Family Nurturing Center

Laurie Potts, director of the Family Center at Southwestern Oregon Community College, describes the new Family Nurturing Center to guests at a kickoff event Thursday. Parents and children at risk will get training designed to help them keep their families intact.

Southwestern Oregon Community College’s Family Center is getting a bigger mission, a $500,000 state grant and a new name: The Family Nurturing Center.

The change is part of Oregon’s “Strengthening, Preserving and Reunifying Families” initiative, created in 2011 by the Legislature in an effort to reduce the number of kids in foster care. It’s funded by federal monies saved by the state’s reductions in the cost of foster care.

The Family Center currently houses the college’s Childhood and Family Studies department and the Educare Center, where students get experience teaching preschoolers and kindergartners.

The recent departure of the Early Head Start classroom for infants and toddlers opened up two airy rooms. Soon, they’ll be furnished like a house, with a kitchen, living room and bedroom. In half the facility, adults will get coaching to help them improve their parenting, develop their life skills and find the help they need, whether it’s through social services or by developing a network of family and friends.

Meanwhile, in the other half, children will learn life skills appropriate to their age, and get help unlearning destructive behaviors they may have acquired through abuse or neglect.

The goal, said Laurie Potts, director of the Family Center, is to help parents overcome “whatever is putting their family at risk.”

Initially, families will be referred to the Family Nurturing Center by Child Protective Services. “They could refer a family that is close to being reunified, a family that has children in foster care to bring them together, or a family that is at risk” of having children placed in foster care.

Other agencies are getting grants to help serve these families, including Kairos, which provides mental health services to children and young adults, and ADAPT, which provides drug and alcohol treatment. The philosophy will be “wraparound” care for families, in which families are encouraged to assemble their own networks of relatives, friends, teachers, coaches and social services to keep the family together, improve family life and reduce their reliance on social services.

Potts said the first families should be visiting the center in March.

The Family Nurturing Center’s services will be similar to those provided elsewhere in the state by relief nursery programs. Such programs serve all families, with no need for referral from a social service agency. The similarity is deliberate: Potts said she’s working with the state to create a relief nursery program on the South Coast.