Family Services Collaborative offers resources for Crow Wing County students, families

Assistance ranges from gas cards to bus tokens to food and clothing support. In some cases, Family Services Collaborative has provided a new front door for a family’s house or a new washing machine to ensure kids have clean clothes.

Becky Stadem (left) and Kara Griffin are part of the Family Services Collaborative, which provides financial, mental health and other support to students and their families in Crow Wing County. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

In the midst of a global pandemic, the need for student support services is at an all-time high.

The Family Services Collaborative is a network of schools, organizations and government agencies working to meet those needs. Twelve workers are stationed throughout the schools in Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Crosby-Ironton to serve Crow Wing County kids — ages birth through high school — and their families.

“A lot of it is working with the parent to coordinate and look at what resources they may need, how to meet their needs,” Becky Stadem, collaborative service team coordinator, said during an interview Aug. 17.

Assistance ranges from gas cards to bus tokens to food and clothing support. In some cases, Family Services Collaborative has provided a new front door for a family’s house or a new washing machine to ensure kids have clean clothes.

“Our workers really try to be in touch with, what are the options in our community? And then, what is the family saying that they need?” Stadem said.


The group also works to engage students while at school.

“So when you think about engagement, if you’re worried about a fight you’re having with a sibling or problems on the playground, or maybe your parents are getting divorced,” Stadem said. “There’s all sorts of things that can get in the way of kids being able to focus on school.”

Becky Stadem, program coordinator for Family Services Collaborative, talks Monday, Aug. 17, about the program's role in helping Crow Wing County students and their families with various needs. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

As a former collaborative worker in the schools, Stadem said she also worked with kids who had attendance issues to get the root of the problem and make sure they could get to school. That could be as easy and getting a student an alarm clock or more complex, like figuring out transportation and connecting a student to resources for mental health issues.

Family Services Collaborative is organized with a council and a governance board. Kara Griffin, division manager for Crow Wing County Community Services, serves as the board chair.

“Big picture, it’s about creating equitable opportunities for our children and parents here in Crow Wing County,” Griffin said.

It’s essentially a ripple effect, she added. Helping with basic needs for families can lead to parents being more successful at work or whatever they’re doing throughout the day, which can in turn lead to better parenting and more engaged students.


Assistance from Family Services Collaborative comes at no cost to kids and their families. Clients are typically referred by school officials, Crow Wing County Community Services or parents themselves reaching out for help with their children.

“We’re not here on our agenda,” Stadem said. “We’re here on, ‘What do you want to work on, what do you need done, and how can we support you in doing that?’”

One of the collaborative’s most important roles, Griffin said, is working with families that might not meet the threshold for involvement from Child Protective Services but still need help to prevent them from developing more serious problems.

“And luckily they (collaborative workers) don’t wear the hat of child protection, so it’s maybe not as scary when they come calling or knocking on the door,” Griffin said. “So they play that very important preventative role to help stabilize and keep our families healthy.”

Family Services Collaborative logo
Family Services Collaborative is a community partnership in Crow Wing County aimed at supporting students and their families. Logo courtesy of Family Services Collaborative

COVID-19 impacts

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers would routinely visit homes in addition to being housed at schools to get a feel for what their clients might need. Lately, though, there have been more virtual visits via Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams. In some cases, these are easier ways to meet with both parents and kids at the same time, Stadem said.

But the pandemic also brought more challenges for families — like the need for reliable internet and technology devices. Workers have also found themselves talking to students who might be anxious about the upcoming school year in its unconventional format and connecting kids with recreational or virtual learning opportunities when so many things were canceled over the summer.


Griffin said she initially received an increase in calls for children who had mental health crises at the beginning of the pandemic when schools switched to distance learning, but she noted some mental health case managers saw a decrease in cases, meaning some students likely had an easier time with distance learning versus a rigid 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school schedule.

Kara Griffin, chair of the Family Services Collaborative council, discusses the community program Monday, Aug. 17, and its impact on Crow Wing County families. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Stadem and Griffin envision an increased need for support this fall, though, as many students return to school in a hybrid format, and some stay home for distance learning.

“Whether the families are engaging in distance learning or a hybrid or in the classroom in the school building, the collaborative workers are still there, and they’re still there to serve those families,” Griffin said.

Family Services Collaborative will also provide support for teachers to make sure they can best meet the needs of their students.

“It’s really to improve health, problem solving, safety of families,” Stadem said. “And how we do it is a little different with COVID, but the intents and the outcomes are still somewhat the same.”

“You’re also providing support for teachers. How can they best meet the needs of those students that you’re working with as well? You’re providing feedback for the parents. “... If we support the kids and families in our community, our community is healthier and safer and at a better place.”


For more information on Family Services Collaborative, visit or follow the group’s Facebook page. School secretaries can connect parents with resources in their child’s specific school.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
What To Read Next
Get Local