Spokane Journal of Business

Partners with Families & Children sees steady growth

Leader’s title changes; organization prepares to move its operations

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-Virginia Thomas
Carol Plischke, CEO of Spokane-based Partners with Families & Children, says the organization is focusing more on behavioral health services.

During the past five years, Spokane-based nonprofit Partners with Families & Children has more than tripled its budget and more than doubled its staff, CEO Carol Plischke says. 

The organization also has begun to focus more on behavioral health services, including mental health and substance use disorder treatments, which Plischke says prompted the organization’s board to change her title from executive director to CEO last month.

“The title change to CEO is really not a promotion; I’m in the same role,” Plischke says. “Part of what we do is behavioral health—mental health services and substance use disorder treatment services. That’s more health care. When you look more in that realm, most of the leaders are called CEOs instead of executive directors.”

The organization’s $870,000 September purchase of the former Taylor Engineering building, at 106 W. Mission, and the accompanying fundraising campaign also were factors in the title change, Plischke says.

“When you’re out fundraising in the business world, everyone knows what a CEO is; they don’t all know what an executive director is,” Plischke says. “When you hear CEO, you know it’s the leader of the organization.”

Partners with Families & Children has a 2019 operating budget of $3.3 million. It has a staff of 35 and anticipates filling two additional positions this month, Plischke says. Twenty-two volunteers also provide services and assistance to the organization.

Partners with Families & Children originally was established in 1988 as the Regional Center for Child Abuse & Neglect, then part of Deaconess Medical Center. In 2003, the organization was renamed and became a 501(c)(3) corporation.

Plischke joined the organization five years ago. She had previously served as the state director for Santa Ana, Calif.-based Olive Crest, during which time she met then-executive director of Partners with Families & Children Mary Ann Murphy, who was one of the founders of the organization. Murphy retired in 2011, and an interim executive director stepped in for a few years.

Plischke says the organization has experienced strong growth since 2014, when she came on board. Partners with Families & Children initially occupied one floor of its current headquarters at 1321 W. Broadway, before eventually expanding to the lower floor. Later, the Children’s Advocacy Center program was moved to 1235 N. Post, due to lack of space at the headquarters.

Plischke says renovations to the 20,000-square-foot former Taylor Engineering building are to begin in March, and the organization anticipates it will move all programs into the building by the end of August.

The additional space will enable Partners with Families & Children to serve more people, Plischke says.

The organization provides services through three programs: children’s advocacy, mental health and the family, and substance use disorders.

The Children’s Advocacy Center, the organization’s original program, provides a variety of services for children who have been reported as victims of child abuse.

“When there are reports of suspected child abuse, kids are referred to us … it’s kind of a one-stop shop for the best care and the least trauma for these kids to go through and be able to hopefully get the best outcome as far as both healing for the child and justice for perpetrators,” Plischke says. “Law enforcement, Child Protective Services, or the hospital can call and refer children to us that they suspect have been abused. The child tells their story once to a child forensic interviewer. It’s all recorded for court purposes, so the child doesn’t have to tell their story multiple times.”

The organization provides a legal advocate to help child victims and non-offending family members to make informed decisions about their roles in legal proceedings, as well as advocating for a child’s needs in the legal, treatment, and CPS systems.

At its clinic, Partners with Families & Children provides medical examinations for diagnosing abuse.

“We have the experts at diagnosing abuse,” Plischke says. “It’s a very child-friendly environment … much better than sitting around at the emergency room. If it is emergent and they’re at the hospital, the hospital calls us.”

The organization has a contract with Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital through which its team will evaluate and diagnose a child who could be a victim of abuse, she says.

“What’s nice for the hospital is that our team is the experts, and they know how to do all of the documentation, they know how to (participate in) court if they need to do court for the case—and not take doctors away from the hospital,” Plischke adds.

The mental health and the family program includes mental health services for children, adolescents, and adults, as well as services for parenting adults, she says. 

“Parenting adults is a loose term,” Plischke says. “It can be foster parents, grandparents, adoptive parents; it can even be a boyfriend living with a girlfriend who has kids. It’s just somebody who is parenting in any capacity.”

The substance use disorders program is for parenting adults only, she says. It includes a parenting component that focuses on promoting familial bonding and teaches skills that help children to resist drug use.

All of the organization’s programs are evidence based, Plischke says, meaning the processes have been proven scientifically to be effective.

Plischke says the organization’s “wraparound” model of providing a variety of services to children and parenting adults has gained national attention, in part because it provides services under one roof for families to work on comprehensive goals.

“Partners is on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices as a promising practice,” she says. “We’ve had two research studies so far.”

Partners with Families & Children also provides a victim-support specialist who is tasked with following up with families after a family or child has been referred to the organization, she says. A family team coordinator also is provided to set up monthly meetings with all involved in a family’s case, from law enforcement and CPS to mental health and substance use disorder treatment counselors.

“(Family members) may go through something and think that they’re fine, and then a month or two or three later, it’s kind of like, ‘Ooh, we need some help here,’” Plischke says.

Partners with Families & Children serves more than 2,400 children and families annually, Plischke says. Many of them come from Spokane County, but Plischke says the organization has been providing services to families from 13 surrounding counties during the past few years. 

Partners with Families & Children has formal agreements with Lincoln County, and Plischke says the organization is working to create similar agreements with Asotin, Garfield, and Whitman counties.

Looking forward, Plischke says she hopes to see the organization provide services to more people.

“I would hope that we can at least double again, as far as families that we’re able to serve and make a deep impact in their lives,” she says. 

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the health care industry. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys traveling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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