Children’s Services of Roxbury marks 50th anniversary
Agency is a lifeline for children and families in state foster care system
The Rev. Richard and Jestina Richardson, longtime community leaders, had witnessed a troubling pattern emerging from the state’s foster system.
Black and other children of color were trapped in a web of broken promises, and families voiced distrust in the state’s ability to help them.
So, the couple decided to find a solution to better support those families. They established the Children’s Services of Roxbury.
The agency started as a small network of foster homes serving vulnerable Black children. Today, a half-century since its founding, Children’s Services is one of the largest Black-run nonprofits in Massachusetts, serving more than 6,000 vulnerable residents. Located in the heart of Greater Roxbury, the agency has over time expanded to the western and northern part of the state.
“That is a testament to the strength and continuity of the agency,” said Sandra M. McCroom, the nonprofit’s current president and chief executive officer.
As it marked its 50th anniversary with a “Hearts of Gold” celebration at the Cyclorama last Thursday, officials said they plan to “fundamentally disrupt the cycle of racial trauma passed down from generation to generation and to change the trajectory of city and state youth through access to opportunity.”
The success of the agency stems from the intimate partnerships its workers form with families, “not some top-down” strategy that dictates to people how they should live, said McCroom.
“We are the community, because we are from the community,” she said in an interview. “We understand the complexities of life. We have the expertise to be able to support families through that. … We’re working with them to make their lives better.”
Originally known as United Homes for Children, the agency was an integral part in the Massachusetts foster care system. Its small network of foster homes used clinical behavioral health approaches to help children in crisis and build trust between the children and foster parents, according to the agency’s website.
The Richardsons eventually opened their first independent office in Tewksbury in 1975, got their nonprofit licensed as an adoption agency and expanded their organization into urban and suburban areas throughout the state.
By 1990, their programs expanded to include family childcare, early intervention and parent aid. The agency also offers youth development programs, foster care for abused and neglected children and housing for families experiencing homelessness.
McCroom said that she is proud and humbled to be leading the agency at this particular time.
“I feel a powerful responsibility to honor our founders Reverend and Jestina Richardson and my immediate predecessor to not only carry on the legacy that they fulfilled, but to also lead and have a strong vision for what the next 50 years will look like,” she said.
She said she hopes to serve, empower and collaborate with more people in fulfillment of the agency’s mission.
The agency plans to add three major new initiatives targeting families facing eviction, pre-kindergarten children experiencing trauma, and young people looking for a place to launch their lives.
Amanda Vasquez, who had been living in a shelter, said the agency helped her get through some hard times. It provided her one-stop services, including a caseworker who helped her find affordable housing, in-home therapy for her son, and another caseworker and family coordinator. She even got a job.
“It’s just been a great help,’’ said Vasquez. “(They) also gave me a voucher for a bed and a dining room table.”
She said that even after she settled, the agency’s representatives continued to call to check in on her.
That shows a lot … in itself — that you’re not just a number,” she said. “Having that is really incredible.”