It’s a new phase for the Sonoma County Children’s Village!
“The Sonoma County Children’s Village – isn’t that gone?” is a question we often hear. Well, the physical village is gone, at least as a home for foster children, but we’re happy to say that the Sonoma County Children’s Village as an organization is alive and well! It continues to be an active nonprofit that seeks to improve the lives of Sonoma County foster children and to support foster youth so that they can grow into well-adjusted, healthy and productive adults.
That said, the Sonoma County Children’s Village (SCCV) has been going through a major evolution. As you may well know, the original purpose of SCCV was to provide nurturing, stable family-style homes to children in foster care:
Our beginnings and evolution
Sonoma County Children’s Village was conceived in 1998 by a small group of volunteers led by Lia Rowley. Lia had been inspired by the sad story of Georgia Moses, whose difficult young life was tragically cut short, almost unnoticed by society. The vision of the group was to create a village in Georgia’s memory that would provide a stable, nurturing environment for children and sibling groups in foster care.
With broad community support, this vision became a reality, and from 2006 to 2015, The Children’s Village provided nurturing family-style homes to children and especially sibling groups in foster care. The innovative concept included such features as on-site volunteer grandparents and a successful program to reunify families out of foster care.
However, the Children’s Village was licensed as a group home by the State of California; there was no other category in which to place the unique model. With the dramatic changes in California government policy brought about by AB 403, a bill that sharply reduces placement of foster children in group homes in California, the Sonoma County Family, Youth and Children’s Division drastically decreased its referrals to the Village. The Village could not sustain its business model with the reduced number of children and had to suspend its operations in October 2015. The Board deliberated for many months as to how to keep the Village open and advocated to legislators for an exception or to become a pilot program but was ultimately denied. The Village was given the option to become a Short-Term Residential Treatment Facility; however, this model did not align with the Village’s mission and values.
In December 2015, the Board made the painstaking decision to sell the property. In March 2016, the Village property was sold to pay off the mortgage debt of $2 million, and the remaining funds were set aside to further the mission in a different capacity.
A group of community members (donors, Board members, volunteers, and supporters) that had originally started out as an Advocacy Committee in the fall of 2015 evolved into the Steering Committee. This Steering Committee researched the needs and available services for foster children and other vulnerable youth and families in Sonoma County, met with many other non-profits and community organizations and evaluated what programs and services the evolving Children’s Village might want to offer.
As a result, in the fall of 2016, we launched our “Extraordinary Cost Program” to fund urgent needs and services that directly benefit individual foster youths and are not covered by other funding sources, such as specialized therapy and orthodontics. And we have started to help meet another urgent need – helping current and former foster youth get professional drivers training. The new SCCV also supports trauma-informed enrichment programs that are specifically geared to or are appropriate for and used by foster youth. In addition, we have started to work with other agencies and organizations in the community to support their efforts to raise awareness, recruit and retain foster families.
And this is just a start! We are looking into how else we can have the biggest possible impact with the new Sonoma County Children’s Village. We keep evaluating the situation, especially with regards to the effects of the recent policy changes, and have remained in close contact with other organizations in the field. One thing we realized in our research and work is that collaborating with other organizations is crucial for success – to tackle big problems, we all need to work together!
So that one day, our vision becomes reality: A world where all children feel safe, have a sense of belonging, and have equal opportunities to become happy, healthy, and productive adults.