50 years later, Childhaven remains a vital part of the San Juan County community

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — When the San Juan Episcopal Mission closed its children's shelter in 1966, it left a hole in the community.

That hole was ultimately filled by Childhaven Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to sheltering abandoned, abused or neglected children. 

Childhaven is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an event from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Farmington Civic Center.  

The anniversary celebration will include a documentary featuring interviews with Childhaven's founders as well as a former client and current staff.

One of the former clients will also tell her story during the anniversary celebration. Childhaven will release a 50th anniversary commemorative booklet.

Tickets are $50. Call 505-592-0625.

Childhaven created to fill the gap

In the early 1960s, Father Eugene Botelho warned that the San Juan Episcopal Mission would have to close its children's shelter if it did not receive enough donations.

The shelter was struggling to pay its bills and state officials warned its facilities were inadequate.

While organizations throughout the community worked to save the shelter, the money raised was not enough. In May 1966, the doors closed.

Without the shelter operating, there wasn't a place for abandoned, abused or neglected children.

Police officers and welfare workers began taking the children home for a few days.

Even before the mission closed its shelter, community members were hard at work to build another.

In July 1969, Childhaven opened its doors. It has been housing children in the community ever since.

The first Childhaven shelter as located in a building at 3705 E. Main Street. The building had previously served as the Skelly Oil Company offices.

It was remodeled to include dorms, a nursery, kitchens, offices and an outdoor playground.

By the 1990s, Childhaven had outgrown the shelter. A new building was built in 1994 at its current location on West Apache street.

Childhaven Inc. is pictured, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Farmington.

Nonprofit's mission grows over five decades

The primary mission remains the same five decades later — providing a temporary home for children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.

Over the years, Childhaven has increased its services. It added the Court Appointed Special Advocates program to advocate for children who are going through custody battles. And it started two types of foster care — a traditional foster care program and a treatment foster care program for children who need additional care.

“A shelter’s supposed to be short term, so foster care is there to take on those longer types of placement,” said Childhaven Executive Director Erin Hourihan.

Hourihan said the nonprofit also works to help parents. It provides a weekly group class called Nurturing Parents.

Another way it assists parents is by providing behavioral health respite care.

That means parents whose children have been diagnosed with a behavioral health condition can have the child sheltered for up to 20 hours a week to help alleviate some of the stress of caring for the child.

“That’s a program that’s probably highly underutilized in this area,” Hourihan said.

Childhaven also provides therapy and mental health assessments, including screening children for trauma. It also works with law enforcement and the Children Youth and Families Department during child abuse investigations.

Volunteers Katrina Upshaw-Nez, left, and Sofia Ortiz help take down tape on a freshly painted hallway at Childhaven during the Farmington-Four Corners Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday.

Foster parents, donations needed

Childhaven is always looking for additional families willing to step up and help children.

The treatment foster care program is one area Hourihan said has a lot of needs. She said the foster parents are compensated and treatment foster care is essentially a full-time job for them.

While it isn’t something just anybody can do, Hourihan said treatment foster care can be a very rewarding experience for the right foster parents.

Becoming a foster parent is one way community members can support Childhaven's mission.

Childhaven Foundation Development Director Andrea Peña said people can also donate money or supplies, like clothes or school supplies.

Peña encouraged community members to "give how you can and what you can."

Substance abuse remains the leading reason children end up in the shelter

Over the past 50 years, substance abuse has been the main reason for children to end up in the shelter. However, Hourihan said the substance of choice is changing. Alcohol remains the driving factor, but other drugs have become more and more common.

More:Therapist authors children's book on sexual abuse

Substance abuse creates a struggle for families for years and has a hard recovery process. If parents relapse, children will often return to the shelter. Hourihan said that is hard for the shelter staff to watch.

Shelter Director Janice Davis has worked there for more than 20 years. During that time, the shelter has served three generations of children from the same family due to substance abuse.

A sign on a fence welcomes people to Childhaven.

There are many ways children will end up at the shelter. Oftentimes, police or CYFD officials will bring the children. Sometimes police find neglected children when doing drug raids or investigating domestic violence calls. Sometimes children are found wandering alone or are in vehicles when the driver is intoxicated.

In 1971, a mother became sick and had no one to care for her children. Childhaven provided shelter for those children, The Daily Times reported.

A lot of times, teachers and neighbors report neglect or abuse.

People who suspect a child is being neglected or abused should call 1-800-333-7233 to report the abuse or neglect.

A story from the past: Picture in newspaper reunites mother, daughter

In August 1973, Childhaven enlisted The Daily Times' help to reunite a toddler with her mother. The two-year-old girl spent 13 days at Childhaven after being found playing in front of the Plateau Service Station that was located at Animas Street and Behrend Avenue.

Police later learned she had been abandoned by her grandmother at the Turquoise Bar on U.S. Highway 550. Her mother had entrusted the grandmother with Melissa’s care while she was giving birth to another child.

The people who found the child near Turquoise Bar took her to Plateau Service Station and left her.

The Daily Times ran her picture in the paper and her relatives found her at Childhaven. The girl was reunited with her mother and returned to her home out of state.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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