The Catholic Commentator

As budget cuts to state agencies continue to diminish social services, private entities, such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, have displayed a willingness to help fill in the gaps.

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Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonier recently presented the agency’s inaugural Faith in Families Award to Catholic Charities Diocese of Baton Rouge. Pictured, from left, are CCDBR social worker Paula Davis, Sonier, CCDBR’s Stephanie Sterling and CCDBR executive director David Aguillard. Photo by Rihcard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

Through its myriad of programs, Catholic Charities has forged a beneficial partnership with the state in ensuring the needs of some of the community’s most vulnerable families and children continue to be met.

In recognition of that collaborative effort, Catholic Charities was recently one of seven agencies to receive the Department of Children and Family Services’ inaugural Faith in Families Award. Catholic Charities was specifically awarded for the agency’s innovative Safe Families for Children program, which helps prevent children from entering foster care, as well as playing a large role in helping prevent child abuse and neglect and stabilizing families in times of crisis.

According to Stephanie Sterling, director of Catholic Charities’ Maternity, Adoption and Behavioral Staff Department, staff members work in tandem with DCFS personnel, providing recruiting efforts as well as pre- and post-adoptive services, providing relief to an already overburdened state agency staff.

“Much of what (DCFS) has been able to accomplish is due to the partnerships with individuals and organizations who advocate for children in foster care,” said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonier. “In Louisiana, we are very family focused.”

Sterling said CCDBR was honored by the award because “we are mission driven, and we work hard for our clients every single day.

“I’m honored that we live in a state where the government entity does recognize the value of faith-based partners and the value of collaborations to better improve services for practices for the children and families of the state.”

She said the volunteer-based Safe Families for Children program has become an important ministry at several churches throughout the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Volunteers, vetted and trained by Catholic Charities staff, are able to provide relief to a family in crisis by temporarily taking custody of a child. The child may stay with the host family for as little as a few days or perhaps up to a year, depending on the circumstances of the child’s family.

“This is part of how we partner with DCFS to prevent child abuse and neglect on the front end before (children) would enter the DCFS system.” Sterling said, adding that Catholic Charities also provides pre-surrender counseling to DCFS clients who are voluntarily surrendering their parental rights to their children. She said the overwhelming majority of the time those are infant adoptions.

“(DCFS) recognizes our expertise in that, ” Sterling said.

Catholic Charities international adoption social worker Paula Davis is actively involved in the Child Welfare Training Academy, which provides an avenue for educating DCFS staff and other social workers throughout the state. One of the training components is educating workers on helping adoptive children stay in touch with the extended families of their birth parents, especially if that child is older.

“If a child is removed from the parents that does not mean there are not other people in that child’s extended family who might be beneficial to be involved in that child’s life,” Davis said. “The thing that’s ridiculous is if a child is 13 years old and you’ve surrendered parental rights, it doesn’t mean (the child) doesn’t have a connection to that parent. It might not be a legal connection but an emotional connection. That is something we have done for the past nine years is worked with DCFS and provide a training adoption confidence course.”

Catholic Charities also performs home studies for foster placements for DCFS when necessary as well as additional training and counseling services.

“I think the faith-based programs and the state have a common goal of improving the well-being of children in the state,” Davis said. “Since we all have a common goal and we all have limited resources, why not pool our efforts? There’s a synergy that happens when you have people working together for a common goal.”

Davis said the DCFS staff is committed to the welfare of the children the agency serves but acknowledges they face an overwhelming task not only because of budget cuts but also because of turnover and high case loads.

Sterling believes the DCFS- Catholic Charities relationship is critical because combined the agencies are serving some of the state’s most vulnerable families.

“We feel like as Catholics and Christians it is part of our Catholic identity to reach out to those who are in need of assistance, to those who are in need of help, to those who are in crisis,” she said. “That’s part of who we are. It’s important for us to use our expertise and experience for everybody, not just those who come through our doors but how can we make an impact in the community bigger than just ourselves.”

CCDBR executive director David Aguillard said he is often inspired by his staff.

“I see the work and commitment of our staff everyday, and it’s wonderful to see them recognized for their selflessness and dedication to our Catholic mission,” he said.