A Dual Approach to Strengthen Forsyth Families


In order to make real and lasting systemic change in a community, social work has to employ a dual approach that addresses immediate needs, as well as programs that chip away at the basic causes of those immediate needs. This year, Family Services is working hard to address both sides.

“The first thing you have to do is meet your families in crisis where they are, and help them move through that crisis,” said Michelle Speas, Chief Development and Public Relations officer at Family Services. “But the second piece of that response is to take a step back and ask, ‘How did we get here? Why do we have so many families living in poverty? What are those systems-related issues in our community that are preventing everyone from thriving?’”

Since 1905, Family Services of Forsyth County has worked with the community to help families resolve crises; protect victims of family violence—including domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault; abolish elder abuse; and prepare preschoolers to be ready to succeed in school. But as times have changed, so have the driving initiatives behind the organization.

“In the ’20s, we operated the first prenatal center in the county; we clearly don’t do that anymore. In the ’60s, Lyndon Johnson started Head Start, and Family Services was asked by the community to operate that program, and we’re still operating that today, since 1965,” Speas reflected. “In the ’80s, domestic violence movements started. We were asked to organize and facilitate the work around a battered women’s shelter, and [because of that] Forsyth County had the first shelter in North Carolina.”

Today, Family Services is focused on two central initiatives: quality Pre-K and a Family Justice Center model.

Brain science has confirmed what most parents already know: namely, that the first five years of life are a time of tremendous physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. These years are especially critical for the construction of a child’s developing brain. Because of this, The Pre-K Priority works to address early education concerns for impoverished children through dialogue.

Together with more than 30 different organizations, Family Services is elevating the conversation on what quality pre-school looks like for all children—and hopes to change the narrative for children in the future.

“An advocacy campaign will begin this fall, thanks to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust,” Speas announced. “It will be an opportunity for the public to get involved and get engaged.”

The second initiative, introducing a Forsyth County Family Justice Center, would create a collaborative relationship between domestic violence agencies and criminal justice professionals. Earlier this year, Forsyth County invited the Alliance for HOPE International, the founders of the Family Justice Center movement, to complete a two-day Study Tour of Forsyth County.

The Forsyth Family Justice Center will address domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and elder abuse, by providing co-located services and support for survivors.

For information on these two initiatives, visit PreKPriority.org or ForsythFJC.org.


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