It will be a full house this Christmas for foster parents Alex and Miranda. Two years ago, they decided they wanted to adopt a child. Now they have three young girls who were all in foster care, to welcome into their family for the holidays. This is all thanks to Five Acres, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides a full continuum of care for vulnerable children and families in crisis, including community-based mental and behavioral health services, deaf services, foster care and adoption. The organization was founded 130 years ago to give 45 homeless and orphaned children a safe place to live. Today, its mission has grown to provide services for more than 8,700 children and families across five counties in Southern California.
Five Acres strives for permanency—a permanent, loving family for every child in their care. The three pillars of safety, well-being and permanency provide the framework for Five Acres’ programs for children and their families.
Through Five Acres, Alex and Miranda learned about the many siblings that were being split up in foster care, and found it so heartbreaking that they decided to foster multiple kids so that siblings undergoing a traumatic change in their lives wouldn’t be separated from each other. That’s how they met the three girls whom they would come to adopt.
This is part of Five Acres' mission to keep families together. The organization is best known for its residential treatment program, but that is a small part of what Five Acres does. The majority of their work revolves around community-based programs that help children when they are still with their families. By providing counseling and connections to other resources, Five Acres helps children and their families function in a healthier way so they can remain intact.
“A huge portion of our services is focused on prevention,” said Emily Peters, communications and public relations coordinator at Five Acres. “Through our community-based programs, therapists, clinicians, social workers and case managers go out into the community and work with families that are struggling to stay together. There are lots of reasons for that. It could be the loss of a breadwinner, multiple children that a single parent has to take care of, someone who’s struggling to keep a roof over their head, to pay the rent. All that affects their ability to be present for their children emotionally. A child could be going through behavioral problems and may have anxiety or depression, or need help. There could be a death in the family, addiction issues—lots of things can threaten the stability of a family.”
What Five Acres does is set aside the stigma of whatever is breaking a family apart and provide wraparound services to keep a family together. Awareness is a key challenge because many people do not know that organizations or services like these exist. Often, when people know of and need the services, they do not want to ask for help because of the stigma associated with a family in crisis.
Five Acres’ homelessness initiative illustrates how a considered intervention can make a big impact. Maria (not her real name) was a girl who was referred to Five Acres through her school. Her father had recently left the family, and Maria was exhibiting depression and anxiety. In providing therapy for the 9-year-old, Five Acres learned that Maria had two younger siblings, their mom was struggling financially, and the family was on the verge of homelessness. They were in a housing situation where criminal activity was happening, and the mom could not afford to move somewhere else. To remove the children from an unsafe environment where they might be put into the foster care system, Five Acres helped secure the first and last month’s rent for an apartment the family could afford. The organization also provided counseling for the family through a clinical plan. After several weeks, Maria’s family was discharged, able to stay together in a safe environment, and no longer faced the prospects of homelessness or the foster care system.
“A huge portion of our services is focused on prevention. Through our community-based programs, therapists, clinicians, social workers and case managers go out into the community and work with families that are struggling to stay together.”
When keeping a family together is not possible, Five Acres also helps children find safe, loving and permanent homes with other families.
“A lot more people are touched by foster care than you think,” said Emily Peters. “It’s an unseen social crisis. It doesn’t come up in conversations a lot. And a lot of kids don’t want their teachers or schoolmates to know. Your child could be going to school with a foster care child and not know it—but it may come out through their behavior. That’s why lots of cases get referred to us through the school system and other health care providers.”
There were 442,995 children in the foster care system in the United States in 2017. The opioid epidemic and a rise in parental substance abuse has contributed to the increase of children entering the foster care system in many states. At the same time, the number of foster care homes has dropped, according to The Chronicle of Social Change. When children enter the foster care system, the average time spent is 20 months. The uncertainty and lack of permanency can hamper a child’s development, and make a child more likely to be subject to sex trafficking, homelessness or incarceration in the future.
While volunteering, giving money or becoming a foster family are obvious and meaningful ways to support organizations like Five Acres, there are many other ways to make an impact.
To engage volunteers who do not have a lot of free time, Five Acres recently established The Alliance, a volunteer guild for young professionals between the ages of 21 and 45. The Alliance volunteers are encouraged to participate in one of Five Acres’ two big annual events: the golf classic or the gala. The Alliance also creates two events per year on campus that revolve around the volunteers’ knowledge base. At a recent event, a biologist and an archaeologist came together to make fossils with the kids and talk about the concepts of predator and prey. It was a hands-on and collaborative way to learn about basic scientific principles and to plant a seed of curiosity about people who do that type of work. The events give busy working professionals a chance to share different career paths with children and to be seen as adult role models.
“Volunteering with The Alliance and Five Acres really appeals to me because of their focus on kids and their long history in Pasadena,” said Renee Chang, senior vice president and branch manager of East West Bank’s Pasadena headquarters branch. “What Five Acres is doing for these children resonates with me as a parent. I make it a priority to be involved because it’s a great way to make an impact in my community."
To get involved with Five Acres, please visit their website at 5acres.org.
If you or someone you know may need Five Acres’ services, please call 800.696.6793 or email email@example.com. For similar resources outside of Southern California, contact your local child protective services agency or law enforcement. A list of resources by state is available here.
For child abuse prevention, call toll-free within California (800) 540-4000. Outside of California, call (213) 639-4500.
For domestic violence prevention, call (800) 799-7233.