SOUTH-CENTRAL : New Center Helps Keep Families Intact

A facility has opened that helps keep together families who are at risk of being separated by the county because of abusive or neglectful parents.

The South Central Community Family Service Center, 9626 S. Avalon Blvd., is expected to assist more than 100 families a year in stabilizing once chaotic, and sometimes violent, homes.

The county Department of Children and Family Services awarded the center a $448,000-a-year contract to work with 106 at-risk families and 12 youths on juvenile probation. The center is run by the Rev. Larry Jackson of Gethsemane Christian Love Missionary Baptist Church.

The facility has classrooms for parenting courses and drug treatment programs, a play area for child therapy and offices for 11 community-based agencies that provide services through the center.

The Crenshaw District-based Family Empowerment Agency, which has worked in family preservation efforts for three years, is among the network agencies.

Peggy Seary, Family Empowerment's executive director, said the center will allow the group to expand services and assist more families. "And that's my greatest joy," she said.

The network's social workers and psychologists go to the homes of families, sometimes as often as four times a week, to monitor domestic life and counsel parents on budgeting, nutrition and general household upkeep.

The visits take place before and after reunification of parents and children taken from their homes by county authorities because of such problems as parental drug use or temporary abandonment. The network also focuses on families identified by the Department of Children and Family Services as being "on the border" of losing their children, Seary said.

Social workers are always on the lookout for repeated abuse to determine if a child would be better off in a foster home.

The center also helps provide food, clothing, housing and health care for families and transportation and child care for parents enrolled in drug treatment and other self-help programs.

"We find out what are the families' needs and we help them so that their kids can stay in their homes," said Bruce Rubenstein, the deputy director of community development for the Department of Children and Family Services.

The center, one of 21 such facilities countywide, represents a growing movement in the Children and Family Services department to try to preserve families rather than expand the costlier foster care system.

One of the groups with offices at the center, Los Angeles Wings of Faith, has been offering social-service programs such as literacy classes and substance abuse treatment since 1990.

"I think the center is critical to the rebuilding of the community and maintaining strong and healthy families," Rubenstein said.

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