A safe place where New Jersey children in crisis can find refuge is now facing adversity itself—but there are ways for local communities to help out.
One of New Jersey’s safe houses for children and youth, run through the Center for Family Services (CFS), must close its doors soon, a victim of the down economy. CFS is raising money to move the facility, and its 36 residents, from the current Camden County location to several small homes in Gloucester County.
“Due to the economy, the facility housing the children has been sold,” says Eileen Henderson, vice president of child and family services for CFS. “We’ve had a great relationship with Camden County for 13 years, and we’re sorry to see this happen. But we’re excited to move the kids to smaller safe housing.”
But for that move to happen successfully and with minimal disruption for the children, CFS needs extra money. Funding for this unexpected move and outfitting the new homes simply isn’t built into the already-stretched-thin budget.
That’s where local residents can get involved. CFS is hosting a Benefit for Children Friday evening at the Washington Township Senior Center in Gloucester County, with proceeds going toward the moving costs and setting up the new safe homes.
“It’ll be a social evening with lots of games, prizes and music,” Henderson says. “With the purchase of a ticket, you can also win $1,000, $500 or $250 in drawings.”
Click on the benefit flyer, above right, to learn more.
A needed oasis, a proven track record
Children arrive at CFS’ safe houses for all sorts of reasons. Some face abuse or neglect at home, are homeless or have mental health or behavioral issues. No matter the reason, it boils down to home not being a safe environment and the children needing an escape.
“Even in the best circumstances, children, young adults and families have problems,” Henderson says. “Sometimes it’s not possible for a child to remain in the home.”
That’s where CFS’ safe houses, known as healing homes, come in. They provide a home-like, structured atmosphere for children and young adults. Some stays are temporary, while others can stretch for years.
“The children and youth can get counseling, and their families get counseling at the same time,” Henderson says. “It’s always our goal to reunite families when possible.”
At any one time, there are 100-200 children in the 11 healing homes around the state. About 800 children are served annually.
Residents of the healing homes are offered education and programs in social and life skills to help them become self-sufficient as they mature. Instead of the typical “aging out of the system,” CFS provides gradual independence for young adults.
The center’s approach has proven successful: Take now 19-year-old Kaysie, who shuttled between several foster placements before arriving at CFS’ safe housing. She transformed from lost teen into one who now helps other youth in crisis. She’s also planning to earn her degree in social work.
Tyisha, now 23, had a similar story of a life in foster care before arriving at CFS. She went from a homeless teen to one who learned vital life skills, such as financial management and balancing work and school. She eventually became a medical assistant and even purchased her own home.
Success stories like these can only be replicated if CFS has the funding it needs to continue serving New Jersey youth, Henderson says.
“We’re grateful we can provide safe, healing homes for children,” she says, “but we can’t do it alone. This has to be a community effort.”
The Benefit for Children runs 7-11 p.m., May 4 at the Washington Township Senior Center, 315 Greentree Road, Sewell. Tickets are $50 and may be purchased at the door or online through CFS. Beer will be served at the event, so you must be 21 to attend.
If you can’t attend the benefit, but would like to contribute to the safe house move or discuss naming opportunities for the new healing homes, contact Eileen Henderson at 609-204-4794.