In 1969, a men's Sunday School class in Shelby Presbyterian Church was told of an increasing population of children who needed shelter outside of their home. As school superintendent, Malcolm Brown knew these children and their needs. It was here that the idea of an emergency shelter was born.
The first of it's kind in the state, the Shelter Home, was developed that same year as a free-standing, non-profit agency, with no ties to other child caring institutions or campus based organizations. Boys and girls were admitted, and cared for, up to 90 days at a time. In just a few years, two trends became apparent. First, the children coming into care increasingly, were children who were in the custody of the Department of Social Services. By 1972, a relationship was established with DSS in which all children accepted into the care of the Shelter Home would be from Cleveland County and would be in DSS placement responsibility. Second, a community-funding base was needed. The Cleveland County United Way included the Shelter Home in its annual drive. The shelter was becoming a community commitment even though its actual location was a guarded secret.
As the years passed, hundreds of children received care at the Shelter Home. Because of the 90-day limitation, many were sent from the shelter to other group homes outside of the county. Along came James, who was the oldest of a sibling group placed at the Shelter Home. When their 90 days were up, the younger children were placed in foster homes; but, because James was a teenager and there were no foster homes for him, James went out of the county. After two or three months, he sabotaged this placement to come back to Cleveland County and the Shelter Home to find that once again, he could stay for only 90 days. An idea was born as these events took place with James. The Foursquare Gospel Church, where the children at the Shelter Home were attending, donated 1-½ acres of land to build a separate group home for teenagers and sibling groups, where they could remain for more than 90 days. In 1989, James Home for Children was organized and construction began. There was only enough money for the materials to be purchased, so volunteer work groups gathered every weekend to saw, hammer, paint, clean and create this group home. Opened March 15, 1990, the goal was achieved, as nine teenagers soon filled all of the spaces.
During this time, the Shelter Home Board of Directors was observing the new facility being built and decided to seek a new location and larger building for the Shelter. Land was located in Lattimore, money was raised, and the new facility opened in April 1991. Since the two group homes served a similar population, had the same referral source and similar funding bases, the two Boards voted to merge that same year.
Although still commonly referred to as the Shelter Home and James Home, on April 1, 1991, the legal name became Children's Homes of Cleveland County, Inc.
It was in 1995, while participating in The Carolina's Project funded by The Duke Endowment, that the next major change took place. Family centered became the new standard for our work. Years before, the street sign had been removed to protect the location of the Shelter Home. Now, the agency began to incorporate families into the planning and care of the children in residence. Visitation, as allowed by the courts, began to take place in the group homes. Family issues were now more openly addressed, allowing the children to see their parents had some work to do. It was no longer the children seeing their removal as punishment for their behavior, but as a step toward their viewing their removal as a part of the corrective plan for family problems.
Families For Kids was the next major change in the philosophy of foster care. Cleveland County was one of the eight FFK pilot counties. The five goals: (1) putting more intensive services into the home, (2) use a coordinated assessment for evaluating the family's needs, (3) maintain the same social worker or social work team throughout the life of the case, (4) maintain a single, stable placement, and (5) achieve permanence within one year, impacted our work immediately. To address goal number 4, the license of the Shelter Home was changed from emergency care to group care license allowing residents to stay in placement more than 90 days. The name was also changed to Aaron's House at that time. Other major impacts were: (1) the number of children coming into care began to drop dramatically and (2) families of children who had been in care for years were looked at again as possible relative placements. The increase in relative placements reduced the number of children in the backlog; therefore, reducing the numbers of residents and applications especially at James Home.
With change being a way of life now, when Cleveland County became a IV-E waiver county in 1998, it seemed only logical that we would look at new ways to work with DSS in providing services to families and children. Providing the entire social work piece to the families of children in residence seemed to be positive step. The CHCC social worker now has case responsibility for the children, and their families, when the youth are in residence at one of the group homes and during aftercare, until the custody is returned to the family. This system has worked well for the residents and their families have fewer people to be involved with and the families can be more involved with their child's progress. The first three-month contract was signed in April 1998, and the services remain in place today.
In March 2000 CHCC entered into another contract with Cleveland County DSS to provide the court ordered supervised visitation for all children and their families in the foster care system. This IV-E waiver contract was the first in the state for visitation and has proven to be successful in the eyes of DSS, the courts and the families. The families come to the James Home where a CHCC Transportation Worker brings the child. During this supervised time, a CHCC social worker talks with the family about the issues that brought them to foster care or the issues that they are dealing with at the moment. Visitation usually takes place once per week, according to the plan and court orders.
In 2001, the agency began capacity building, with the goal being accreditation. This process was undertaken with the support of The Duke Endowment. There were many steps to take to begin the process in earnest. Rochelle Haimes, a recognized accreditation specialist, was retained as consultant, and social worker, Chuck Barbee, was promoted to Assistant Director, allowing the Executive Director the necessary time to spend on accreditation. Celena Haaland, a Masters level social worker, was hired and Mr. Barbee entered graduate school. One of the first orders of business was to develop and put into practice a Continuous Quality Improvement Plan, for which each member of the agency and the Board of Directors has specific responsibilities. The self-study was completed in March 2003 and the site visit was in June 2003. It was a joyful day in December when COA staff notified CHCC that the council commissioners had voted unanimously for accreditation. Finally, the COA plaque arrived in January 2004 for the entire world to see.
In the fall of 2004 the agency began a contract to offer parenting classes for parents who are referred by DSS because their children are "at risk" of removal, or the children are already in the foster care system. The ten week sessions are designed to give parents the overview needed to know how to care for, supervise and discipline their children.
It was in September 2004 that a fourth set of Child Care Workers was added so that the rotation schedule could be changed to 7 days on and 7 days off. The Duke Endowment financially supported this change.
January 2005 brought yet another contract; a program for adoption recruitment. The program is designed to educate the community about adoption possibilities and to prepare the pre-adoption assessments. By March, yet another service was added, Co Parenting Classes for parents going through a divorce and needing some communication skills to deal with custody issues.
Always, as each step has been taken, the Board of Directors has looked at the changes as they related to the mission statement. If they were compatible, the next question was "can we do this well?" Finally, the question was "will it benefit those involved?" Each time the answers have been, "yes," and the agency has moved forward, some small steps and some giant leaps; but, always for the betterment of children.