For Love of Children (FLOC), a nonprofit church group that led a successful decade-long crusade to shut down Junior Village, the District-run home for abused and neglected children, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, still fighting for the city's deprived children.
FLOC has grown from a small group of volunteers with the single-minded battle against the institutionalization of youthful vicitms of parental neglect, abuse, abandonment, poverty and disease to a professional organization concerned with families and handicapped children.
Today, the organization spends 50 percent of its $1.6 million budget on its primary mission of placing homeless children in foster homes. The rest of the budget goes to newer programs that include buying housing to rent to evicted families so they can stay together while looking for permanent homes and special education for severely troubled youths in foster homes.
One thing that remains unchanged is FLOC's ambivalent relationship with the city. FLOC fought the city's strong opposition to closing Junior Village while receiving city funding. About 75 percent of FLOC's budget now comes from the city government.
"I didn't consider myself working for the city but working with the city to solve a community problem," said Fred Taylor, a minister who has served as FLOC's executive director practically since its founding. "We can collaborate but still challenge."
"The thing that's been important about FLOC is that they've not only served as advocates but they've had programs to do what they say needs to be done," said Audrey Rowe, the city's social services commissioner.
"FLOC has grown tremendously during the past 20 years . They do the kind of advocacy I like," Rowe added.
FLOC started in 1965 when a small number of local ministers returned from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic Selma march determined to tackle social injustices at home.
Their target was Junior Village, the city's massive institution for homeless children in Southwest where as many as 1,000 children lived in cottages. They received impersonal treatment. Brothers and sisters were often separated, sometimes forgetting each other's names. Some were raped and others mistreated.
FLOC lobbied successfully that institutional care hindered normal child development, particularly in infants and preschoolers. The organization said instead that these wards of the city should be raised in foster homes with a mother and a father, brothers and sisters.
With the aid of other local church groups, FLOC pressured the city to close Junior Village by 1973 and assisted in placing the village's young inhabitants in alternative foster homes.
Today a network of group homes with four or five children headed by two professionally trained parents or smaller foster care settings take care of the District's more than 2,000 homeless children at a cost of almost $17 million a year. FLOC finds homes for about 125 older, harder to place children each year.
Originally a volunteer group with no staff, money or office space, FLOC now has a paid staff of 45, a new fund-raising arm, a child advocacy center and an expanded program for helping children.
"They're trying to be as innovative as they're able," said John Theban, executive director of Family and Child Services and a veteran of nonprofit organizations created to help deprived children. "They're also trying not to lose the fire of advocacy."
Taylor has carefully shaped the group's agenda during his tenure in which his salary has climbed from nothing to $33,000 a year.
FLOC's role as a very vocal advocate ebbed after Junior Village was closed by the City Council. But FLOC's Child Advocacy Center lobbies for legal reforms and other improvements in child welfare conditions. Taylor said he is committed to keeping FLOC's advocacy role alive and embarked on a special fund-raising program last week because the center's private grant money is dwindling.
This fall FLOC plans a new project described by President Tammy Colvin as the group's "new spark . . . new energy."
Called "Community Adventure," the program is to begin in October and is seen by Taylor as the group's best effort to help the older, more troubled homeless child fit into a family structure.
Community Adventure is designed to replace the Wilderness School, a project run by FLOC from the early 1970s to 1983. Troubled boys were sent to the West Virginia school to live in tents and learn survival skills in an alternative education setting that Taylor said was structured with the idea "that kids don't destroy what they create."
But charges in 1983 that Wilderness School staff members physically abused some of the boys led to its closing, although an official investigation later proved the charges unfounded.
"When the Wilderness school closed, that was a real blow for us," Colvin said. The Community Adventure program will start out as a therapeutic group home for eight boys with occasional weekend nature outings. If the larger group home idea works, Taylor hopes to add more homes, including one for women.