Funded by a $1.7 million federal grant from the Victims of Crimes Act (VOCA) and $585,000 received from the Washoe County Commissioners, Washoe County Social Services recently began renovation on a new Family Engagement Center located at 905 East Prater Way.
The building that was once a chiropractic center and at another time a childcare facility, provides ample space for visitations between foster children and birth parents in a neutral, uplifting atmosphere. Earlier this year, Washoe County Social Services looked at five or six buildings in the Reno-Sparks area before finding the Prater Way building and purchasing it for around $535,000. Being a former childcare facility, the 62,000-square-foot building is ideal because of its size, expanded parking area, playground, kitchen, outdoor areas, and many different entrances and exits.
“We have 932 children in foster care; right now we host 300 visits a week in the Reno location,” says Washoe County Social Services Director Amber Howell, also stating that it’s hardly enough room to host the visitations. She said that the current location on 350 S. Center Street hosts 4-5 small visitation rooms that lack adequate space.
Washoe County already has the engagement center designs in place, the paint is picked out, and the furniture purchased. As part of the design of the new Family Engagement Center, the walls will be painted in bright colors to stimulate reconciliation along with age-appropriate décor in each of the rooms. Studies show that interacting in open, natural environments can reduce depression and anxiety, so biological parents and foster kids will be exposed to activities that allow interaction and bonding. Visitations are a critical part of the reunion process, allowing children to greatly increase their development process in a safe, secure environment.
“Each room is conducive to a healthy developmental environment appropriate for all different age groups,” she says. A great addition to the new engagement center will also feature a kitchen with two refrigerators, an oven, and sanitary prep areas.
“Parents can bring food and dine together, or cook together which creates a bonding experience,” says Howell.
She stressed that the purpose of the new family engagement center is to encourage co-parenting and allows parents and children of all ages to be in a comfortable, progressive environment that helps them grow developmentally.
“Children in foster care don’t need to be reminded that they’re in it; taking them offsite removes the business aspect of being in the system. This lets them be a kid again and adds to the excitement of being with their biological parents,” she says.
The Washoe County Family Engagement Center is expected to open this fall. Although a lot of the costs associated with the center are paid for by VOCA, Washoe County Social Services is still seeking donations for construction materials. For more information about how to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.