Vermont agencies join forces to help families


BRATTLEBORO >> A new innovative program designed to help potential foster children has come to the Brattleboro area. Healthcare and Rehabilitation Services is teaming up with the Department of Children and Families to create the Intensive Family Based Services program to serve Windham and Windsor counties.

The IFBS program will integrate counselors and social workers into families recommended for the service by DCF. Families will be given the option to have a counselor or social worker work closely with them in their home with the goal of avoiding children being placed in the foster care system.

"We are already graduating children and families," said Will Shakespeare, Director of Children, Youth, and Families at HCRS.

HCRS won the bid for funding from DCF earlier this year. The program started in April and there is already a full 12 family case load.

The program is three months long. IFBS workers will rely on services in the community and other HCRS services to tackle important family issues. According to Shakespeare, the most common issues being encountered are parental substance abuse and teenage depression.

In each case the IFBS worker will spend as much time necessary to assess the individual family dynamic and the changes that need to be made. Sometimes it can be as small as scheduling a family game night or even providing a table and set of chairs for family dinners, explained Shakespeare. With teens the issue could be communication, in which case the IFBS worker can facilitate conversations that could have otherwise been catastrophic.

Other times the IFBS worker can rely on HCRS' Crisis Team for immediate intervention. In instances where substance abuse is an issue the IFBS team can place parents or children in one of the many inpatient or outpatient programs run by The Brattleboro Retreat or HCRS itself.

HCRS has numerous programs designed to help struggling children and parents. It provides counseling and psychiatric care both in regards to mental health and substance abuse. HCRS can also provide parents and children with what is sometimes a much needed break with its Children's Respite Program. The program provides up to a couple of days away in a safe, fun, and nourishing environment.

An important aspect to the programs success is family participation.

"We can help solve a problem if you are interested in solving the problem ... we ask families 'What will help you the most,'" said Shakespeare.

Traditionally, families with open DCF cases come under intense legal scrutiny and are rarely given the opportunity to adjust and fix issues that can prevent a child from being removed from the home. This is now what HCRS and DCF are trying to avoid. Families have to agree to welcome the IFBS worker into their home; sessions that start with observation can last up to six hours a day. The focus being identifying each family's individual needs. The child in potential danger continues to be the client but their guardians are given the opportunity to engage in virtually anything they may need for their family to be successful in keeping their child home.

This will be the second contract with DCF currently in the state. The IFBS program has been running in Springfield successfully for the past 28 years.

Quality group homes, institutions, and foster families have proven to be scarce in the state of Vermont. According to data from DCF the number of removed children has also doubled in the past four years. Add to that southern Vermont's growing issues with substance abuse, poverty, and homelessness. These factors make the IFBS program a necessity for struggling families. Other programs similar to IFBS have proven to be extremely successful in other parts of Vermont. According to their website The Howard Center in Burlington, VT currently has 124 families receiving IFBS related support.

While Shakespeare couldn't comment on statistics yet, his outlook is positive. He hopes to curb the states high rates of teen suicide and other issues, focusing on "how kids become uprooted."

HCRS hopes to receive even more funding to increase their case load once the program has been fully up and running for a year.

James Mosher can be contacted at


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