A lot has changed since Lutheran Family and Children Services of Missouri was founded in 1868. However, what hasn’t changed is its core mission to care for kids.
“LFCS was founded originally as an orphanage in the aftermath of the Civil War, and of course, the primary purpose of the agency at that time was foster care,” says Mike Duggar, president of LFCS. “It moved away from that here in the late ’60s, early ’70s, to more of what we do today, which is more community-based programs.”
The community-based programs in question range from foster care, parenting and adoptions to behavioral health and the Hilltop Child and Family Development Center, which caters to kids as young as 6 weeks old and up to 6 years old.
“The work we do at Hilltop, and indeed the work of any wraparound education service or center, is not just about transforming the life of a single student or school,” Duggar says. “Rather, it’s about the advancement of the entire surrounding community.”
That is precisely why Hilltop started zeroing in on reading proficiency.
“The third grade reading proficiency in St. Louis County overall is right about 60 percent,” Duggar says. “But when we pulled those three ZIP codes where our kids come from, they were 26 percent, 24 percent and 28 percent. That is a pretty big discrepancy. … We believe that if a kid can’t read, they can’t learn. There are enough studies out there that show that if a kid is not able to read and comprehend by the third grade, they are really going to be behind for the rest of their life. We realized we can’t do it by ourselves, but that we are going to take responsibility for the children we are serving.”
Duggar says this ultimately led to looking further into the families Hilltop is serving, as well, which is part of its children-focused, family-driven mindset.
“When a child comes to us, they bring their family with them,” Duggar says. “And that is really important to our approach. We really reach out and try to develop relationships. We want the family to drive their goals and their objectives; we are just a partner with them.”
That is also why LFCS and Hilltop try to focus resources differently for each family.
“We believe if the child comes to us, the family’s stress level, the family’s trauma, the family’s troubles are going to follow that child,” Duggar says. “The goal of wraparound services is to see and support the child as a whole person – physically, mentally, emotionally and academically – rather than just a student. This means not only supporting students themselves, but also making sure their families have the support needed for a productive and healthy home environment.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, LFCS has learned that mental health is a key component to that equation.
“We have a grant through Emerson, and they have been amazing partners to help us realize this goal of being able to hire a full-time, licensed professional counselor,” Duggar says. “He has been certified with early childhood certifications, and if a child is really struggling in a classroom, the teacher is able to walk down and talk to him about the behaviors or issues the kid is dealing with. Mr. P can do some observations in the classroom and actually provide play therapy with the child, and we have actually seen some good results.”
Parents can similarly see Mr. P for counseling services – whether for family therapy or individual counseling.
“Now that families are dealing with the challenges of the pandemic – from learning and working from home, to employment or financial uncertainty, to increased household stress – the strength of these wraparound education systems is more valuable than ever,” Duggar says. “And when we assess and address the needs of the entire child through wraparound education services, we don’t just help create better students. We help to create stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger future – for everyone.”
Lutheran Family and Children Services of Missouri, 866-326-LFCS, lfcsmo.org