Safe haven for at-risk pregnant girls asking for community’s help

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since the October issue of skirt! magazine went to print.

By Shelley Hill Young

The women who seek a safe haven at Florence Crittenton’s residential program are young, pregnant and scared, and most have nowhere else to turn. They are at a crossroads, and they and their children are at risk — at risk of not graduating from high school, at risk of living in poverty, at risk of not being able to care for their children.

But Florence Crittenton has had to turn away 18 pregnant women since July 1 after the state Department of Social Services cut $310,000 in funding to the nonprofit at the end of June, leaving the program with a $150,000 to $200,000 budget gap.

“That broke my heart,” said state Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, who is working to help Florence Crittenton. “You don’t turn away mothers that are trying to have their babies. I feel like we are leaving people stranded and abandoned.”

Florence Crittenton has operated in Charleston for 120 years. For the past 30 years, DSS has continuously renewed two social services grants to Florence Crittenton to help at-risk pregnant women. DSS will continue to fund a grant for girls within its foster care system. The department serves girls who are 16 years old or younger.

But Florence Crittenton had to turn away girls who were considered at-risk but are not involved in DSS.

After Senn said she repeatedly raised her concerns to DSS, she met with department director Susan Alford, who pledged to find another source of money to help Florence Crittenton continue to open its doors to all low-income, at-risk pregnant women ages 10 to 21.

“We’re very thankful,” Senn said.

Karen Wingo, DSS director of communications and legislative affairs, said in a statement that the agency terminated one of Florence Crittenton’s contracts because the majority of the clients it served were not DSS clients.

“The decision made by DSS was a difficult one, but the Department believed (it) was necessary to be a good steward of available funds necessary to fulfill our mission and serve DSS clients,” she said.

Wingo said Aug. 31 the department is working to identify a source and the exact amount of funding it will be able to provide Florence Crittenton to make up for the money cut by the contract.

In the meantime, executive director Lisa Van Bergen said Florence Crittenton has had to turn away a ninth pregnant girl because the additional funding has not been confirmed.

How Florence Crittenton Helps

Florence Crittenton is the only organization in the state that provides a residential program for low-income pregnant girls. Many of the young women are seeking a safe place to stay during their pregnancies because they are victims of physical or sexual abuse or are dealing with mental health issues, Van Bergen said.

“We intervene at a very at-risk time in their lives, and we have really great outcomes,” she said.

Florence Crittenton serves an average of 60 young women and their children per year and can house up to 16 girls and four babies at a time. The program has an on-site nurse to provide prenatal care and contracts with the Medical University of South Carolina to deliver the babies.

There are two teachers on site who assist the girls with taking online courses through the Charleston County School District. Florence Crittenton offers educational programs about nutrition, pregnancy prevention, parenting and career readiness to the women in their program. A mother also can apply to continue living in the house with her baby for up to six months after the baby is born.

If young women attend Florence Crittenton’s intense program, they are more likely to deliver healthy babies, to continue their education, to learn job skills, and are less likely to become pregnant again.

Van Bergen said DSS informed her in April that a portion of the funding, which comes from the federal government and is distributed by the state, would be eliminated on June 30 and be allocated elsewhere. The funds eliminated by the contract made up about 30 percent of Florence Crittenton’s annual budget.

The director reached out to members of the Charleston legislative delegation, including Sen. Senn, for help. Van Bergen said elected leaders have been supportive, but they are not able to secure another revenue source because the state budget has already been passed.

Florence Crittenton is holding its annual Wine, Women and Shoes fundraiser in November, but the money expected to be raised by the event already is included in the budget.

Van Bergen said two organizations — the J. H. Walker Legacy Foundation and Boeing — have donated money to help cover the estimated shortage.

Wingo said in a statement in early August that DSS has made “significant efforts to lessen the impact of its decision on Florence Crittenton and the clients it serves.”

Senn said Florence Crittenton will be able to reapply for the contract next year. She also is working to include a line item Florence Crittenton in the state budget for the year beginning July 1, 2018, so the nonprofit wouldn’t be affected by contracts.

“I know I’ll have broad-based support to get Florence Crittenton funded,”  she said.

Van Bergen is asking the Charleston community to help financially support Florence Crittenton while she and her board work with state officials to secure a new source of money for next year.

“We are hoping the community at large will commit to helping these young women and their children,” Van Bergen said.


To donate to Florence Crittenton or to learn more about its programs, visit or call 843-722-7526.