Community Spotlight: Parrott Creek Child & Family Services

06/15/2021

This week we’re highlighting the work of Parrott Creek Child & Family Services. Perlo has been a sponsor of this organization for several years and believes in the work that they do within our community.  We discuss their work today with Parrott Creek’s Executive Director, Simon Fulford, who has been working in his position for the last 2.5 years. 

Prior to Parrott Creek, Simon worked for the Oregon Youth Authority as a Senior Strategic Policy Analyst and spent the prior 28 years in the non-profit sector, consistently working with organizations that service at risk or vulnerable populations, and predominately with children and youth.


Can you give us an overview of what Parrott Creek does?

Parrott Creek was founded in 1968 and was established by a citizen led bond measure in Clackamas County, Oregon.  This allowed for the purchase of 80 acres of woodland and a farmhouse to create the non-profit, with a mission to provide support and guidance to youth in the juvenile justice system. 

Residential treatment for youth has been the core of the work of Parrott Creek, and it has been operated on the Clackamas property ever since.  Over the years, we’ve also added and grown a number of community-based programs and our services now include outpatient behavioral health treatment, independent living programs for foster youth, and our suite of Children and Mothers’ programs. These services work with family members with substance misuses problems where their children are at risk or have been removed from their homes.  We help them access treatment programs and guide them through support and housing services to aid in reunification with their kids. This includes helping them practice their parenting skills and remain drug free until they can access permanent housing of their own.

How is the program funded now?

About 80% of our funding comes through government contracts, either statewide through Oregon, or local programs through Clackamas County.  About 20% comes from private donors, supporters and sponsorships.

When the government pays for things, it’s rock bottom dollar – they pay the least amount to get the bare minimum or the least amount for the most of what they can get.  As an example, our government contracts don’t pay for a birthday cake for the child having a birthday party with their mum, perhaps for the first time in their life.  The private support really comes into play by providing all of the additional elements of programs that government contracts just don’t pay for, like enrichment activities, sports, and cultural engagements. The government really only pays for a roof over their head and required “case management”, not the items that can make a huge impact on that family for the long term. 

Are your funding sources stable?

The government funding is relatively stable, but where they fall short is with regard to two things: for example, we signed a new 5 year contract with a government agency that has no inflation or cost of living increases built in over that term.  So ultimately, we end up with a 2 – 4 % cut per year. Secondly, as many who work in social services know, the contract models don’t really enable organizations to provide the service in the way that we know it should be provided.  They contract on capacity but they pay on utilization, so the non-profit is always left subsidizing any unused capacity. 

For instance, you’re contracted to have ten beds available at any time, but if you only have eight kids in those beds, you’re carrying the extra two beds of capacity without actually being paid for it. To relate it back to the construction industry, it would be like a company having to lease 5 bulldozers for a job, but only getting paid to lease 4 of them and carrying the cost of the fifth one on their own.

How are referrals made to Parrott Creek for participants in your programs?

Overall, we work with children and families who are pretty deeply involved in our systems of care for one reason or another. They come to us through one government agency or another. Many of them are referred through child welfare systems, which means social services is involved because of concerns about safety, exposure to violence or trauma, or something of that nature. The government determines that we can help provide the best, or most needed, services to them.

At the same time, we are building towards developing an outpatient treatment service that would be more available to private referrals, so that, for instance, parents struggling with their children would be able to call us for help.  It’s not something we’re ready for yet, but it’s something we’re building towards.

Why do you see that there is a need for your services?

There’s a need for our services on different levels.  On one level, human beings are, sadly, fallible.  They make mistakes.  When they’re traumatized, they often get into generational cycles of traumas, where a trauma that a parent experiences gets replicated or repeated with their children, either by themselves or the situation that they’re in. As a society, we haven’t always done the best job of intervening in trauma, helping them heal and not repeating that behavior further down the road.

Additionally, people have trouble accessing minimum wage jobs and housing.  We have issues in this country with economic inequality, and all of those factors make it so that people struggle, have challenges and don’t have opportunities that some of us benefit from.  Those issues can compound on each other and snowball until one challenge causes another one, and then a third one, etc.

For example, a parent is referred to us because they’re struggling with addiction and social services is threatening to remove their child from their care. So, the parent works with Parrott Creek to access substance misuse treatment.  To achieve the best outcome, they should enter residential treatment, but if they do that, they would lose access to their housing.  This means that they have to choose between their best treatment option and maintaining housing. If they enter residential treatment, they likely lose their children and their housing, as well. So we’re asking them to make those impossible choices – to choose between being clean and sober and keeping their kids or affordable housing.  It shouldn’t be either or, it should be both.  We should provide them the right level of treatment to beat their addiction and keep their kids in their care and have enough support to do that.  Making someone homeless is the worst way of helping stabilize their life.

Oregon ranks 50th in the nation for drug and alcohol treatment programs and behavioral health treatment for adults, and we’re near that for children’s services, too. The government doesn’t design things this way.  It’s not intentional. It’s just that they don’t always connect the dots.  We could benefit from private sector companies that specialize in logistics, for instance, to help evaluate these programs to provide better outcomes. So that ties back to funding. While it’s relatively stable, the limiting contract models can get in the way of providing the most appropriate service that deliver life-long impacts.

What benefit does Parrott Creek provide to our community?

Our programs are often a diversion from youth going into prisons. We try to engage at risk youth with the community and keep them as far away from the ‘formal’ justice system as possible. Generally, it’s less expensive for the community for them to be at Parrott Creek than to be in a prison, and perhaps more importantly, they have better outcomes. In our program for youth with sexually inappropriate behaviors, we have nearly a 100% success rate – meaning they won’t repeat those behaviors – if they complete that treatment.

In the residential program, the re-offending rate is about half the statewide average, as compared to those who end up in correctional facilities. We also see our work as a preventive for the future of our community.  If we’re contracted to work with an adult who is struggling with addiction and we can help that parent solve their problems, we’re often able to break that cycle and prevent those same problems from being passed on to their kids.

Someone who makes a mistake and struggles with substance misuse needs support to get them back to parenting appropriately and safely.  A youth who has committed a crime needs education so that they don’t commit it again and can become a valuable member of society. Supporting and investing in programs like Parrott Creek is an investment in our future.  If we can break cycles of trauma and violence and homelessness, then we can have healthier, more wholesome, more nurturing communities, which in turn is best for all of us.

One in every two of us have family members who have experienced abuse, trauma or neglect in some way.  It might be that your sister was sexually assaulted, or your cousin has a drug addiction. Maybe you have a sibling who lost their housing and lived in their car for a few months. Literally, about 50% of the population have close family members and friends who have been touched by trauma, abuse, neglect or addiction.  So, at some level, most of us need support for these things.

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What effect have you guys seen on the community because of COVID?

We’re beginning to see the effects of what we suspected was going on but was very much hidden.  Collectively, we’re beginning to see that the acuity of abuse that kids have suffered is higher. During COVID, there were fewer referrals on child abuse hotlines, but the severity of their abuse and neglect was higher.  This is because a lot of kids fell under the radar, and it was only the real extreme cases that got reported because they ended up in the hospital or the police were involved. So we are now we’re seeing other cases emerge and the severity of abuse has increased. 

The other impact of COVID is that because everyone is fearful and a bit cautious, they’re uncertain about how much they can start doing again. A family who is struggling with addiction is always very hesitant to engage in support, and COVID has made people even more insular and not able or willing to reach out and accept help. While it’s always been a struggle to engage with families, it’s now harder because of the last year and a half.

A lot of us in the social service sector are also worried about when the eviction moratoriums expire, that families who haven’t been made homeless yet are about to lose that security.  We’re worried about what the compounding issues that might cause.  No one faults a landlord for wanting their rent, they deserve that.  But we may see a wave of homelessness, which then triggers a lot of other very negative consequences.

The other impact of COVID and this strange year economically is that the hiring and recruitment challenges of today are permeating the social services sector, as well.  We’re finding it extremely difficult to find talent.  The wages for social service employees tend to be pretty depressed and these people are already being paid at the low end of the salary bracket for very hard work.  So, we’re finding it difficult to hire new people.

What can the community do to support Parrott Creek?

Dollars always help, as most know. And there’s different ways people can help.  We’re always looking for donors to pay for the additional services where a small donation can have a big impact, such as buying a birthday cake for a child who’s never had one before, or for a youth to get engaged in a basketball program. In terms of bigger investments, we hire masters level therapists to work with our youth even though the government won’t pay for that level of care.  We know that this level of training and professional care is needed.

We also like to work with local business partners who can provide vocational training opportunities. Our kids might benefit from a visit to a place with Perlo, or a Miles Fiberglass. Maybe a tattoo parlor. We like to work with our local community businesses to show our youth the careers that they might not otherwise have imagined could be for them.

It’s also helpful when we get donations for the children and families particularly at Christmas time. We appreciate that we get quilts donated so that each youth gets a new quilt when they arrive here. The community might think about getting involved in a volunteer day to do things like landscaping, or re-painting the rooms in the housing areas, or things like that.

Tell us what your Week of Giving is all about?

Our week of giving is all about opportunities for us to share all of the work we do in much more detail.  We will release a video per day that focuses on aspects of our services and providing more insight to that. We will explain our residential, outpatient, children and mothers’ programs. It’s a way, particularly with COVID, to show the work that we do. We hope to inspire others ways to support us, either in donations, for volunteer hours or finding partners to show vocations to our youth. 

And we want to share our vision for what we want to achieve at Parrott Creek and let people know how they can partner with us and stay informed. As much as we say that our staff walks alongside our youth, we also want our community to walk alongside us and the vision that we have.

What is planned for the future of Parrott Creek?

Our big vision is to become a regional center of excellence in the service and treatment support for children and families. Here’s the bigger picture: We have a plan to rebuild our residential treatment campus just outside of Oregon City. It will include brand new buildings that are trauma informed and as carbon neutral as possible.

We aim not only to provide the best possible treatment to the youth onsite, but also to provide access to the 80 acres of land that we have. And we want to provide additional outpatient support to the community. 

We want to partner with the Native Americans that this land came from by providing those communities access and benefit to the land that we sit on. We’d also like for inner-city and BIPOC communities to access the land and our model of services.

We don’t want to settle for good enough, but to always aim for the best of what’s really needed. What’s ‘good enough’ is the minimum service that the government provides, but we don’t want that to be all we do. We want buildings that are of a quality and grade that is really the best for those children and families that need it. We want it to be the best because these families deserve that, as well as the best opportunities to thrive and recover. We want to give them the best possible opportunity to be successful in the future. We want them to feel as loved and as loving as we want all of us to be.

What is your ultimate hope for our community?

I hope that one day we aren’t needed anymore. I want to fast forward and find that organizations like Parrott Creek aren’t needed, or at least not at the scale that we currently operate at. I’d like to be able to close our living units because we’ve turned the tap off of violence and abuse and it isn’t being passed on from generation to generation any longer.

What else would you like people to know?

I’d love for people to know that they can come visit our residential site. It’s a special place to be. I also want people to know that our vision is doable – it’s doable if we all believe in it, support it, and don’t settle for good enough. We keep aiming for the best. Lastly, we are really thankful to Perlo and companies like yours for all of their contributions. Several years of really engaging and deeply supporting and investing in our work makes a big difference, and we are so grateful.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been moved by the work that Parrott Creek does for our community, you can find out more about them on their website located at www.pcreek.org/. To participate in their Week of Giving, visit www.pcreek.org/parrott-creeks-week-of-giving-for-a-year-of-impact/

Finally, we’d like to thank Simon for sharing the story of Parrott Creek with us. Thank you for all you do.