Friday, December 22, 2006

Childplace wants to be the big dog

Jeffersonville's Childplace has grown to fill a challenging void
Moss, Dale. Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 7, 2005

The likelihood is for a staff person for every child, or perhaps a ratio of 1 to 2. These are tough kids, after all, with baggage you'd expect for someone well beyond their years.

They need help - and help is what Childplace provides.

Childplace, an agency renowned for adapting, hopes that someday - perhaps within two years - it can house such troubled children, to guide them in a way no one or no place has. Why not?

"It enhances, it helps us do better," said Nathan Samuel, executive director of Childplace, in Jeffersonville.

Samuel took over from his father, Ken, who started the agency in 1967 on behalf of their neighboring Northside Church of Christ. Childplace is a visible campus, on hectic Ind. 62. Yet it is one that is surely underestimated. It is not a day care center, Nathan Samuel routinely reminds.

The not-for-profit Childplace employs 70, and its budget is up to $2.5 million. Northside is now one of dozens of sponsors.

Still raising money, Ken Samuel is more proud than surprised. A focused foster-care ministry has morphed into an operation trusted to fill challenging voids.

Childplace counsels families, arranges mostly newborn adoptions, shelters children from home lives considered combustible. It remains faith-based, believing in an ever-broader mission.

Asked if the agency will keep growing, the elder Samuel replied, "I don't know any reason it wouldn't.

"A cottage is being converted to provide longer-term care for older boys, who are difficult to place in foster care. As many as nine might live there. Again, Childplace is not obliged to accommodate, just committed to trying.

"We're not in coast mode," Nathan Samuel said.

A new trailer out back is becoming a high-tech resource center for the young residents. This comes after the basement of the headquarters was turned into a cozy counseling center with an ever-wider reach. A stream of people with no other tie to Childplace are among those who are guided by therapists.

"This is the prevention piece," Nathan Samuel said.Children in residential treatment or in foster care are sent by a public sector grateful for the option. Dale Stroud, of the state's Department of Children's Services, considers Childplace a dedicated partner.

Stroud's goal is to reunify kids with their families, but lessons must be learned. Childplace counsels parents in step with teaching the children, not warehousing them."They (the children) get a feel for what it means to be accountable," Stroud said.

Regional Youth Services, a prime provider of foster homes, also relies on Childplace when kids require more structure.

"They (Childplace) have listened to the needs of the community," said Joe Huecker, the agency's executive director.

Nathan Samuel worried that he somehow might undo what his father had established. And sometimes he still wonders if he has led Childplace on the right path, even if it's one in the fast lane.

"I'm very fortunate things have fallen into place," Nathan Samuel said.Huecker credits Nathan Samuel for the way Childplace steadfastly complements services and adds them as well.

"He's very professional in his outreach," Huecker said.At any given time, as many as 25 children live in three cottages. Typically from nearby counties, these kids often stay the better part of a year. Another 15 kids live in Childplace-monitored foster homes, a step closer to a return home.

A fourth cottage is for pregnant girls and women whose babies are to be adopted. The demand to adopt never wavers.

"It's one of those warm, fuzzy-feeling services," Nathan Samuel said.

Childplace also offers a home-study service to families adopting children from other sources. Courts require such studies.

It is funded mostly from government fees and the insurance coverage of those in counseling. To expand, Childplace has had to appeal, and development director Brian Davis leads the effort to win extra support from churches and elsewhere.

"I keep telling Brian, 'At some point, we are going to be a big dog,'" Nathan Samuel said. "He grins and says, 'We're not that far away from being a big dog.'"


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