From the USICH Blog
August 6, 2012
By Rob Podlogar, National Director of the Siemer Institute on Family Stability
One of the most detrimental trends affecting a student’s ability to succeed in the classroom happens outside of school walls. When parents or guardians are struggling to make ends meet financially or shifting housing locations due to work, the children involved are often forced to move from one school to another and then another and so on. This constant mobility is disruptive, making it difficult for a child to feel connected to a school, to make connections with new friends, to be accepted socially, but most importantly, to stay on target academically. The Siemer Institute for Family Stability (SIFS) headquartered at the United Way of Central Ohio is responding to the challenge of increased student mobility and decreasing academic performance by focusing on homelessness prevention activities. By focusing on a family’s financial stability the end result of housing stability can be achieved, which allows children to remain in a stable learning environment.
Through intervention, prevention and education, case managers provide a wide variety of support individually tailored to help parents achieve self-sustainment. Case managers work with families for three to six months intensively with continued follow up overtime. Case managers provide family counseling and advocacy, help with landlord/tenant relationships, connections to resources such as health care, after school programs and programs for children with special needs, job training, and short term financial support. Creating a plan tailored to the needs of each particular family, SIFS staff at United Way locations across the country are able to meet a family where they are in terms of need before they experience the trauma of homelessness. Families who have participated in the program have reported increased housing stability, increased school stability for children, and improved academic success, because their children can remain in a consistent learning environment.
The creation of SIFS in 2011 was a step toward moving the level of community impact achieved at ten successful United Way initiatives in Ohio and Florida to a collective impact on the national level. The models of these ten original sites are being scaled up to more United Ways throughout the nation.
The focus on this issue along with continued education and awareness has proven to be successful in bringing together community leaders to develop strategies in a collective learning environment. The collaboration between the United Way leadership, community service providers, school and community executives, as well as government officials allows for open dialogue to understand the issue and partner on a plan for resolution. Sharing best practices from local United Ways around the country allows for innovators on the ground to share their work with the larger network of SIFS partners, and align successes with a national plan to ensure children and families maintain stability in their homes and schools. Currently SIFS is in eighteen communities throughout the nation with the plan to expand to up to fifty communities in the next few years. To learn more about this model and movement, go to www.familystability.com.