Beautifully lit panels of blue sky and trees shine down on children at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program’s (GRIP) family shelter. This is just one of many new features of GRIP’s recently made-over children’s program at their emergency family shelter program.
Over the last several months, with its $126,000 grant from First 5 Contra Costa, GRIP has steadily been enhancing its children’s program to meet the developmental needs of very young homeless children and families.
“The First 5 grant has enabled us to build on our existing children’s program and add critical early intervention services,” said GRIP’s Program Director, Kia Croom. “Homeless children often experience high levels of traumatic stress, which can hinder their development. Now, our program is able to address these concerns, connect families to needed services, and hopefully get children’s development back on track.”
The program has hired new child development specialists to provide developmental screening to all children under age five when they enter the shelter, and if possible, an additional time before the family leaves. Based on screening results, staff develop a plan with parents to support each child and coordinate referrals to services such as medical care, Head Start, the West County First 5 Center for parenting classes, or counseling and mental health services.
In addition, many of the children receive child care at the shelter during the day while parents look for work or permanent housing. First 5 Contra Costa funds have also been used to make-over the child care room with new paint, age-appropriate books and toys, and small furniture for children. A dorm room now has cribs and a changing table to make the space safer and more comfortable for families with infants. New playground equipment to be installed later this month will wrap up the final improvement to the site.
The timing couldn’t be better. According to Croom, there has been a spike in the number of families experiencing homelessness due to job loss and home foreclosures. Already the shelter has served 46 families with young children since July.