A house for use by area children in the foster system and their families has opened on Alma Highway.

Local nonprofit New Start for Children and Families directed by Laura Caldwell, a psychotherapist at Bost CARES, opened the home at 4411 Alma Highway on April 5.

Caldwell, who began New Start, said the home is for children and families in need of foster and emergency services and shelter.

“It’s a safe haven where children and families can find healing and reconnect,” Caldwell said.

From April 5 until April 29, the house served 50 children with the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services, 12 children in foster homes, and a family of five fleeing domestic violence, Caldwell said.

Family visitation, baths, lice treatment, clothes, food and overnight stays are some of the services offered in the house, Caldwell said.

Bathroom items such as hygiene products and medicine are kept stocked in the house; the kitchen is stocked with food for quick meals that can be prepared in the house; and a clothes and shoes closet are made available.

“The way that we wanted to operate and function is that if DCFS brings a kid in here, everything is provided for them, for free,” Caldwell said. “They have everything they need here.”

Stocked cabinets and pantries not only provide needed items, but serve as a model for biological parents working to bring their children back home, Caldwell said.

An activity room in the house gives the children a chance to play, relax and “get things off of their mind,” Caldwell said.

“We didn’t put anything fancy in the house,” Caldwell said. “We tried to make it feel as normal and peaceful as possible.”

Children new to the foster system leave with a “love pack” - a backpack filled with a variety of items, including hygiene products, a small pillow, a stuffed animal, snacks, allergy medicine and activities, Caldwell said. They also get their own handmade baby blanket and about two weeks worth of clothes, she said.

A remodeled garage now being used as a storage room will serve as a location for training classes for both parents and children, including parenting, anger management, life skills and drug rehabilitation, and therapeutic classes, Caldwell said.

Caldwell first had the idea to open long-term residential housing for foster children about three years ago, because the need for foster housing is so great in the River Valley region, she said. She began fundraising for the home in 2014.

But soon Caldwell turned her attention to the area’s more immediate needs, she said. She rented the house on Alma Highway and contacted DCFS about how it could be used.

“In Crawford County, we didn’t even have a place to give a kid a bath,” Caldwell said. “Treating a child for lice often makes a foster family more open to take a child.”

Family visitations were usually held at the local DCFS office or a fast food restaurant, Caldwell said. In the house, families can make better connections, she said.

In addition, Caldwell plans to put up a little free pantry outside of the house, and a back-to-school event with free haircuts and clothes for children will be held in August, she said.

Private donations help provide the products stocked in the house and those that leave with the children, as well as rent and utilities, she said.

“Our need right now is for diapers of all sizes, wipes, head lice treatment, children’s books, monetary donations, and quick and easy food items,” Caldwell said.

Volunteers are needed for the clothes closet, to help stock pantries and to clean, Caldwell said. She’s also looking for additional people to serve on her board of directors, she said.

For more information on New Start, go to New Start for Children and Families on Facebook or email Caldwell at newstartfamilies@gmail.com.