- Posted by Famcare
- On January 30, 2017
- 0 Comments
The Family Care Network was humming along, buoyed by a strong group of therapeutic foster families, talented clinical social work staff, excellent outcomes, interns, tutors and a newly added group of AmeriCorps workers. At the beginning of 1991, I was approached by Dr. Donald Cheek, the Cal Poly Education Department Head and newly acquired friend. Don inquired if we were interested in opening up group homes on property he owned, the site of a previous group care provider who recently left the area. It was an interesting proposal.
Following my standard practice, I spoke with our county partners, Social Services, Mental Health and Probation to get their feedback on the idea; was it viable, was there a need? There was resounding support and encouragement to establish a program for latency age children. This would allow them to receive the “treatment” they needed while remaining close to home, family, friends, et cetera; helping to reduce the need for sending children out of the county. After much discussion with staff, our Board and County partners, the decision was made to move forward on creating the Care-Net Children’s Treatment Center.
As you can imagine, tons of work was necessary. Pursuing state licensing, establishing our treatment model, educational plan, staffing plan, interviewing, hiring, training… an arduous task at best! By fall, 1991, we were ready to go. Six beds for boys and six beds for girls in two buildings about 100 yards from each other. The facilities were filled almost immediately – and then reality set in, “What have we done!” It was an incredible challenge right from the start. Managing 12 severely emotionally disturbed children, managing staff, coordinating education services and everything else associated with group care turned into a nightmare. I even did shifts in an attempt to bring order and figure out what was going on. Running a juvenile probation camp was easier than running this home!
Then it really dawned on me – this is why I pursued the development of Therapeutic Foster Care in the first place; to provide an alternative to group homes and institutional care. I had yielded to external pressures and deviated seriously from the primary focus and mission of the Family Care Network.
With my Board’s and staff’s concurrence, I decided to quickly shut down the program; but I created an alternative plan! First, I needed to get out of the long term lease on the property so I approached Dr. Cheek with the idea of helping him set up his own group home program. He loved the suggestion and soon thereafter, he and his son started Agape Group Homes to serve teen boys. Second, and more challenging, I needed to leverage this experience into a positive with our County partners.
My approach with the County was bold and specific “let me take and place these children individually with specially trained families.” It was clear that the congregate setting appeared to exacerbate and amplify all of their bad behaviors. This was my opportunity to really gain some credibility and traction for Therapeutic Foster Care as a viable treatment model.
Well, it definitely took some convincing, but we were able to place seven or eight of the kids into our program. Once again, our strong supporter, Marilyn Stein, played an instrumental role in making this happen, even though the folks on the mental health side pushed back hard. These youth were definitely a challenge and took a lot of time, attention, intervention and support. This held true for the families as well. We did everything we could to make these placements successful. And, in the end – every one of these foster youth left our care on a positive note, diverted from additional residential care. Out of the ashes of a near disaster emerged a wonderful success!
Another challenging event happened during this same time frame–a Recession! This was my first experience managing the impact of a recession while working in the private, versus the public sector. We experienced what I have now come to know as a typical Recession pattern; public funds get tighter, public employees get panicky and referrals slow down even though the need still exist. But, this situation also provided us an opportunity to get creative and broaden our horizons. We had a solid group of competent staff with unstable caseloads to adequately sustain them. Our answer: Diversify!
I made a strategic decision at that point to put our energy into meeting community needs instead of embarking on a fundraising strategy or events. Our decision was to begin providing Outpatient Counseling. We had by now established a reputation amongst our mental health peers and the community as being highly skilled in working with traumatized children and youth. Additionally, our local Victims Witness Program was requesting our services. It seemed like, as soon as we opened our doors to accept outpatient referrals, we had a waiting list. Staff were balancing their work schedules between serving our foster care clients and private therapy clients. The strategy worked remarkably well, enabling us to navigate through the recession without losing staff or going into the red. In fact, we hired several more clinical social workers.
Another very positive outcome stemming from our group home diversion was the hiring of Tracey Cleeland. She was initially hired as a staff supervisor, and was then tasked with shutting the program down. Tracy was viewed by all as being incredibly competent, skilled and energetic, and as Ken put it “a real keeper.” And that she was. She became our first dedicated Foster Family Recruiter, transitioned to our first In-Home Support Counselor and eventually became a Supervisor and Staff Trainer. Tracy has remained with the organization all these years and has made an indelible positive impact on who the Family Care Network is today.
As my mom always told me “Problems are only opportunities to find a path to something better!”