August 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW3

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Union Park Action For Safe Families

Union Park Action for Safe Families is a community growth initiative composed of neighborhood school and community leaders, parents, and various agencies. Its mission is to support the stability of families and safety to unsupervised children. Collaborative efforts among various agencies are providing educational programs and services that are family focused and neighborhood based. After two years, there was a 64% increase in youth participating in supervised collaborative programs. Also, the 230 4th and 5th graders receiving self-care education in three elementary schools had a 25% increase in knowledge of personal safety as measured by a pre- and post-test. Seventy-one percent of the families participating successfully achieved the goals they set in the participation plan. Because of its accomplishments, the collaborative received an additional three year contract.

Millie Ferrer
Associate Professor, Human Development
University of Florida
Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences
Gainesville, Florida
Internet address:

Janet Chambers
Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent
Orange County
University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Orlando, Florida
Internet address:

Society faces many challenges as it becomes more complex and interrelated. Educators, community leaders, and concerned citizens are working toward effective ways to alleviate some of the problems facing youth and families.

One approach gaining favor and distinction is the collaboration strategy. This process gets people to work together in new ways. It is not an easy fix, but a journey which requires bringing together diverse stakeholders to develop trust among themselves, combine resources, and expand the mind set of all members to adopt new ideas in resolving problems (Winer & Ray, 1994). In working together, collaborative members must internalize the concept that successful prevention models need to focus on a holistic approach of family support. Positive models need to be comprehensive and not fragmented. Creating nurturing environmental contexts which are children centered, family focused, and neighborhood based will enhance and reinforce positive conditions for youth and families (Benard, 1991).

One community embracing this concept is Union Park, a community in the east side of Orlando, Florida. Like any other big city, Orlando has a problem with children's safety. In an effort to address this concern, a focus group of neighborhood school and community leaders, parents, and various agencies met to discuss the prevailing situation. The focus group defined and identified their strengths and needs in developing a vision for a safe neighborhood.

Issues of quality childcare, including before and after school care for school-age and pre-adolescent children, were discussed. An overall parental worry about children's safety while in home alone situations was a common concern of employed parents. Additional issues cited by the focus group were lack of cross-cultural understanding, transportation, cost effectiveness of services for all residents in the community, and family relations.

Research on latchkey children has revealed that many children are afraid, bored, and lonely when home alone (Long & Long, 1983). Accidents, low self-esteem, criminal injury, increased use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana (Richardson, Radziszewska, Dent, & Flay, 1993), and academically unmotivated students are other possible risks facing these children. Addressing the challenge of children having to be in latchkey situations requires efforts on many fronts. It involves creating support services for children on their own, developing supervised before and after school programs, and acknowledging the need for policies that affect families' child care responsibilities (American Home Economics Association & Whirlpool, 1993).

To meet the needs of the community, the Union Park Action for Safe Families collaborative growth initiative was created. Funding was secured in April 1996 from the Orange County Citizens' Commission for Children. The collaborative partners consisted of four member agencies spearheaded by the University of Florida's Orange County Cooperative Extension Service and an advisory group consisting of parents, school and community leaders and member agencies.

During the funding cycle, the advisory group met quarterly. Collaborative agencies also met on a monthly basis to provide support and discuss any challenges in meeting their desired outcomes. The desired outcomes the team worked on were:

By September 30, 1998, 90 percent of the children participating in the collaborative programs will be safer as measured by (a) a 50% increase in supervised collaborative programs and (b) a 25% increase in learned safety behaviors measured by pre and post tests.

By September 30, 1998, 50% of families in collaborative programs will successfully achieve their goals according to their participation plan.

The collaborative agencies and their purpose in achieving the desired outcome follows:

* East Orange Community Action Inc. - This agency grants numerous subsides for after school care; provides space for neighborhood services, classroom space for a variety of program activities, including volunteer training and parent meetings.

* Orange County Sheriff's Office B.A.D.G.E. (Becoming Achievers and Doers Through Guided Education) - This agency provides an after school enrichment program for middle school adolescents. It is a combined effort between a teacher and a sheriff deputy. The teacher provides tutoring by working with children on academic enrichment; the mentor deputy provides a positive role model. Participants are rewarded for academic achievement.

* Orange County Department of Human Services, Family Education - This agency provides free family counseling to families in the Union Park community. The family education counselor also works with students in the elementary school. The counselor provides academic enrichment to improve grade point average and teach anger management skills.

* Cooperative Extension Service - This agency coordinates the project, acting as fiscal and managing agent for the collaborative. The neighborhood coordinator, employed through Extension, is responsible for referring Union Park citizens to agency services and outside community resources. Cooperative Extension Service awards 30 extended-day scholarships in two elementary schools in the community, recruits and trains volunteers for the Children and Literacy program, as well as after school 4-H clubs.

In addition, it produces Safe Families, a quarterly newsletter, in-service trainings for Family Day Care Providers, and offers a six-week parent nurturing program. A pre-school safety curriculum, self-care education lessons for fourth and fifth grade, and 4-H club after-school activities are also part of the offerings.

Each partner has played an important role in providing various services to families for the attainment of a safer neighborhood. To date, evidence is clear that the project is meeting its desired outcome.


After a two-year span, the outcome audit for the Union Park Action for Safe Families was conducted by the Orange County Citizens' Commission for Children, the granting agency. The audit consisted of interviews with community advisory members, school, and client groups, fiscal reviews and contract outcomes. Interviews with stakeholders identified summer, after school programs and family counseling programs as meaningful and worthwhile to them. Participants commented that the agencies were flexible and worked with parents' and children's schedules to meet their needs. Following are the results of the contract outcomes.

The baseline in 1996 for children enrolled in supervised programs was 123. As of September 30, 1998, 343 youth participated in supervised collaborative programs, an increase of 64%.

Two-hundred thirty 4th and 5th grade students were evaluated in three different elementary schools. Pre- and post-test scores indicate a 25% increase in knowledge of personal safety. Some of the learned behaviors students reported practicing were posting emergency numbers by the telephone, taking messages when parents were not home, and planning enjoyable activities to avoid boredom.

Sixty nine families participated in in-depth collaborative programs. Of the 69 families working on their participation plans, 49 successfully achieved their goals. This resulted in a 71% completion rate. Participation plans consisted of setting family goals based on the family's strengths and opportunities for improving family stability.


In the journey toward collaboration and servicing families, participants met challenges of trust, agency territory issues, and client confidentiality. However, keeping the collaborative's mission and common outcomes in the forefront helped focus the work efforts toward meeting the needs of children and families in the community.


Union Park Action for Safe Families' success has resulted in an extension of the contract for an additional three years. Building on the strengths accomplished in this community, the advisory group recommended two additional services for families. Beginning October 1, 1998 the Orange County Department of Health and the Orange County Department of Human Services-Home Visitor/Parent Support Program joined the collaborative to bring additional resources to families.


Benard, B. (1991). Fostering resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the family, school and community. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Clearinghouse. Prevention Resource Center Alcohol and Other Drugs.

Long, T., & Long, L. (1983). The handbook for latchkey children and their parents. New York: Arbor House.

American Home Economics Association and Whirlpool Foundation (1993). Project home safe. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Richardson, J. L., Radziszewska, B., Dent, C. W., & Flay, B. R. (1993). Relationship between after-school care of adolescents and substance use, risk taking, depressed mood, and academic achievement. Pediatrics, 92, 32-38.

Winer, M., & Ray, K. (1994). Collaboration handbook: Creating, sustaining, and enjoying the journey. MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.