The Nashville area is now home to four drop-in centers for social workers, volunteers or anyone who needs a timeout and chance to recharge. Within each center, which is set aside from the hosting nonprofits’ normal activities, adults offering support to kids in peril can take advantage of a quiet place to compose themselves, do yoga, receive anonymous counseling or have a cup of coffee.
The centers’ openings follow a trying period for Nashville, Tenn., residents. Tornadoes ripped through the city in March 2020, killing 25 people and doing more than $1.6 billion in damage. Racial justice protests in May 2020 turned destructive and resulted in arson and other damage. On Christmas Day 2020, a bomb detonated in the city’s downtown, killing the bomber and wounding three people. In late August 2021, the city experienced both floods and significant damage from Hurricane Ida. And throughout all of this, the coronavirus pandemic took hold and surged.
The chaos and restrictions that resulted from all these events made delivering social services difficult. Those providing services to children in danger or in foster homes often went long periods without being able to check on their charges. As restrictions have lifted and children are more freely able to interact outside their families, caregivers, social workers and volunteers are finding those who needed their help were increasingly subject to more dangerous and abusive conditions.
By fall 2020, both the number and severity of cases seen by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Nashville, an affiliate of the national CASA network of child services and advocacy organizations, were rising. “We served 400 kids last year,” CASA Program Director Rebecca MacFarlane said. “In years previous it was hovering right around 300 to 325. [There were] a significant number of kids, particularly teenage girls, who are having mental health issues and are needing residential care,” MacFarlane said. “We had more attempted suicides, more sex trafficking, more sexual abuse and more runaways.”
The increase in the sheer number of cases, along with a rise in severity, took its toll on workers at nonprofits as well as within the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, most of whom were dealing with their own reactions to the events of the previous 18 months. The new centers are geared toward helping support adults. Children in need have other resources.
“We want these recharging stations in every small community,” MacFarlane said. “If someone is visiting a family in a neighborhood, they can pull up a link or a Google map and see where the closest charging station is and hang out there until their next appointment, as opposed to sitting in their car.”
The initial relief centers are housed within four nonprofits: CASA; the Davidson County Juvenile Court; Family and Children’s Services, a domestic abuse relief service; and the Family Safety Center, which aids individuals who have suffered a variety of abuse or violence. MacFarlane hopes to have a total of 10 by year’s end, with a reach goal of between 40 and 50 by fourth-quarter 2022.