In the early 1980’s, an alarming number of children in the St. Louis metropolitan area sustained catastrophic or fatal injuries at the hands of their parents or caregivers. Many of these children and their families were not known to existing child abuse treatment agencies. Concerned community leaders convened a forum to consider new, constructive interventions to address the problem of serious child maltreatment.
At the time, no existing agency was providing preventive services specifically targeted for potential child abuse and neglect. No administrative structure was in place to help community groups generate proposals or develop new ideas. Information about the array, location and levels of services available to victims was difficult to obtain. The group’s initial directives, then, were to acquire and catalogue information about available services for abused and neglected victims and to provide a structure that could support new community efforts to combat child maltreatment. Thus, the Family Support Network was formed.
Incorporation as a nonprofit agency occurred in January 1982, with the intent that FSN would act as a catalyst for the development of new services, especially preventive programs, and that it would facilitate the growth and delivery of existing services. The first Board of Directors was drawn from those who participated in the initial group discussion and represented the human services as well as the volunteer community. Subsequent members of the Board of Directors brought specific skills in the areas of fundraising, public relations, personnel administration, finance, legislative advocacy, and marketing.
In 1983, FSN received funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, Human Development Services, and the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect, to conduct a child fatality study. To conduct the study, FSN created a community-based Board of Inquiry to review all available information about fatal or near-fatal cases of child maltreatment. Their results indicated that over half of the fatal or near-fatal injuries to children were either preventable or had risk factors which could have been detected. The Board concluded that a targeted prevention program could easily be highly cost effective if it reached the right group of families.
In 1985, the Network developed and implemented Project First Step, a home-based individual and family therapy, parenting education, resource acquisition and follow-up program targeted at families identified as at risk for child abuse or neglect. Since that time, FSN has continued to grow its programs and services including expanding their cost-free counseling to parents that are not at a high risk of abusing or neglecting their children but just need some parental assistance while continuing to serve the high-risk parents and caregivers. Since 1982, FSN has grown from one program to six and will continue to answer the surrounding community’s needs.