More space means more room for services for roughly 400 children a month at a Fort Smith family resource center.
STEPS Family Resource Center on Garrison Avenue had a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to celebrate its expansion into the space next door.
Children in foster care have supervised visits with their parents at STEPS, Executive Director Abbie Cox said.
The goal is to reunify children with their parents if possible, Cox said. STEPS offers classes to parents to teach them how to nurture their children and tests to determine why they might have certain problems, such as anger.
The expansion is going to allow the organization, which has partnered with the Adult Education Center and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, to have a computer room where parents can take classes, which is intended to make them qualified for better jobs, Cox said.
There will also be a kitchen and a bathroom with a shower, Cox said.
The Department of Human Services, where most of the children at STEPS are sent from, will use the back part of the building to see children who have just been removed from their homes, said Carole Suihkonen, site manager and behavioral health technician.
"They may be dirty. They may be neglected," Suihkonen said. "So they'll be able to go in and have a hot shower. We'll have a closet here with clothes from the Purple Patch (the center's thrift store) that they'll be able to change into and have a snack as they're waiting to be put into a foster home."
STEPS will continue to use its current visitation rooms for that purpose, Cox said.
"It's nice and home-like and there's toys and things for them to do. And they're interacting with their parents like it's home," she said.
The new expanded area has an upstairs, where STEPS plans to help the children, who sometimes bounce around between homes, store some of their childhood things, Cox said.
The center also sees children of divorced parents. For example, sometimes one parent needs a safe place to bring their child to see the other parent without the parents interacting, Cox said.
Mayor Sandy Sanders thanked STEPS for their work.
"Unfortunately, it's a need we ought not to have, but we do have that need," Sanders said during the ceremony.
The expanded area of STEPS is expected to be completed by the beginning of February, Cox said.