Safe Start in the Community: Worchester, Mass.

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Throughout the month we will feature the 10 Safe Start Promising Approaches grantees and the work they’re doing in their communities to help children exposed to violence and their families.

Marie is a 28-year-old mother of two sons: Jasper age 3 and Dion age 6. Six months ago, Marie broke up with her boyfriend, the father of her sons. Marie’s relationship with her boyfriend was volatile, with physical abuse as well as verbal threats and name calling. Jasper and Dion witnessed much of this violence. Recently, Marie and her sons moved into a shelter.

Marie’s sons exhibit increasingly concerning behaviors. Dion “acts out,” screaming at his mother, hitting her and pulling her hair when angry. He is aggressive toward children in the shelter and in school and calls his teacher names. Jasper has begun to mimic Dion’s behaviors. Both children frequently ask for their father and appear distressed and confused about their family’s changes. Marie is overwhelmed by her children’s behavior and does not know how to respond.

As part of the START with Kids program, Marie’s case manager meets with Marie and conducts a child assessment. On the basis of the assessment results, both children appear to have some delays and challenges in social and emotional development, behavior, and learning, and Marie appears very distressed when she is with her children. The shelter case manager discusses the results with the shelter team, including the clinical child specialist, to make recommendations about next steps.

Marie and her case manager work together to develop a child service plan for each son to address past and current family stressors. The case manager helps Marie enroll Jasper in an Early Head Start program and establish ongoing monitoring by a pediatrician. She refers Dion for play therapy and mobilizes school-based supports, including an Individualized Education Plan for Dion.

Marie and her children join the Strengthening Family Coping Resources group where they begin to reestablish family safety and routines and practice new coping strategies, while connecting with other families with shared experiences. Marie likes the group because her children are excited about going and it reduces her stress by giving her time to focus on what they enjoy doing as a family.

START with Kids

The National Center on Family Homelessness
200 Reservoir Street, Suite 200
Needham, MA 02494


Provides trauma-informed care for children in shelter settings. Enhances the capacity of service providers to assess, refer, and treat children, build community connections, and solidify best practices for serving children in the field of homeless services.

Target Population:

Families, with at least one child ages 1 month to 18 years, that enter an emergency shelter

Age Range:

1 month–18 years


  • Strengthening Family Coping Resources*
  • Comprehensive Child Assessments
  • Child-Focused Individualized Service Plans
  • Clinical Child Specialist
  • Trauma-Informed Organizational Self-Assessment*

*Evidence-based or promising practice


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