MAXWELL:  He wants to help troubled families

3/10/1999 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


For many Tampa Bay-area families, the boom years of the 1990s have brought prosperity and happiness. For hundreds of others, however, matters have not gone so well. Consider some of the statistics from a 1997 study by the Louis De La Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida:

+ In 1995, the last year of the most reliable figures, 54,666 Florida children were in divorced families. Of that number, 4,040 were in Hillsborough County, 1,942 were in Pinellas and 1,010 were in Pasco. Experts say that the numbers have not improved.

+ During the same year, 52,896 children ran away from home: 5,138 in Hillsborough, 5,016 in Pinellas and 1,891 in Pasco.

For reasons unknown to state government agencies, many families are not getting the help that they need and deserve. Churches and volunteer civic and social groups are overwhelmed by demand. Crises pile up, and these families fall apart.

Here is where people such as William Ward Cox, founder of the non-profit For The Family Inc., must play a central role in compensating for what other organizations fail to do. Cox’s vision is ambitious but attainable if he can get adequate funding and does not try to accomplish too much too fast.

For The Family focuses on two main objectives. The first is resolving family dilemmas before they escalate into what he calls “negative outcomes.” The second is reinforcing a sense of community through a network of organizations that understand the importance of the family and their unique helping role.

“Personal problems within troubled families often worsen to the point where drastic measures are necessary to repair the damage, which can include violence and other tragic outcomes,” said Cox, former resource development coordinator for the Family Service Association of Greater Tampa Inc. “By then, the response is expensive and frequently ineffective. Unfortunately, families find it difficult to focus on solving these dilemmas because progressively less time exists to deal with them. If families cannot find adequate solutions, the cumulative damage is also felt on a communitywide scale.”

With Cox as its only paid employee, For The Family uses lay and expert volunteers, called “mentors,” to counsel troubled families, called “associates,” by telephone. The referral network enables individual families to cope with problems through advice from other families that have weathered a similar challenge.

The service is free of charge. Mentors and associates are located by “affiliates,” such as churches, community centers, civic groups and even government agencies, and Cox then matches them based on needs and expertise.

Social service workers agree with Cox that many families do not get help because the various resources in the community do not coordinate their efforts. For The Family attempts to fill that void by serving as a bridge among the disparate organizations to advise families.

“A strong correlation exists between family discord and our declining sense of community and vice versa,” Cox said. “This trend seriously threatens the quality of family life as a whole, not simply among those most directly affected. Community service organizations that work selflessly to fulfill human needs often are unable to spend the time they would like in identifying areas of shared interest because of the operational challenges they face.”

In addition to the telephone referral service, For The Family will air a television program that offers expert and practical advice on specific issues affecting families, and it will establish a free “Family Fun Event,” which will have a family reunion atmosphere. Participants will be treated to live entertainment, food, games, door prizes and achievement awards that help build trust and self-esteem.

To his credit, Cox has attracted many reputable organizations that have agreed to be affiliates. They include Bright Horizons of Tampa Bay, Head Start of Hillsborough County, University Community Hospital, Life Connections Counseling, All Saints Lutheran Church, Temple Terrace United Methodist Church and Oak Grove Church of God.

Although For The Family’s annual budget is modest _ $53,000 _ its biggest hurdle, like that of most start-up, non-profit organizations _ is fund raising. Cox has received donations from several prominent businesses and private citizens. Anyone interested in more information about For The Family may telephone Cox at (813) 932-1477 or write him at 6909 N Albany Ave., Tampa, FL 33604-5336.