Founded in 1987, Mother’s Refuge has been a steadfast ally for young women who found themselves pregnant, parenting, and without the safety of a stable home or supportive family. Recently, their commitment to comprehensive care has expanded through a transformative partnership with the Children’s Services Fund (CSF), aimed at improving the holistic health of both mothers and their children.
A Holistic Approach and Vital Partnership
Mother’s Refuge’s mission extends beyond providing a roof over the heads of young mothers. Executive Director Angel McDonald, who has dedicated 21 years to the organization, emphasizes the importance of education and empowerment. Breaking cycles of poverty and violence is vital to the mission of Mother’s Refuge. To this end, the young women residing at Mother’s Refuge must continue their education through high school or GED and are encouraged to pursue higher education or certification programs. For those not inclined toward further academic pursuits, the emphasis shifts to obtaining employment and saving for the future. The organization offers comprehensive educational initiatives so that young mothers are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for their independence and to ensure the holistic well-being of their young children.
Understanding the magnitude of this ambitious but vital mission, Mother’s Refuge partnered with the Children’s Services Fund (CSF) to address not only the immediate needs of young mothers but also the mental health and well-being of their children in Jackson County. “It takes a community to raise a child. And I think it takes a community for an organization to be successful. We cannot do it alone, nor would we want to,” insists Ms. McDonald. The CSF has become a vital ally in the pursuit of comprehensive care. Through their funding, Mother’s Refuge has enhanced its mental health support services, ensuring that young mothers and their children have access to critical resources during a crucial development phase.
One of the significant challenges Mother’s Refuge faced was providing consistent mental health support for its teen and emerging adult moms. Ms. McDonald highlights some of the barriers, saying, “We struggled to find therapists available at flexible times. Our moms all have different schedules; they have babies, they’re trying to finish school. They don’t have transportation, so we used to have to juggle staff to drive them to therapy. It was a real barrier. With CSF funding, we hired our own therapist, bringing much-needed stability to the mental health aspect of our program.” Ms. McDonald went on to share that mothers can continue therapy even after leaving, thanks to their aftercare program.
Addressing the Root Issues with a Transitional Living Pilot Program
The partnership between Mother’s Refuge and CSF is not just about providing immediate maternity support; it’s a strategic move to address the root issues affecting young mothers and their children. Kelsie Green, Assistant Executive Director, joined in to elaborate on some of the overarching factors that made it clear that an innovative approach was needed to ensure children’s well-being.
“According to data from the Kids Count Data Center, the state of Missouri records a significant number of teenage pregnancies—4,835 pregnancies among female teenagers aged 15 to 19 in the entire state of Missouri—with Jackson County seeing an even higher rate.” She went on to explain how pregnancy and teenage births are identified as strong indicators of worsened education and economic futures for young moms and their children. Less than half of teen mothers complete high school, and fewer than 2% earn a college degree by the age of 30. KC Health Matters reports that lower educational achievement restricts economic opportunities, resulting in poor health outcomes. This cycle often extends to the next generation of children of teenage mothers.
“There’s another thing,” points out Ms. Green. “Early childhood experiences have a profound impact on brain development. According to data from First Things First, a child’s brain develops faster in the first five years of life than at any other time. 90% of brain development occurs before kindergarten. The first five years are so critical and can impact a child’s cognitive, emotional, and social well-being… for their entire life.”
Mother’s Refuge and CSF recognized the need for systemic change to break the cycle of poverty, limited education, and poor health outcomes. Acknowledging the need for stability beyond the initial two years post-childbirth, Mother’s Refuge and the CSF partnered to pilot a Transitional Living Program for mothers who were ending their two years with Mother’s Refuge. The program provides housing for mothers aged 18 and older. It covers rental expenses, utilities, and program-related costs for an additional three years, ensuring a combined five years of support, care, and programs to empower young mothers.
Success Stories and a Vision for Future Expansion
The work toward positively impacting not only the current generation of young mothers but also the development and success of the next generation has already borne fruit! “Because of CSF funding, we were able to launch this program and track outcomes,” shares Ms. Green. “We now see that it absolutely is impactful. Our young mothers are making huge strides. They’re paying off debt, they’re able to buy themselves a car, and one has a $20,000 scholarship now that she’s in college! We’re seeing these young ladies do amazing things for their families. So, we know now—[transitional living services] past the first two years of maternity care is a solution.”
Looking forward, Mother’s Refuge has acquired a new property—a former boutique hotel that will be converted into 12 individual apartments, doubling the size of the Transitional Living Program. The journey to this groundbreaking initiative is already in motion, with demolition scheduled to begin in March 2024. This expansion will provide even more young mothers with the resources and support needed to break the cycle of poverty and build a brighter future for themselves and their children. “I have to tell you what the hotel was called,” gushes Ms. McDonald with joy, “It was called Higher Ground. We felt like it was perfect for our plans and hopes for this space, so we’re keeping the name. The new home will be called Mother’s Refuge: Higher Ground.”
As with their collaboration with the CSF, the team at Mother’s Refuge knows that this new endeavor will also require the whole community’s support. They recently launched a capital campaign with a goal of nearly $16 million over the next three years to bring Mother’s Refuge: Higher Ground to fruition, illustrating the vital role individuals, businesses, and organizations play in shaping the futures of the children of Jackson County.
As Mother’s Refuge continues to break the cycle of adversity, the partnership with CSF stands as a testament to the transformative potential of collaborative efforts. “It’s amazing what we have been able to do since partnering with the CSF,” affirms Ms. McDonald. “Unlike traditional funders, CSF goes beyond providing financial assistance for programming. They actively seek input from those on the frontline. They recognize that true systemic change requires a holistic understanding of the challenges faced in the community. CSF’s willingness to invest in areas like technology, strategic planning, and database improvement demonstrates a forward-thinking approach to community development that we admire and appreciate.”