AZ Giving and Leading: Crisis Nursery

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Since 1977, Phoenix-based Crisis Nursery Inc. has provided a shelter to children suffering from abuse, neglect or homelessness. Crisis Nursery also operates head start and foster care programs. Crisis Nursery Executive Director Marsha Porter will talk about her organization’s efforts to help protect children.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Giving and Leading focuses on Crisis Nursery, a Phoenix based shelter that serves children suffering from abuse, neglect, homelessness. Crisis Nursery also operates Head Start and foster care programs. Joining us now is Marsha Porter, Executive Director of Crisis Nursery. Thank you so much for being here.

Marsha Porter: Thanks for the opportunity.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of Crisis Nursery.

Marsha Porter: Our mission is breaking the cycle of child abuse and neglect. We do that in a variety of ways, really starting where the family is at. We see children in crisis that have been removed from their families due to abuse and neglect or whose parents are just overwhelmed and might place them at our shelter or a child comes into one of our foster homes. We're also on the prevention side. We're a child welfare agency, we deal with at-risk families but we're trying to help them early on overcome some of the challenges they face and get their kids ready to succeed, have families make goals for themselves they can achieve. Our early Head Start and preschool program do that. On the back end our shelter and foster care are dealing with kids that have already been traumatized, giving them a chance to heal, opportunities to succeed and really a second chance at childhood.

Ted Simons: Crisis Nursery the name here, what kind of crises are you seeing and are these situations changing over time which means you need to change in terms of services and what you're offering?

Marsha Porter: That's exactly what we've done. Child abuse and neglect are the main issues that face many of the families, but those are compounded by poverty and sometimes caused by poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence. We're dealing with powder keg situations where at the same point in time parents really want to do the best they can. So if at all possible we can reach those families voluntarily before the state, CPS, needs to get involved, we know how overburdened they are. If we can reach parents at a time when there's potential for abuse and neglect that hasn't occurred yet we have found them very receptive to looking at ways to better parent and plan for their families.

Ted Simons: Have they been receptive? I would think coming to a family and saying we have some counseling, referrals, connections for you, we see there might be a problem it would seem to me that you would have a lot of families going you don't know what you're talking about.

Marsha Porter: I'm a firm believer most parents want to be the best parents they can. Many of them weren't parented themselves, don't have the tools and resources they need. If we can serve as a navigator for them -- they love their kids. Many times they have done some fairly heinous things to their kids out of ignorance, out of stress, out of anger. But I haven't yet met a parent that really didn't want to be a good parent. Many of them don't have the tools and resources they need.

Ted Simons: After they get the tools and resources and services that you offer, talk to us about that process. Are we talking long term, short term or just whatever gets the job done?

Marsha Porter: Whatever gets the job done. We're able to be fairly flexible. We deal with the parents where they're at and what the issues are. In our early Head Start and foster care programs, many times children will stay with us for years. In our shelter sometimes it's just a day or two for a parent that's just overwhelmed to get back into -- get stuff together, have crisis averted. We will work individually with each parent based upon the need of the child and their families.

Ted Simons: You mentioned foster families. I would imagine some of those foster families need some counseling too.

Marsha Porter: They are unbelievable people. Imagine opening not only your heart but your home to children that you know very little about, and it is disruptive. We have families, foster specialists that work closely with families, help them advocate not only for services for that particular child or sibling group but also for the family itself. Introducing a new one, two or three children in the middle of the night sometimes is going to cause trauma in that family as well.

Ted Simons: Indeed, but those are amazing families.

Marsha Porter: They're phenomenal.

Ted Simons: You talk about breaking the chain of child abuse, what is the biggest challenge in that getting done? Is there something out there more than anything else that you see is the biggest hindrance of breaking that chain?

Marsha Porter: I think hopelessness. I think we see a lot of families that generationally have lived in poverty, don't see a way up. I think helping them connect to the resources that are available, our community safety net has pretty much dismantled. So many times it requires a pretty skilled person to try to connect them with what still exists, but hopelessness is probably the most, the biggest challenge these families face.

Ted Simons: How do you deal with that then?

Marsha Porter: Directly. Basically figure out step by step -- them getting a house might not be an achievable goal in the next year or two years but them getting a job, even if it's ten hours a week, or them getting child care for their children, if you can take it step by step and they can see progress which many of them have never seen in their lives, that's their second chance.

Ted Simons: And that is the family. But the bottom line is the kid and reuniting with the birth family would obviously be the goal you're looking for here, but a lot of times that can't happen, can it?

Marsha Porter: Right. Our ultimate goal is to never have them have to be removed but when they have been, reunification is. Some families can't be reunified. For those children we are looking for permanency as expeditiously, and fairly to the parents, but as expeditiously for that child as we can. We see that in our foster care. I think Arizona's foster care system now, about 50 percent of the children exiting are returning home. Another 50 percent are going to adoption or permanent placements with relatives.

Ted Simons: Obviously donations, money and time are important. I would imagine time is very important.

Marsha Porter: Without our community volunteers we could not provide the breadth of services we do. We have an amazing group of volunteers that not only care for our kids but that fundraises for us, that serve on our board. At any point in time we have about 250 active volunteers. We could not do what we do without them.

Ted Simons: How can folks get involved?

Marsha Porter: Get on our website. You can find out how to donate, how to volunteer, how to attend one of our events that benefits Crisis Nursery.

Ted Simons: Good to have you hear. Thanks so much for joining us.

Marsha Porter:Executive Director, Crisis Nursery;

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