Our History

Our History

For 30 years, Vision for Children at Risk has worked to build community action and programs improving the well-being of children impacted by poverty and lack of basic supports for their healthy growth and development.

VCR traces its origins to 1990 when members of a north St. Louis church, Saints Teresa and Bridget saw a daily tragedy where thousands of children lived in severe poverty in the decaying neighborhood around them. Seeking to illustrate to the rest of St. Louis the severe needs of these children, they commissioned a report in 1991, Addressing the Needs of St. Louis Children at Risk. As a result, community leaders launched a round of strategic goals and action plans through an informal coalition called Vision for Children at Risk. These two elements—data research and collaboration—grew into today’s Vision for Children at Risk and continue to be part of the core of our work today.

Eleven editions of the Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report have been published since 1991. VCR has sparked collaboration in the creation of dozens of program and policy initiatives to improve child health and well-being in the St. Louis region, generating millions in funding and benefiting tens of thousands of children annually. VCR has engaged business and civic leaders in working to improve child well-being and helped create a statewide children’s advocacy organization. In addition, VCR has held six St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Summits drawing community and stakeholder attention to children’s issues.

Recent and past successes include the St. Louis Regional Early Childhood Council, Project LAUNCH, Kids Win Missouri (formerly Missouri Children’s Leadership Council), the St. Louis Child Abuse & Neglect Network, the Maternal Child Family Health Coalition, the St. Louis Mayor’s Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Success, the St. Louis Community Children’s Service Fund, SafeFutures and more. Programs developed through VCR have attracted millions of dollars in new funding for children’s services in the region and benefit tens of thousands of children annually. Because of Vision for Children at Risk, many programs and policies are in place today serving children and greater community collaboration exists.

Vision for Children at Risk continues to be a catalyst for positive change in the way the St. Louis region takes care of its children and supports its families.

Our Historical Timeline

1991 – Project Respond published first Addressing the Needs of St. Louis Children at Risk report.

1993 – Vision for Children at Risk initiative evolved from Project Respond and launched with three strategies: Research; Collaboration; and Advocacy.

1994 – Second report published, renamed Children of Metropolitan St. Louis.

1996 – U.S. Safe Futures grant of $7.2 million for juvenile justice programs awarded to St. Louis through Project Respond and Vision for Children at Risk.

1997 – Third Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

1998 – First St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Summit held; establishes St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Agenda with some 25 strategies.

1999 – Vision for Children at Risk established as independent 501(c)(3) organization.

1999 – Fourth Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

2001 – Fifth Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

2001 – St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Summit featured national child advocate Shay Bilchik, director of the Child Welfare League of America.

2002 – Maternal Child & Family Health Coalition received first $2.2-million federal Health Start grant for preventive health services to disadvantaged young mothers.

2003 – Sixth Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

2004 – Vision for Children at Risk works with St. Louis Mayor’s Office in holding Mayor’s Summit and established city Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Success.

2004 – Early Childhood Success coalition received $1-million federal Early Learning Opportunities grant.

2004 – Vision for Children at Risk and Children’s Agenda partners work with St. Louis Mental Health Board and helped achieve passage of Community Children’s Services Fund tax providing dedicated revenue for children’s services.

2004 – St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Summit focused on economic returns of investing in children; featured speaker is Rob Grunewald of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

2005 – Child Health Resources in the St. Louis Region assessment published under grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

2005 – Seventh Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

2006 – Vision for Children at Risk launches series of forums on public education issues in St. Louis.

2006 – Vision for Children at Risk received U.S. Compassion Capital, Community Empowering Youth program grant of $750,000 over three years for capacity building with community partners.

2007 – St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Summit focused on public education reform; featured speaker is Dr. Pedro Noguera of New York University; attracts record attendance of 325.

2007 – First annual Child Abuse Prevention Month ceremony at St. Louis City Hall held by the St. Louis Family & Community Partnership.

2007 – Eighth Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

2009 – New Vision for Children at Risk data and information website launched with greatly expanded data on child well-being along with commentary and best practices on children.

2009 – St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Summit focused on promoting investment in children as a strategy toward regional economic success. Speakers include Robert H. Dugger of the Partnership for America’s Economic Success and Otis White of Civic Strategies.

2009 – Ninth Children of Metropolitan St. Louis report published.

2010 – Missouri Children’s Leadership Council formed to coordinate statewide advocacy for children.

2011 – St. Louis Regional Early Childhood Council formed combining four existing early childhood initiatives.

2011 – Vision for Children at Risk celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special event attended by over 200 people honoring three leading funders, James Kimmey, MD, of the Missouri Foundation for Health; the late Don Cuvo of the Saint Louis Mental Health Board and the late Rev. Jerry Paul of the Deaconess Foundation.

2012 – Online child well-being data updated to the “Kids’ Data Center” on the Vision for Children at Risk website.

2012 – Implementation began of five-year, $4.2-million Project LAUNCH grant promoting young child wellness in the 63106 and 63107 ZIP codes. VCR houses project operations under contract to the State of Missouri, the project grantee.

2014 – Missouri Children’s Leadership Council obtained funding to hire a lobbyist in the Missouri Capitol; achieves many legislative and funding successes for children.

2014 – St. Louis Family & Community Partnership started annual “Stepping Up for Kids” Awards Luncheon honoring foster and adoptive families and the agency staff who serve them.

2015 – Child Abuse Prevention Month observance expanded to include Family Resource and Fun Fair, in addition to yard-sign display added in 2014.

2017 – Tenth Children of Metropolitan St. Louis data book published.

2017 – St. Louis Metropolitan Early Childhood Summit drew attendance of 280 and features introduction of the St. Louis Metropolitan Early Childhood Plan and publication of the Building Blocks report on the early care and education landscape.

2017 – St. Louis Family & Community Partnership merged with St. Louis Area Council on Child Abuse & Neglect to form the St. Louis Area Child Abuse & Neglect Network (STLCANN).

2017 – Fourth annual Stepping Up for Kids Awards luncheon drew attendance of 320.

2017 – Vision for Children at Risk’s co-founding Executive Director Richard Patton retired as of December 31 and is succeeded by Sanaria Sulaiman.

2018 – VCR moved its office and meeting space to the new Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being.

2018 – Fifth annual Stepping Up for Kids Luncheon drew attendance of over 300.

2018 – Vision for Children at Risk evolved as a result of Project LAUNCH and added Family Engagement as its fourth focus area, in addition to Advocacy, Collaboration, Data and Research. 

2018 – Vision for Children at Risk formed a partnership with the System of Care Network, providing Family Support Services in St. Louis City and County

2019 – Implementation began of five-year, $4 million Project LAUNCH (Linking Action for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) grant funded by SAMHSA to promote young child wellness in the City of St. Louis.

2019 – Implementation began of five-year, $2.7 million Parent and Children Together St. Louis grant Funded by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families to promote the well-being of children and families through a continuum of community-based services and supports in St. Louis City and County.

2019 – Sixth annual Stepping Up for Kids Luncheon drew attendance of more than 300.

2020 – Eleventh Children of Metropolitan St. Louis data book published.

2020 – Vision for Children at Risk introduced its new logo, website, and branding.

2021 – Vision for Children at Risk honored with the Contributor Champion Award from United 4 Children

View Our Focus Areas


Upcoming Events



System of Care & Project LAUNCH Council

Focused on children, youth, & family wellness.

PACT-STL Vitality Café​

Parents charting their own paths, together, toward holistic wellness.

Parent Café​

Connect with other parents and caregivers to strengthen your family.

Children’s Data

Two Great Ways to Explore

Check out our CMSL Data Book and our new interactive Children’s Data Center

Quantitative and qualitative data should provide the foundation for informed, strategic, collaborative community engagement, action, and advocacy. We invite you to explore the data and join us in working towards a better future for children and families in the St. Louis region.

Data Book and Data Center Cover Images
Network of Practice Purpose

Decision makers from each key system will be convened in the Network of Practice to develop the infrastructure necessary to facilitate better communication amongst collaborative partners involved in the CMHI Project.

These SOC enhancements will help meet an existing priority of collaboration between all involved CMHI partners to decrease SED amongst at risk youth, with an emphasis on black/brown youth, unhoused youth and the LGBTQIA+ youth population by detecting their mental health needs early enough to provide the appropriate level of  support/treatment. MOUs will be obtained from each Network partner to outline how each system will advance the SOC Approach, including providing services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate and trauma informed.

Mia Daugherty
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH

Mia was first introduced to VCR when a friend invited her to a Community Café. She had heard the cafés were impactful and looks back now to say that it truly was life changing! She sees a real opportunity for positive change by the way these cafés center the conversations of change around community voice.

At the end of 2019 Mia joined the VCR family. She now serves as a Family Engagement Specialist with PACT-STL, bringing life experience, a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, energy, and passion to supporting families navigating behavioral health needs.

Outside of VCR you might find Mia and her daughter roller skating and also embracing all the wonderful and exciting events in the St. Louis area.

Jawana Hammonds, MSW​
System of Care Project Director

Jawana first connected with VCR through the Project LAUNCH initiative as a council member and joined the staff team in 2020. As the System of Care Project Director, she oversees the collaborative network of organizations, agencies, and families committed to a family-driven and youth-guided approach to providing care for children and youth with mental health challenges. The System of Care is working to ensure children and youth can thrive by getting the total support they need to become physically and emotionally healthy at home, in school, and in their communities. 

Outside of VCR Jawana enjoys listening to music and fashion design. 

Anita Blagajcevic, MSW
Compliance Coordinator

Anita first connected with VCR by utilizing the CMSL Data Book, finding the data impactful and helpful. Anita later joined the VCR team in 2018 to focus on improving access to and coordination of early childhood screenings. She now serves as VCR’s Compliance Coordinator, helping manage the applications, data, and reporting for our federal and local grants.

Outside of VCR Anita enjoys spending time with her husband and family. If she’s not doing that, you can find her watching reality TV and pretending she’s viewing it through an anthropological lens.

Alicia D. Hall, M. Ed., LPC, NCC
Behavioral Health Coordinator: Project LAUNCH

Alicia joined VCR’s team in 2020, already familiar with and connected to VCR’s collaborative efforts and MO Project LAUNCH (2012). As the Project LAUNCH Behavioral Health Coordinator, Alicia drives our work integrating behavioral health into primary care health and early care and education. She works to increase and integrate the use of screening tools and mental health consultation for children’s well-being.

Outside of VCR Alicia enjoys anything outdoors in the sun with a special appreciation for the Caribbean. She loves eating and trying new restaurants, travel, sand in her feet, water, and blue skies. Alicia also enjoys spending time with family and her grandchildren that keep her young.

Liz Hoester
Data & Research Coordinator

Liz, a VCR team member since 2007, coordinates the overall data and research functions for the agency. This includes production of the Children of Metropolitan St. Louis Data Book (CMSL) as well as community assessments and special reports on key policy issues for community organizations and collaborative groups. She also provides customized child well-being focused data to various entities including local foundations, legislators, and numerous community initiatives and organizations. These data are used in everything from securing grants to informing funding and policy decisions. 

Outside of VCR Liz enjoys exploring her neighborhood by foot and the city by bike.

Isaac McBride, MS
Project LAUNCH Director

Isaac connected with VCR because of our prevention work with children and families. Having worked on the intervention side previously, he truly sees the importance and impact of prevention and early intervention. Isaac joined the team in 2020 as our Education Coordinator with Project LAUNCH and now serves as the Project LAUNCH Director.

Outside of VCR Isaac enjoys being outside with his significant other and dog, jiu jitsu, reading, and playing games with his brother. Isaac also loves to cook and bake and has some pretty great skills thanks to his mother. He is notorious for modifying the recipe every time.

Breann (Bree) Schubert, MSW
Communications Coordinator

Bree joined VCR in 2015 as the Project LAUNCH Activities Coordinator. Since that time, Bree’s role has shifted, but she remains dedicated and motivated by the mission of VCR. She now serves as VCR’s Communication Coordinator and loves being able to help share the story of VCR (alongside all of our awesome partners and families) working toward child well-being.

Outside of VCR Bree and her family can be found playing ultimate frisbee, hiking, and learning and advocating alongside their church family.

Ruth Ehresman, MSW
Interim PACT-STL Director

Ruth was a VCR Board member before fully joining the VCR family in 2013. She started out coordinating the Family and Community Partnership (now known as St. Louis Child Abuse and Neglect Network), served as the VCR Advocacy Coordinator for many years, served as the Interim PACT-STL Director, and now continues to support VCR as a consultant.

Outside of VCR Ruth enjoys reading, playing the piano and flute, playing tennis, and spoiling her dog.

Sam Blue
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL

Sam joined VCR in 2013 as a MO Project LAUNCH team member and is now serving as a Family Engagement Specialist with Parents & Children Together St. Louis (PACT-STL). He helps connect families to resources and opportunities, and to think strategically about how they can strengthen their family. Sam leads the Parent Cafes and is a certified trainer.

Outside of VCR Sam enjoys being in nature, gardening, building connections with others, and spending time with his family.

Katina (Tina) Johnson
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL​

Katina joined VCR in 2019 excited and motivated to help families, parents, and children by sharing her life experiences, prior work experience, and her education. She serves as a Family Engagement Specialist through PACT-STL, which involves connecting with families throughout the community to reduce entry into foster care. She helps connect families to the resources that can help families be their best version of themselves.

Outside of VCR Katina enjoys spending time with her four boys, expressing their spiritual beliefs, and networking and meeting new people from all walks of life.

Critical Case Staffing Purpose

• The purpose of the Critical Case Staffing Team (CCST) is to support the referring agency in determining what system barriers exists in cases where resources have been exhausted.

• The referring agency should be able to resolve most issues prior to referring to CCST by utilizing community resources.

• However, when system barriers prevent the delivery of services and/or additional needs have been identified for which services do not exist, a referral to the CCST may be appropriate. 

Connie Rigas
Family Support Partner: System of Care

Connie joined VCR in 2020 as a Family Support Partner for the System of Care (SOC). She brings professional training to her work, as well as personal experiences from raising her daughter. She walks alongside families in their journey navigating behavioral health and social emotional supports for their child(ren).

Outside of VCR Connie enjoys reading, planting flowers and herbs, and spending time with her family and friends.

Shelnise Ellis, MSW
Project Coordinator: System of Care

Shelnise joined the VCR family in 2020 and serves as the Project Coordinator/Lead Family Coordinator for the System of Care. She has spent most of her career working with children and adolescents around mental health and is passionate about serving her community, empowering others to live better lives. She works alongside organizations, families and caregivers, and the community committed to strengthening the systems of support. Shelnise also supports the Family Support Partners walking alongside families who are connecting to and navigating mental health services.

Outside of VCR Shelnise enjoys spending time with her family and friends traveling and exploring new journeys.

Yolanda West, MM
PACT-STL Director

Yolanda first engaged with VCR as a board member of COCAN (now STLCANN) in 2012. She went on to serve as the Board Co-Chair of STLCANN before joining the VCR team in 2021 as the PACT-STL Director. Yolanda now oversees the work of Parents and Children Together St. Louis (PACT-STL), a federally funded initiative through the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). She is leading this initiative focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating strategies that prevent child maltreatment, reduce entry into the public child welfare system, and enhance overall well-being outcomes of children and families.  

Outside of VCR Yolanda enjoys spending time with her family and God, reading, listening to music, and watching TV.  

Integrated Family Treatment

Integrated Family Treatment is a multi-generational approach to mental health care. The client is the family unit, not only the child or adult separately. The goal is to improve family relationships, functioning, and well-being. Evidence-based mental health services and trauma focused treatment will be provided by Places for People and Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis.

Family Support Partners

Family Support Partners (FSPs) provide peer support to families as they connect to and navigate mental health services. The FSPs have lived experience as a parent or family member of a child with a serious emotional disorder, as well as a deep connection to the communities in the St. Louis Promise Zone. FSPs are certified by the Missouri Dept. of Mental Health and employed by Vision for Children at Risk.

A person with a Serious Emotional Disorder (SED)

An individual with a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that interferes with or limits daily functioning.

Tyree Thomas
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL

Tyree originally connected with VCR in 2015 when he attended his first Parent Café. He stayed connected and officially joined the VCR family in 2022 as a Family Engagement Specialist for PACT-STL. He serves as a family mentor and assists families with understanding their rights and helping them navigate the child serving systems. He works alongside families that have either been hot-lined already or are at risk of being hot-lined.

Outside of VCR Tyree enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, and listening to music.

Jamila Valentine
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH

Jamila first engaged with VCR when she attended a Parent Café Training Institute. After this experience she went on to become an active Project LAUNCH parent leader and gained experience hosting Parent Cafés at Clay Academy of Exploration and Civics. She officially joined the VCR family in 2022 as a Family Engagement Specialist for Project LAUNCH, walking alongside parents and caregivers, connecting them to helpful resources and supporting them as they strengthen their family.

Outside of VCR Jamila enjoys attending family friendly events with her children, along with all the adventures, laughter, and joy that comes with being a parent of multiple children under age 8.

Alexis Williams
Family Support Partner: System of Care

Alexis first joined the VCR family in 2022 as a practicum student. She enjoyed working with the team, serving families, and believed in the mission so deeply that she joined the team afterwards. Alexis serves as a Family Support Partner (FSP) for the System of Care (SOC), walking alongside families that have a child or children with a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED), mental health concern, or behavioral health concern.

Outside of VCR Alexis enjoys cooking/baking, hiking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

Carmenlita (Carmen) Montgomery
Family Support Partner: System of Care

Carmenlita joined VCR is 2022 as a Family Support Partner (FSP) for the System of Care (SOC). She is passionate about empowering others and giving back to her community, helping families and children navigate their everyday life. She brings her own lived experience, work experience, and educational experience to her role as an FSP where she compassionately walks alongside families, providing peer support as they connect to and navigate mental health services.

Outside of VCR Carmenlita enjoys mentoring and tutoring children, being a mother and a nana. She also enjoys decorating, cooking, and traveling with family and friends.

Sanaria Sulaiman, MA
Chief Executive Officer

Sanaria became Executive Director of Vision for Children at Risk in 2018, leading VCR’s efforts to promote the well-being of children, youth, and families. She joined Vision for Children at Risk in 2013 as director of Project LAUNCH, a federally funded program to improve young child wellness in north St. Louis. The success of Project LAUNCH allowed VCR to secure three new federal grants, all aimed at supporting families. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of VCR and overseeing the federal grants, Sanaria also serves on the board of Kids Win Missouri.

Outside of work at VCR, Sanaria loves to travel around the world with her two beautiful children to learn about different cultures, learn different languages, and try new food.