First, it was the complex issue of homelessness; the need for outreach and housing to move people off the streets.
Now, the Focus on Prevention in Stanislaus County will work on strengthening families, with an emphasis on families of people in the criminal justice system.
In a 10-year effort, Focus on Prevention is working with 10 different sectors to address major social problems and improve the quality of life in Stanislaus County. Leaders believe efforts to address family dysfunction can achieve results that last for generations.
Organizers are starting to develop the second phase and plan a countywide summit in the spring, as was done with the homeless summit attended by 500 participants at Modesto Centre Plaza in October 2015. Additional phases of the initiative will focus on young people and breaking cycles of crime.
To make progress on homelessness, an action council is developing a low-barrier shelter and a center for accessing services to help rebuild lives. In addition, volunteers are being trained to engage the homeless in certain neighborhoods to connect them with services, and groups are working on providing more temporary and supportive housing.
Ruben Imperial, community development and empowerment manager for the county, said compelling data on the families of criminal offenders have been compiled by the Child Trends nonprofit research group.
The research suggests that one in five children of parents who were arrested recently have problems with depression, anxiety and withdrawal. A third of those children exhibit aggression, disruptive behavior and attention problems.
The children of incarcerated parents are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for crimes later in life. In studies, more than 50 percent of those children had lived in a home with substance abuse; by comparison, the rate was less than 10 percent among children of parents with no criminal record.
Children of parents with a criminal background often witness violence in their homes and neighborhoods.
Organizers are arranging for experts and people who’ve been involved with the criminal justice system to share their views at the summit.
An action council hopes to work across sectors such as business, education, faith and nonprofit groups, with an aim to strengthen the physical, emotional and spiritual health of families and connect them with neighborhood supports, first-rate education and economic opportunities.
“If we can make progress in these areas, then overall we will see an improvement,” Imperial said.
Marvin Jacobo, executive director of City Ministry Network, said the Stewardship Council over Focus on Prevention will identify ways to reach out to those families. “We think we can get our arms around those families and those children,” said Jacobo, who’s a member of the council. “We want to be able to support them as best we can.”
County Supervisor Terry Withrow and his wife volunteer in a mentoring program at a west Modesto elementary school. They often mentor fourth-graders who have a parent in prison or siblings in jail or on probation, Withrow said.
“It is a never-ending chain,” the supervisor said. “If we can get involved with these families and break that chain, we can transform this community.”
Top officials say a large percentage of the county’s $1 billion budget goes to social services with growing caseloads, while Focus on Prevention attempts to identify and address the root causes. The initiative will strive to coordinate funds and resources toward programs that are working.
The Stewardship Council that oversees Focus on Prevention includes representatives from business, education, the faith community, government, health, media, neighborhoods, nonprofit groups, philanthropy, the arts and sports. Information on upcoming meetings is available at www.preventionfocus.net.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16