Agency: Social service needs grow as Cape economy slumps

Family Continuity sees demand rise for services in last half of 2008
Agency works more closely with food pantries as distress rises

By James Kinsella

From the outside, everything seemed to be going well.

It was a home in a great neighborhood on the Cape, owned by a man known for operating a very successful business. He and his wife lived there with their two children, both under the age of 10.

One Friday afternoon, agency clinicians arrived to find that there wasno electricity in the house. It had been shut off for lack of payment. The husband's business, it turned out, had filed for bankruptcy, and he had no income coming in.

Inside the home, however, one of the children was facing behavioral health issues. So clinicians from Family Continuity Inc., a non-profit social service agency with a branch in Hyannis, would conduct home visits, as they commonly do.

One Friday afternoon, the clinicians arrived to find that there was no electricity in the house. It had been shut off for lack of payment.

The husband's business, it turned out, had filed for bankruptcy, and he had no income coming in.

Out of shame, he hadn't told the family until there was nothing left.

It being Friday afternoon, the clinicians couldn't reach anyone to get the power turned back on.

So they went out and bought flashlights so that the family would have some light, as well as ice for the refrigerator to keep the food from spoiling over the weekend. The clinicians worked with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Roman Catholic charity, to get the power turned on.

This account, with names and certain details left out to protect the family's anonymity, is just one example of what agencies such as Family Continuity are seeing as the economic slump deepens on Cape Cod.

The agency is a private, nonprofit mental health and social services agency in eastern Massachusetts with branches in Plymouth, Lawrence, Beverly and Whitinsville as well as Hyannis.

Slump pushing families over the edge

Ginny Irving, director of development and public relations for Family Continuity, said the slowdown has been pushing some families who "may have sort of been on the edge" with emotional or mental health issues over the line into deeper crises.

Such was the case with the above family, where the sudden economic turn resulted in added stress to the marriage, and the emotional needs of the family members, especially the children.

Whereas the family had been focusing on the behavior issues faced by one of the children, the crisis added a whole new layer of service needs, including basic food and shelter.

The caseload for the agency's Family Stabilization and TreatmentProgram has rose by 42 percent in the last six months of 2008 comparedwith the same period in 2007. The caseload for the agency's mentalhealth period grew 12 percent in the same period.

The caseload for the agency's Family Stabilization and Treatment Program has rose by 42 percent in the last six months of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007. The caseload for the agency's mental health period grew 12 percent in the same period.

Another indicator of deepening trouble on the Cape: schools, which keep track of their students' addresses, are seeing an increase in family address changes, from longtime homes to shorter-term stays in places that sometimes turn out to be shelters.

Ironically, these strains are growing just as the state, with its own budget crisis, is cutting back funding to Family Continuity and other social service agencies.

Irving said the majority of the agency's referrals have come through state agencies such as the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Children and Families.

Earl "Skip" Stuck, chief executive officer of the agency, said the cuts in funding are forcing the agency to cut back itself, whether through cutting hours for its workers or even laying people off.

To deal with the worsening times, Stuck said Family Continuity is taking steps beyond providing services for which the agency is paid.

They include an internal food drive, inviting clients to dinner at its facility at 60 Perseverance Way in Hyannis, and working more closely with area food pantries.

No longer are just the poor people in need, he said. Now unemployment is visiting economic distress across wider society.

Sharing the pain and the wealth

"To get through this, we're really going to have to become better neighbors," Stuck said. "To work our way out of this, we're going to have to share the pain and share the wealth."

Irving said Family Continuity has flexibility to cope with the increased demand for services. The agency takes self-referrals, accepts a range of health insurance plans, and has short waiting lists for services.

Agency workers also are mobile, Irving said, routinely meeting with families in their homes or at neutral sites such as libraries, "whatever works best for our clients."

More information about the agency's services is available by calling 508-862-0600.

 

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