5 Questions for Andy Tucker, Children’s Home Society
We sat down with Andy Tucker at Children’s Home Society in Vancouver, Washington, to learn about the agency’s work with kids and families in Southwest Washington. Andy is CHSW’s community director, as well as the co-chair for the SWACH Regional Health Improvement Plan council (RHIP), which develops health improvement plans in the SWACH region of Clark, Klickitat and Skamania counties. CHSW is a key SWACH partner and plays an important role in the region through a mix of child and family counseling, family support, and services related to adoption and secure families, as well as early learning.
View the video or read the interview below.
Tell us a little about Children’s Home Society.
Children’s Home Society got its start in 1896 as part of a national movement to find family homes for orphan children, as an alternative to putting them in institutions. CHSW has served Southwest Washington for over 60 years now.
Our services in the fall into one of three main areas: The first area is still adoption, we run an adoption program called Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. The second area falls into what we call family support: basic assistance, food bags, hygiene bags, toiletries for families in need. And support groups for families. We run support groups for kinship caregivers, these are relatives unexpectedly raising relative children. We also run the county’s only LGBTQ specific support groups for middle and high school youth. The third area is behavioral health. We serve families ranging from birth to 18 years of age, but our focus and specialty is on evidence-based services to parents with young kids, especially young kids that have experienced adversity.
What do you see as the most significant challenges faced by children in our community or region?
We’ve learned a lot in the last 30 years about how a child’s brain develops. And especially how the experience of stress can impact the development of a child’s brain. When I talk about stress I mean things like being separated from a parent, or maybe the experience of poverty, abuse or neglect. These kinds of experiences can be very predictive of negative health outcomes later on in life.
For Families of children in Southwest Washington it can be really challenging at times to find stable housing. It can be really challenging for adults to find gainful employment so they can provide for their families. And it can be hard for families to access the right service at the right time so they can reach their full potential.
How is Children’s Home Society working to address some of those challenges?
Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child highlights three key ways based on the latest research that you can help children overcome stress and adversity to get back on the right track. There’s nothing really that magical or fancy about these three things but it’s so important that the programs you offer to children and families reduce stress, build life skills in family members, and strengthen family relationships. Because when you do those things even kids who experience adversity can get back on the right track and thrive.
We offer emergency basic assistance to families in the form of food and hygiene bags, because we know that this will reduce stress and allow parents to be their best selves. We offer parent education courses for families because we know that when parents do their best, kids do their best. And finally, our behavioral health programming strengthens family relationships because we know that the single biggest predictive factor of a child overcoming adversity is a strong relationship with one competent adult.
How can partnerships between physical and behavioral health services help? For example, Children’s Home Society’s partnership with the Child and Adolescent Clinic.
We live in a society that sends the message that if you need to ask for help you must have done something wrong. But the truth is that every family and every person throughout their life relies on the kindness and skills of others in order to be their best selves. And it’s not always clear to families who they should reach out to when they need help, or what help they even need.
That’s why I think it’s important, when you have the opportunity, like at a pediatric primary care clinic where children are frequently seen, to screen for other needs that might be outside the scope of what you would typically be served for in a pediatric primary clinic. And so we’re thrilled to be pursuing a partnership with Child and Adolescent Clinic where we will embed one of our behavioral health therapists in their clinic so that that person can serve families who may not otherwise receive behavioral health services, in hopes that we can reach more children before needs become chronic issues, and improve the overall health of Clark County.
Can you tell us a little about your efforts to partner with social services to create referral pathways? Why is that important?
It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a family to reach out for help. And this is true for both healthcare, and also for families who need what we more traditionally called social services. Because the truth is… that families might need help with a medical condition of a child or a parent. Or families might need help with secure housing or adequate employment, or early learning services, or childcare or educational support.
Our vision at CHSW is that we might be able to honor the courage of any family that reaches out to us for help and help them access services even if those services are outside of our walls.
Learn more about CHSW at www.childrenshomesociety.org