The Department of Children's Services is look for ideas from the community to help its most vulnerable members -- the children.
Felicia Shelby, Resource Linkage Coordinator for DCS in Pulaski, is putting together a Community Advisory Board (CAB) in each of the 12 counties of the South Central Region.
DCS hopes to unite concerned citizens, educators, social workers, and any other interested entity, Shelby said in an e-mail interview.
"Should a family come to our attention in need of emergency services such as food, clothing, or in some cases financial assistance, we are able to meet needs through a referrals process or by raising monies among ourselves," she said.
One of the ways this is done is through communication via an e-mail master list, which reaches members across the South Central Region. Also, CAB has previously provided furniture and even job referrals to preserve and sustain families.
"Our primary mission is to provide resource linkage and 'wrap-around' services to those families who might fall through the cracks of 'the system," Shelby said.
CAB is a state-mandated entity put together about five years ago when DCS officials realized they weren't doing enough to involve the community in decisions made, Shelby explained.
"Or in other words, we weren't making communities aware of the problems some of our families were facing, many of which could be easily remedied through prevention services," she said.
CAB had already existed in Bedford County but membership dwindled. However, last July a community forum was held in hopes of attracting new members and attempting to regain interest with the residents of the county. It was a success, attracting representatives of over 15 community agencies and businesses.
Since that time, Bedford CAB has met regularly at noon on the third Tuesday of each month at the Center for Family Development on the public square.
During their August meeting, a number of areas needing improvement were discussed by CAB -- one of which was landlords and code noncompliance with Bedford County tenants.
"I've been told that some of the conditions of the homes in this area are riddled with issues such as rotting floors, leaking ceilings, even rodent and general pest issues, which go unaddressed by some landlords," she said.
It not only creates a major problem for families' safety, "but also in the long run jeopardizes families' abilities to remain together, as in some cases, DCS must intervene to address living conditions," Shelby explained.
"It seems to be a catch-22 for some families who struggle to make high-priced weekly payments for shelter, and then sometimes face the intrusion of DCS into their lives for no fault of their own, for issues they themselves cannot remedy."
Education cuts are forcing schools to adjust their course materials and curriculums, Shelby said.
Contributing to this issue is parental unemployment.
"Children often lack the basics of daily essentials (from food to school supplies and clothing)," Shelby said,
According to data provided by countyhealthrankings.org, 34 percent of children in Bedford County are in poverty.
"So teachers are again often put in situations where they are regularly supporting their students by providing some of these needs out of the goodness of their hearts," she said.
These areas of concern are often very common reasons why DCS intervention becomes necessary and CAB is seeking to be the bridge for families prior to this, Shelby said.
Another problem area is high school students reaching their junior and senior years without job skills or plans for further education.
"CAB is exploring possible avenues to get into the schools earlier -- namely in middle school, to begin sharing with the kids our professions," Shelby said, and since CAB is made up of individuals from various entities, "it's the perfect avenue to offer to our youths in the beginning phases of this vision."
Eventually, they hope to partner with the school system to bring in representatives of the community to share their professional experience and career paths,.
CAB is seeking interested parties to attend meetings to get involved, Shelby said.
Another idea being bounced around is the concept of partnering with Shelbyville Housing Authority on measures taken to provide safe housing for low-income families.
"Since this is such a large 'problem', it's hard to say where to begin at this time," Shelby said. "But anyone who has direction or ideas on ways to help in this area is welcomed and encourage to come and share thoughts and ideas during our CAB meetings.
Shelby said that Bedford County "is jam-packed with good people" and they want to encourage everyone to work together to continue making strides "for the betterment of our children and families who are disadvantaged and struggling."