A Conversation on Meeting Family Needs in Alabama: Family Resource Centers Advancing Workforce Development

December 20, 2021

This fall, APHSA Policy Associate Mary Nelson sat down with the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), the Alabama Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, and the Alabama Network of Family Resource Centers (ANFRC). They collaborated on a discussion about how ANFRC, an organization of non-profit agencies and programs providing a wide array of services designed to protect children and strengthen families, partnered with DHR to establish a statewide network of employment and training services for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) participants. An excerpt from the discussion below highlights the effective capacity of family resource centers (FRCs) as SNAP employment and training (E&T) providers to develop career pathways leading to quality, sustainable employment for SNAP recipients in their communities. This excerpt has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Listen to the full hour-long interview below, or click here: https://youtu.be/HReNmldPdpw

Mary Nelson: APHSA Policy Associate
We are excited today to welcome our panelist Brandon Hardin, Director of Food Assistance and Rita Hauser, the SNAP Employment and Training Manager at the Alabama DHR; Joan Witherspoon Norris, Executive Director of ANFRC; Margaret Morton, Executive Director of the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE); and Nick Moore, Director of the Alabama Governor's Office of Education and Workforce Transformation.

For those of you on the line who aren't familiar with FRCs, Joan and Margaret could you share a little bit about what FRCs are?

Joan Witherspoon Norris: Executive Director, ANFRC
FRCs really began being established in Alabama in the 1990s, and the partnership with the DHR was a big piece in their early establishment as DHR was focused on providing preventive services to families .... [T]hey planted seeds for FRCs across the state. Each FRCs is its own entity, its own non-profit organization with its own board of directors and its own staff. Every FRC is driven by community needs and community resources and therefore they're all really different from each other. Margaret will tell you about [SAFE], they're our biggest [FRC] in the state and they provide incredibly diverse offerings in terms of programs and services.

Some of our centers are tiny with two and three employees. Our centers are in urban, rural, and suburban areas. They really are all across the state. But in spite of all their differences, they do share some really important commonalities. They all take a strengths-based approach to working with families and we really embrace the strengthening family’s framework which promotes five protective factors that help all families to thrive…. All of our centers offer parenting services and parenting programs, many offer early intervention programs and some home visitation. They all offer case management and have a robust intake and assessment process, and all of our centers strive to be a place where someone can come into their doors. The thing that may have brought them in might be because they need help with the utility bill or their child is involved with in the juvenile justice system, and they need support. What we want to do is wrap our arms around the family, ask them “what are your hopes and dreams? What do you need and how can we help you leverage your strengths to get you there.…?”

That's why this partnership around SNAP E&T is so important to our FRCs, because as families come to our centers, the need for increased income, for entering the workforce and improving their spot in the workforce, is a big need for families across the state….

Mary: Thanks so much Joan and Margaret, that's such a rich description…. Joan you may have mentioned this too, but I think it's helpful for our audience members to know that there is a national network of FRCs and there are FRCs in most states, so this is not just an Alabama specific thing. I just wanted to point that out to you all as well if you're interested in connecting with your state's network of FRCs.

So, I know that this effort with the Alabama network…. was really built on a foundation of existing relationships as Margaret just hinted at and I want to talk more about that in a moment, but before we dive into that I think it's helpful to start out with just understanding the existing structure of SNAP and TANF employment and training services and what that looks like with an FRC….

Brandon Hardin: Director of Food Assistance, Alabama DHR
Thank you Mary .… [FRCs] are the foundation in which families’ lives are touched and moved in the direction of holistic change. For many, many years in Alabama these FRCs have held a multitude of DHR program [contracts] including SNAP, TANF, child support and child welfare. These centers have provided care and guidance to so many vulnerable Alabamians…. In the last five or so years the SNAP E&T program has built on the success of our sister program TANF Jobs by utilizing existing partnerships and growing multiple partnerships. Those partnerships, of course, started with Margaret and SAFE. Under her leadership we have grown our relationships with SNAP [E&T to include] FRCs across the state, many of which serve rural communities and hard to serve communities. Their unique service delivery model allows our clients to build up the skills necessary to overcome barriers and build up that social capital necessary to get locally in-demand jobs….

Joan: I can talk a little bit about the structure.... [W]e have a SNAP E&T grant that is run through [SAFE], .…[and] almost every center in our network is part of that grant… [M]y role at the network has been to help ensure that the [FRCs] understand how to use the funding and to let them share best practices [with each other]. Every SNAP E&T program is different at the different FRCs because… while the parameters are real and the limitations and the opportunities are similar, how it's implemented at the community level really needs to be community driven. … [T]hey're all different yet a lot of the ideas are similar and it's really nice to gather the group together and have this idea sharing…. [L]ike, “Here’s what’s worked really well for us”, “Here's, you know, what's brought folks into our center”, “Here's what's helped us move folks.… forward in their progression.” At the network level we bring folks together for that kind of sharing and also make sure they understand here's how the money can be spent, and here's how it can't be spent, and here's how to report on it so that you can leverage it to the best benefit for your community.

Margaret Morton: Executive Director, SAFE
I think one of the unique features of the SNAP E&T, of course, is that you are leveraging money. It's not a reimbursement program. It's a leverage program, so every dollar you spend you get a return of fifty cents on the dollar, which then becomes state money. And, if you're in the world of non-profit, and you're in the world of FRCs, you know the impact of your ability to braid and blend funding so that you can put all the pieces of the pie together to make it whole again.… Joan mentioned that SAFE is the contractor for SNAP E&T with DHR and that for SNAP E&T we also receive TANF funding as well.

Mary: I’ve had a chance to speak with you all a few times before today and I’ve come to understand that there were some things that were in place that really helped to develop the structure that you have today, including some legislation and dedicated state level funding .… and technical assistance and leadership from ANFRC. So, I wonder if you all can speak to the levers that were pulled to really make this possible?

 Brandon: …. I want to talk about .… the ability of leadership at the top to make sure that this is a forefront of everything that we do at DHR, and that connection to the communities through the FRCs is something that you cannot measure on any type of performance outcome. That connection there to the community allows those individuals to feel part of that community and be part of that change, and I can't say enough about Governor Ivy and Nick's leadership in trying to get this stuff going for us and how it's progressing, and our Commissioner and our Deputy Commissioner and the leadership of Joan and Margaret to make sure this works.…

The views and opinions expressed in this recording are those of the panelists and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of APHSA or any agency of the U.S. government. Funding for this project was provided by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA is an equal opportunity employer and provider.

A Conversation With Alabama - Family Resource Centers Advancing Workforce Development to Meet Family Needs

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