistance and more.

Engagement specialists, the case workers for the program, work directly with the families to provide four months of any services through Community Advocates that a family may need.

Program manager Lauren Faulds stressed the importance of stability and adaptability.

“Whatever goals the families want to work on, whether it be housing or mental health, we want to make sure we’ve supplied them with that,” she said.

Stronger Families Milwaukee has partnered with and refers clients to agencies such as The Parenting Network, where a parent may get parenting support and connections to resources, and The Neu-Life Community Development, for individuals ages 4 through 25 who are in need of activities, summer programs and after-school programs.

The Parenting Network is at 7516 W. Burleigh St., and Neu-Life is at 2014 W. North Ave.

As long as there are no serious safety threats to family members, the program receives referrals from the state of Wisconsin Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services. Engagement specialists will then contact those families to verify they want to participate in the program.

Faulds said some families may not want to enroll because of the program’s intensity or because of insufficient time. But for those who express interest, enrollment begins with a home visit by an engagement specialist. The family is asked questions about its situation and fills out forms before participating in the upcoming home visits twice a week for four months.

According to Milwaukee Child Protective Services, there were 5,704 families in need of services in 2019 that Stronger Families Milwaukee offers. In 2020, the cases of 4,975 families were closed safely after an initial assessment without any care or services. This doesn’t mean, however, that they could not benefit in the longer term from the type of services offered by the program.

As of June, there have been about 50 families referred, but only 20 have been enrolled so far in the program, according to Faulds. The other 30 families will get referred to other internal services if they are not ultimately enrolled.

Though it is early in the program, Engagement Specialist Christine Wiese is seeing patterns, particularly a need for affordable housing.

Wiese works with approximately 11 families, mainly interacting with women who are the heads of their households.

“Every day that we meet, we’re figuring things out. But also we have this opportunity to talk about how’s life going,” she said.

Wiese said the program’s participants are diverse, including big and small families.

According to Faulds, from April to June, the program’s participants consisted of 62 African American residents, one Asian participant, 22 white participants and 11 cases of mixed race or ethnicity. These are all members of a household referred to the program, said Faulds.

Wiese said she employs an interpreter for any family that speaks only Spanish.

Wiese’s biggest challenge during case management is helping families find housing because large families are looking for something affordable. When eviction notices hit, this makes the challenges even more difficult to navigate.

“Housing is always an issue in Milwaukee,” said Faulds.

Wiese said the proportion of minorities needing the program’s services is distressing. However, she added that participating families are relieved that there are people supporting them.

Faulds hopes to see the program expand.

 “I would love to see this program grow and eventually maybe work with other agencies,” she said.

For more information

Click here to learn more about the program.