What Was WCCP’s Foundation?
The first aspect of the WCCP foundation focused on family preservation. The type of prevention and early intervention services and supports offered to Walbridge students, families and neighbors included: case management; individual, group and family therapy; substance abuse counseling and referral services; intensive in-home family services (Families First); monthly family respite nights; before and after school latchkey; and after school tutoring. Many of the families could succumb to poverty, neighborhood violence, and a loss of hope without gaining easier access to a broader array of critical services, programs and supports. In spite of their best efforts, far too many parents and guardians in similar circumstances find their children increasingly exposed to drugs, poverty related neglect, domestic and intimate partner violence, juvenile delinquency, physical assaults and bullying, emotional trauma and even murder. It was the overall objective of the Walbridge Caring Communities to prevent or reduce the likelihood of such exposure.
The second aspect of the foundation focused on systemic reform. The idea of systemic reform was really about improving how systems respond to the needs of vulnerable children and families residing in high risk communities. Co-locating the services in and around the school was a significant aspect of the WCCP approach. Among other things, co-location helped facilitate the identification and early response to the child and family’s needs and strengths. Children spend a significant portion of their lives learning how to become adults and citizens while at school. Yet many urban school districts lack the necessary resources and school culture to identify and adequately respond to the aforementioned issues. Teachers would be able to better focus on ensuring student academic success if schools were able to give appropriate attention to the external factors adversely impacting student attendance and behaviors.
Systemic reform for WCCP also meant: 1) providing services during non-traditional work hours; 2) recruiting and hiring dedicated professional and para-professional staff who were willing to respond to individual and family crises whenever needed; 3) building partnerships across agencies and systems to encourage greater collaboration on behalf of children and families; 4) developing a shared vision and agenda for success; and 5) identifying and improving agency policies, practices and organizational cultures that might make it difficult for parents to participate and support treatment plans and goals.
Community and Resident Engagement
Another aspect of WCCP’s foundation focused on community and resident engagement. The type of services and supports that were developed to engage residents and strengthen community included: establishing neighborhood watch and block units; building partnerships with local law enforcement to implement community oriented policing; leading anti-drug and gang violence interventions that included conducting bi-weekly anti-drug marches; and creating a Teen Drop-In-Center. Staff went door-to-door seeking input from residents and parents asking about what services, supports and program activities they would want and support in their neighborhoods.
In an effort to further build a sense of community, resident leaders were invited to participate in the design, delivery and governance of many of the program activities. A standing neighborhood advisory council was established at each site. This approach included: scheduling meetings in a time and place that was convenient for residents to participate; presenting data and concepts that were user-friendly; creating appropriate opportunities for resident to serve as paid staff; restoring trust between residents and law enforcement; and expanding new and creative opportunities for volunteerism.
The final aspect of the WCCP’s foundation focused on cultural competence. The Walbridge Caring Communities Program was designed to utilize more culturally competent and culturally sensitive approaches toward staff development, program design and implementation. Race has long played a role in how urban and suburban communities and school districts are constituted and who has access to employment, business, wealth and overall well-being. As a part of their life experiences, far too many people of color residing in high poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods were reminded daily of the impact of racial stereotypes and biases.
In response, the Concept in Afrocentricity booklet was developed as a culturally competent and sensitive framework to promote resiliency, help restore a sense of personal responsibility and community pride among staff, children, families and residents. Positive family and community characteristics were identified and reinforced such as: the importance of resilience, spirituality, creativity, and extended family; awareness of past and current individual and racial group achievements was raised; positive informal and formal support systems were re-established; neighborhood levels of volunteerism were increased; and accepting greater responsibility for reducing neighborhood crime and violence was embraced.
Once the Walbridge Caring Community Program was subsequently expanded to 20 schools the program became known as the St. Louis Caring Communities Programs. During that growth period, the model was expanded to 100 school sites across the State of Missouri. Over time WCCP received state-wide, national and international renown for its innovative approaches to delivering multiple, family centered services in a school and community based setting. The WCCP model has since been studied and written about and some aspects of the model having been replicated both nationally and internationally.