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Oakdale Organization Fights Child Maltreatment One Family at a Time

Oakdale resident Pete Singer started an organization that connects churches and other groups with social workers to help meet the needs of families in turmoil.

Pete Singer has been chosen as Greatest Person of the Day on Huffington Post. This feature that spotlights regular people across the country who are making a difference in their communities. These are people who inspire and energize others to strengthen their communities and improve lives.

When Oakdale resident Pete Singer was a child, a horrific chain of events took place in the family of a friend.

The boy’s abusive father killed his little brother, and then, after the funeral, told the boy’s mother that “the rest of the family was next.”

Singer’s friend’s mother took her children out of the house, found her husband’s gun, and fatally shot him.

In the aftermath, following a visit to his friend and his friend’s mother, something his mother said stuck with him.

“She said, ‘This happened because the church and child protection don’t work together,’” he said. “The pastor knew about (the abuse); the church knew about it; the community knew about it, but nobody knew what to do and so nobody did anything.”

That inspired Singer to start a nonprofit organization in 2005, now called Care in Action, which partners churches, community groups, businesses and individuals with social workers to help meet the needs of children and families affected by neglect and abuse.

“There’s a divide between churches and the child protection system; there’s a divide between the community and the child protection system, and we have to do something to break that down because the victims are the kids,” he said. “The victims are the families that wouldn’t need to go in this direction if we could help them out.”

Care in Action has been diligently breaking those barriers down, and by doing so giving desperately needed help to families who couldn’t have gotten it any other way.

In one recent example, Care in Action was able to help prevent an abuse-stricken family from being torn further apart.

The organization got word of a woman and her three children, all under 5, who had been severely abused by the man in the house, Singer said. Neighbors called the police and they were rescued, but when the police found out the woman was undocumented, they said they couldn’t offer her further protection and turned her over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE officials said they could provide transportation for the mother and her oldest child back to Mexico, but not the younger two children because they were born in the United States and so they were citizens, he said. The mother couldn’t afford to pay $700 to take her younger two children with her, putting them at risk of going into U.S. foster care, he said.

After Care in Action sent out an e-mail message to its list of partners, he said, 11 people donated between $5 and $250 to cover the plane tickets.

With the costs of keeping the two children in the foster care system until age 18, including Medicaid coverage, Singer estimates these donors saved taxpayers somewhere around $1 million.

In another case, Care in Action donors helped a boy stay with his father after he was removed from his mother’s home by donating money for the boy to get therapy—a condition of his placement.

“The dad was at risk of losing his son, and the son was at risk of going into foster care because there was a $100 therapy bill,” he said. “It’s better for the kid, better for the dad and it saves the taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

Care in Action also helps young adults who are leaving the foster care system get settled, in part, using grant money from Edina Realty.

“Within three years of aging out of foster care, two thirds of youth are homeless, in prison, or dead,” Singer said. “About one third of the homeless population was in foster care.”

In the past year, Care in Action has helped move 10 young adults from foster care into homes of their own.

“We’ve been able to inject some stability into that situation,” Singer said.

Last December, organization partners went above and beyond the request for a crib for a pregnant woman who was leaving the foster care system and moving out on her own.

They threw the woman a baby shower.

“It took two loads in my wife’s SUV to get everything back to her place,” Singer said. “We covered her and her baby’s needs for quite some time.”

He said the organization’s donors like getting the chance to personally meet families they’re helping, but it’s not required due to privacy concerns.

It’s totally up to the family whether they want any personal contact, he said.

Washington County child protection social worker Amy Johnson—part of Care in Action’s adopt-a-social-worker program—said working with the organization has made her job more rewarding.

“We don’t have the funds here to do these things for families,” she said. “We see it every day and it breaks our heart … his program is really able to step in and fill a need.”

Johnson is one of two social workers in Washington County and two in Ramsey County who have been connected with a church or organization through Care in Action.

She listed some of the many “little” things the group has done that “boost people’s self esteem” like providing a prom dress for a teen in foster care, shoes, clothing, bedding or a bike.

“The bike isn’t so much a need, but it is to an 8- or 10-year-old boy who is living in a state of poverty,” she said.

The organization also provides tickets to places and events around town—like the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Minnesota Wild games, Minnesota Twins games or a children’s theater.

“The families that we work with are under a lot of stress on a lot of different levels,” she said. “It’s really a positive thing for the kids to be able to spend time with their families in a positive sense and do some type of entertainment they would never be able to do otherwise.”

Singer said distributing the tickets has been especially helpful for foster kids, who suffer from rates of post-traumatic stress disorder twice that of returning war veterans.

The other thing Care in Action does that might have most changed the outcome of Singer’s friend’s situation is give educational talks on identifying and preventing child maltreatment to small groups such as book clubs and Bible studies.

The organization gets educational resources from the National Child Protection Training Center in Winona, MN.

Care in Action is 100 percent volunteer-run and all donations go directly to children and families, unless the donor specifies otherwise.

With government budget cuts hitting social programs, Singer said he thinks now is a key time for the community to step in and help support those in need.

“For sure, that the community is stepping in and taking care of the people in the community—that’s the ideal,” he said. “There’s definitely a role for government and community and county involvement, but the ideal is as much as possible, it’s the community taking care of it.”

Singer said he’s found many people willing to help, and he’s looking for more.

“I think that a lot of times people want to do something to help, they want to reach out, but they don’t know what to do,” he said. “We provide a mechanism for them to find out what they can do.”

 How to help

Care in Action is looking for more partner churches and groups, as well as individuals who want to receive and help fulfill requests through its e-mail list. To be added to the e-mail list, send a message to info@careinactionmn.org.

“There’s definitely a huge need,” for more social workers to be adopted, he said.

Editor's Note: Since this article was first written, the original reporter Patty Busse has begun doing volunteer work for Care in Action Minnesota.

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