Thompson Child & Family Focus raises $400,000

The community’s chief provider of help for severely abused and neglected children raised $400,000 Thursday at its annual luncheon fundraiser.

Thompson Child & Family Focus also used the occasion to promote a growing emphasis on prevention services, to keep children from ever suffering abuse at the hands of parents or caregivers.

Mary Jo Powers, president of Thompson, told the crowd of 600 supporters that 78 percent of her agency’s budget is spent on intervention after abuse, while 22 percent goes to prevention. Those numbers need to be reversed, she said.

“In 2012-13, there were more than 13,991 children referred to Mecklenburg County (social services) for suspected abuse and neglect,” Powers said.

In 2012, 28 North Carolina children died at the hand of a parent or caregiver, she said.

“Every one of those deaths was preventable,” Powers said.

Thompson’s annual fundraiser has a reputation for being one of the city’s most successful charity events, typically raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in an hour or less.

The event helps cover the agency’s $22 million budget. Currently, $1 million of the agency’s budget is for prevention services. Powers said that very few public or private foundations support such services, which are also under-funded at the federal, state and local levels.

“Which leaves the most likely funding source people like you and me: private investors,” she said.

Prevention programs are part of the work that goes on at the Thompson Family Services Center on Wendover Road in Grier Heights, which is on track to serve 30 percent more children and families this year. Grier Heights has a violent crime rate five times the city average.

The center’s Family Education program, which includes help for parents, has seen a 198 percent jump in participation over two years. Yet an additional increase of 10 percent is expected in 2013-14, officials said.

Among those recognized at the Thursday event was a group of parents from the Grier Heights community, who have been helped by Thompson’s 16-week parenting program.

“Just because parents are living in poverty or have been raised in homes and neighborhoods where violence was the norm doesn’t mean they will perpetuate the cycle,” said Rosa Underwood, Thompson’s chief program officer of prevention services.

“All these parents love their children and want the best for them. But many of these parents don’t have the necessary tools. When we show them better ways of coping, they understand change is within their control.”