Children’s Friend, a nonprofit founded in 1834, provides child-welfare, family-support, mental-health, and child-development services.
The organization focuses on strengthening families by creating safe and nurturing environments for children during the early years and by helping parents gain access to the resources, education, and support. Children’s Friend provided services to help more than 30,000 children and their family members in 2010.
David Caprio has been with the organization for 11 years and was named president and CEO in 2010. Under his leadership, Children’s Friend has been recognized for best practices and innovative programs that respond to the needs of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable families.
PBN: Your mission is to help Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children, yet a lot of your programming revolves around families as a whole. Why is that?
CAPRIO: Children’s Friend is a leader in improving the well-being and healthy development of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable young children. Children live with families, not in isolation, and to help them, we must also help strengthen their families. Creating safe and nurturing environments for children during the crucial early years strengthens families, and we assist parents by providing access to the resources, education, and support they need. We offer flexible, effective, and culturally relevant services from child welfare to family support, mental health and child development. This is why we are excited to begin an expansion of our Dads Making A Difference work, which specifically focuses services on fathers of young children. A stronger, safer, more stable and involved family is what is best for our children. In addition to providing services we also advocate for programs and policies that support and strengthen both children and their families.
PBN: The holiday season is such an important time for fundraising for nonprofits – especially during this critical time of need in our state. What is Children’s Friend focused on this holiday season?
CAPRIO: Each year we hold our Spirit of Giving Holiday Drive. Last year we were able to brighten the holidays for 840 of our families thanks to the help of our generous donors. This year we are committed to helping 1,000 families. Corporate donors, groups, and individuals alike sponsor children and families for the holiday season by providing gifts and items of need, such as coats and warm winter clothing. Unemployment remains in the double digits in Rhode Island, and the holidays bring extra expenses to families who are already struggling to make ends meet. We believe children deserve to experience the magic of the holidays regardless of their family’s economic status.
In addition, donors can chose to give to the Emergency Crisis Fund, which helps families who experience traumatic events such as a house fire, illness, or death. Of course, donations are always appreciated to help fund the services we provide and 100 percent of the donations go directly to programming that helps and supports Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children and families.
PBN: Aside from the extra need during the holiday season, how has the economy affected services offered by Children’s Friend?
CAPRIO: Children’s Friend has seen a sharp rise in the need for our services since the recession hit and an increase in the types of services as well. Just two years ago we served 17,000 people. This year we are serving 31,000 individuals and more than 2,000 families on any given day. Organizations such as Children’s Friend have a responsibility to step up and do as much as possible to help support kids and families during this economic crisis. The growing rate of poverty can have a terrible impact on our youngest and most vulnerable children. For young kids who are growing and developing rapidly these negative impacts can hinder their development and help lead to a lifetime of poor outcomes. Research consistently shows that effective interventions early in a vulnerable child’s life are very effective in mitigating these poor outcomes. Yet we as a society have not been able or willing to consistently make these investments. We all can and must do more and do things differently to make lasting positive impacts.
PBN: In a time where money is tight how can you continue to be successful with fundraising?
CAPRIO: Providing comprehensive and effective services to vulnerable young children is not only a moral obligation, but also a prudent financial investment for society to make, a position many of our donors agree with. We are incredibly grateful for our supportive donors. There is a continued growing need for services and we need the support to help us expand and improve our programming and continue to help Rhode Island’s children and their families. We look for every opportunity for federal funding and actively pursue grants through local and national foundations and corporations.
Challenging times also allow us to do our work in different and even better ways. We hear lots of talk of so called “system reform” as something to undertake to save money. We often confuse budget cuts with efficiency. Budget cuts and cheaper ways to do things are not always efficient and certainly do not always result in effective outcomes. While saving money is a legitimate goal it should not be the only goal in system reform. True system reform requires that we achieve better outcomes and become more efficient. Just recently we were awarded one of only eight federal grants to better align foster care and Head Start services. This effort is particularly unique in that its goal to build stronger collaborations between early childhood providers and the child welfare system, through a focus on young children in foster care. These are the innovative and child focused initiatives that our donors expect of us and are willing to support.
PBN: Are you concerned about cuts that may be made at the federal or state level, and how will that affect your ability to deliver services?
CAPRIO: We continue to advocate for Rhode Island children and families at both the state and federal level. Our Congressional delegation fought against cuts to programs such as WIC and Head Start this past budget cycle, telling stories of our children and families. In addition, we continue to look for ways to partner with other agencies to work together to aid families and children. The budget picture on the state level is not much brighter. We must ensure that our limited resources are invested in proven programs that are achieving positive and long lasting results. Related to the budget, the child welfare system in Rhode Island is undergoing massive change. We need to monitor that change closely and ensure that the changes are for the better and that means that kids are kept safe and that the system is better able to achieve long term positive results. Working together and holding each other accountable, all of us, donors, governments, advocates, families, communities, and service providers can overcome these challenges and use this economic crisis to make structural changes that have long term positive benefits for our kids.