For nearly 45 years, Community Service Foundation (CSF) has operated counseling, foster care and other programs serving youth and families in southeastern Pennsylvania. These programs pioneered many ideas that would be incorporated into the field of restorative practices, and they continue to serve as model restorative programs of the IIRP Graduate School.
CSF is always striving to refine its offerings to meet the changing needs of our community. Jerry Bradley, Assistant Director of Community Based Services, says they recently launched a new weekend program for young people on juvenile probation called Citizenship and Social Responsibility (CSR) Weekend Program. Sessions run a full day Saturday and half day on Sunday. Youth take part in meaningful community service projects in the morning followed by life- and social-skills building exercises such as personal financial literacy, public speaking, study skills, computer skills, and social and digital responsibility. Families are also invited to participate with staff and students to discuss what has been learned.
An area that has seen tremendous growth is CSF’s Restorative Conferencing Services. Conferencing Services Coordinator, Amber Doundas says her growing team conducted over 60 Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) conferences this year. This process brings together extended family to create a court-approved plan to care for youth at risk of foster placement. Professionals, including social workers, probation officers, caseworkers and others help frame the concerns that need to be addressed and provide resources. Significantly, in the end families are left to create a plan for themselves.
Recently Amber facilitated a conference for a 16-month-old child who sustained major injuries along with her mother when they crossed the street and were hit by a car. The mother recognized her misjudgment was a result of her drug addiction and checked herself into a drug rehabilitation center. A conference was held to bring together their family, including the fathers of the mother’s older children. The family successfully found means to care for the hospitalized child as well as her older siblings.
Amber says, “What was so moving was the level of positive support from all sides. Mom was in tears. The family came together. They told her, ‘You are a phenomenal mom. We want you to get the treatment you need!’”
Amber’s team also provides Family Team Meetings, which bring together professionals and a more limited number of family members when a larger circle cannot attend an FGDM. They also offer Family Finding, a program that helps to discover extended family and close friends who may support a young person in county foster care.
CSF operates three foster homes itself, all staffed by full-time foster parents who reside in those homes. Plans are now in the works to develop traditional foster care options for LGBTQ youth in transition.
Foster Care Coordinator Linnea Meiser says, “We have a really super team dedicated to the needs of youth and their families. They’ve all really committed to the restorative practices philosophy and how it can help young people build their self-esteem and become healthy adults in the community.”
This year CSF foster homes served two transgender and LGBTQ youth who successfully completed the program. Few programs in the state accommodate transgender youth, and CSF is considering ways to further meet these young people’s needs. One way was through a new summer program developed in partnership with CSF’s sister organization, Buxmont Academy.
Buxmont Academy operates five school sites, which also host CSF’s after school, weekend and evening programs. Buxmont has plans to launch a new alternative high school in Easton, Pennsylvania, starting early in 2022.
Terri Trotter, Buxmont’s Supervisor of Special Education, says the summer program allows students to earn elective credits in art, music, social studies and physical education to help them get back on track academically. The theme for the program this summer was “Identity Exploration.” Students watched and discussed relevant films and took part in community-based instruction, including a ropes course, hikes and visits to Philadelphia historical sites and museums where they learned about “striving for equality.” Terri explains, “Our goal was to get our students back to loving learning again!”