For Jean Kayano, chief administrator at Knotts Family Parenting Institute (KFPI) in San Bernardino, cuts to social services are not abstract. “Every program we have is affected by state funding,” she says. Particularly infuriating are cuts to foster services, when foster parents are already asked to “raise kids on less money than it takes to house a dog at a kennel.”
KFPI, a new member of the California Alliance, began 20 years ago as a group home for foster youth facing homelessness and substance abuse. But, 12 years later — after much organizational soul-searching — the leadership expanded KFPI’s scope. “We weren’t making transformative change,” Kayano says. Thus, the shift from simply assisting disadvantaged youth to actually preventing the abuse and neglect that often separates families in the first place.
Their approach – based on a therapeutic model called “narrative parenting” – focuses on changing the conditions that force children into the foster care system, Kayano says. “What does it take to build a healthy relationship between parents and children?” KFPI designs training programs to empower both parties. Parent “villages” provide a safe space to discuss the challenges of parenting, including violence, overcrowded schools and hospitals. A rigorous recruitment program equips foster parents to build healthy relationships with youth who face stark inequities. “Life skills” programs prepare foster youth to thrive post-foster care.
KFPI works to address the root causes of abuse, neglect and mental illness in low-income communities. For instance, they identified rampant unemployment as a destabilizing factor in low-income communities. In coalition with churches, universities and other community-based organizations, KFPI founded the San Bernardino Green Alliance to create green jobs.
Committed to empowering parents and youth, KFPI jumped at the opportunity to join the California Alliance and help implement its three-year plan to achieve tax reform and restore California’s safety net, as well as recruit new volunteers for its work. Kayano and other members of KFPI were alarmed when cuts to foster services were enacted with no organized opposition from the Inland Valley community. Well-funded social services are critical to making San Bernardino families healthy and prosperous.
Since joining the Alliance, the organization has invested in civic engagement, which was “always a missing component,” according to Kayano. In March, KFPI contacted over 12,000 voters and identified over 600 adults interested in becoming foster parents. Through their work with the Alliance, KFPI hopes to reform the state’s broken social safety net and develop grassroots leaders who will empower parents and children in the Inland Valley.