In its continuing efforts to add depth and breadth in its programming to serve at-risk youth and their families, Safe Harbor Center has recently launched Functional Family Kinship (FFK), a program that addresses the needs of troubled youth, their families, and caregivers through community-based interventions.
Research data from Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential and United Way’s Kids Count reflects Brunswick/Glynn County, when compared to other communities in Georgia, has a disproportionate higher share of children and families at-risk, with few available options for help and support necessary to maintain family stability. Community risk factors include, diminished economic opportunities, high concentration of families living in poverty, exposure to violence and conflict in the family, limited access to supportive services, lack of affordable housing, and living in homes with violence, mental health issues, substance abuse, and other instability.
Functional Family Kinship works by addressing risk factors that directly affect adolescents, with an emphasis on the interpersonal relationships in the family. FFK is designed to augment Safe Harbor’s current prevention efforts geared toward helping youth-at-risk for family destabilization and/or out-of-placements who are seeking assistance without recourse. This program is designed to aid at-risk youth and their families resolve parent/child conflict, runaway/delinquency, and behavioral/anger issues in school and the home.
Often, adolescents with behavior problems go by various labels, such as difficult-to-treat adolescents, juvenile delinquents, at-risk youth, violent youth, and youthful offenders. They may have disruptive behavior disorder or substance abuse disorder, and they may be involved with the criminal justice system. These youth have problematic behaviors, emotions, and ways of thinking that often affect not only their families, but also their community.
Although family members are often dissatisfied with the youth’s behavior and intensely focused on the need for him or her to change, the youth rarely self-refer and often seems undisturbed by his or her own behaviors and is typically unmotivated for change. At the same time, parents and other family members seem heavily invested in viewing problems in the family as resulting from the adolescent’s unruly behavior. Therefore, some family members also are unmotivated or unwilling to be involved in the youth’s treatment. Given the multifaceted barriers to adaptive change, treatment is needed that addresses the entire family system in a holistic way.
The core components of Functional Family Kinship include:
Rapport-Building: Use a collaborative and person-centered to engage and motivate families
Behavior Modification: Use of motivational enhancement, cognitive, and behavioral research-based practices, and behavioral interventions
Skills Training: Teaching of real-world “life skills” including practice, feedback, and homework
Supportive Services: Provide and/or help the family access resources (e.g., meal kits) and/ community services (e.g., affordable housing referrals) that may be impacting family instability
Case Management: Coordinate, collaborate, and advocate with state, local, public, and community services and systems affecting the family, while teaching clients to advocate and access support for themselves.
Phase One of the program consists of 10-12 weeks of therapeutic coaching, parent training, psychoeducation, and life skills training, where both the child and parent will be engaged to increase the parent/ child relationship and stabilize the home. Phase One aims to increase family bonding, parental involvement, positive parenting skills, and positive communication, while decreasing family conflict. Secondly, Phase One identifies additional needs of the youth/ family that may be contributing to destabilization of the home environment, such as parent/ youth mental health, food insecurity, and/or educational/ employment difficulties.
Phase Two incorporates mentorship as an additional cornerstone of its prevention strategies. Research has consistently demonstrated the positive impacts of a prosocial relationship between an adult and at-risk youth in supporting aspects of positive development, including improved self-esteem, academic achievement, and reduced substance abuse and acts of delinquency. This component is vital in the communities served by Safe Harbor, as there exists limited formal mentorship opportunities such as found in more urban locations.
The mentoring program matches a volunteer adult mentor to a child, with the expectation that a caring and supportive relationship will develop. Generalized activities of the relationship are related to the goals that are set initially when the match is made. Beyond the establishment of a close relationship between mentor and child, other goals might relate to school attendance and academic performance, relationships with other children and siblings, general hygiene, learning new skills, or developing a hobby.
Participants enrolled in Functional Family Kinship may be referred through various community organizations, including Glynn County Schools, Coastal Health District of Georgia, Gateway Behavioral Health, local law enforcement agencies, Glynn County Juvenile Court, and local faith-based organizations.
Dr. Sherzine McKenzie, Ph.D. and Raven De La Cruz, M.ED., A.P.C., N.C.C. will serve as directors of the Functional Family Kinship program. Dr. McKenzie completed her Specialist in School Psychology degree in 2012, after which she was employed as a school psychologist. She later earned her doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with a forensic emphasis in 2018. Prior to her employment with Safe Harbor, Dr. McKenzie’s training, employment, and volunteerism has included conducting psychological and fitness evaluations for the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), trauma-focused individual and group therapy for youth dually-involved with the juvenile justice and welfare systems, domestic violence evaluations and treatment planning for individuals with youth and adult family violence history, neuropsychological evaluations for youth with medically-complex conditions, and inpatient crisis stabilization and intervention.
Raven De La Cruz received both her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2019 and her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in 2021 at Georgia Southern University. She is an associated licensed counselor within the state of Georgia and a National Certified Counselor. Raven has worked in various clinical settings including outpatient mental health servicing children, adolescents, and adults, and residential treatment programs that focuses on at-risk/ vulnerable youth populations.
To become a volunteer mentor, make a referral, or to learn more about Functional Family Kinship, please call our emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth, Zach’s Place at 912-342-7069.