Brian Farragher, LMSW, MBA is the Chief Operating Officer at ANDRUS and has been with the organization for 25 years. He will be a regular on this blog commenting on working in the field of human services and children’s issues.
We were all shocked by the events in Newtown, Connecticut. I watched in horror as the news splashed across my television set as my wife and I prepared for our annual holiday party. It made the party preparation seem meaningless and silly.
In the days since this tragedy I have found myself growing more frustrated and angry with the coverage and the public discourse. How could this happen? What should we be doing about keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill? Should we arm school security guards? Each time there is a tragedy of this nature we seem to respond with the same level of shock and disbelief.
But some scary facts seem to elude us. The Children’s Defense Fund website reports that each week in America 350 children and teenagers are killed or injured by guns. Each year thousands of children suffer the physical and emotional scars associated with being the victims of gun violence. We rarely pay much attention, but we are living with death tolls and carnage like Sandy Hook each and every day, the events are just more dispersed over dozens of cities and neighborhoods across our county.
I just took a look at a website that lists all the baby product recalls and found that a stroller is being pulled off the market because the wheel lock malfunctioned and the stroller rolled away. In another case, a baby jogger was recalled because there were four instances in which small children fell out of the jogger seat and received scratches or bruises.
Now I am not arguing against making such products as safe as possible for our kids…but each year almost 20,000 children in this country are killed, maimed or injured by guns and to date our will to do anything about this reality is almost non-existent. We are apparently far more invested in protecting the “rights” of gun enthusiasts than we are in protecting the safety and well being of our children. I am reassured that someone is carefully watching how many children scrap their arms falling from a stroller, but I would feel much better if we could commit to pulling guns off the market so fewer of our children end up being shot on the streets where they live.
Over the last year, Andrus has significantly increased the presence of animals on our campus. About a year ago one of the cottages (Foster Hall) acquired 15 Rhode Island Red chickens! Since then the number of chickens on campus has grown and the campus program acquired 3 goats. The number of therapy dogs on campus has also been increasing with a current total of 9 approved dogs
The chickens at Foster Hall are doing well and some of the kids have taken their role as caregivers quite seriously. As chicks and young birds the animals enjoy being handled and the kids spend a good deal of time inside the pen. The rooster is a favorite – he is easy to pick out and has quite the personality! As the chickens have reached the age where they lay eggs, the rooster has taken on the role of protector. While preventing the boys from spending quite as much time in the pen, it has provided an entre into important social emotional conversations. The rooster is the only one of the chickens to receive a name – Taco George. In addition to taking care of the chickens, the Foster Hall boys collect eggs daily. Each of the hens should lay between 200 and 250 eggs a year which gives us LOTS OF FRESH EGGS! Most of the eggs are used at Foster Hall, some eggs make it home to families and others are given away.
The goats are the newest addition to the Andrus animal kingdom. Hickory, Birch and Maggie were a gift to Andrus and moved to campus in May. A fast hit, the goats have become part of both our school and residential programs. One classroom in the STARS building has committed to the morning feeding and taking the goats out for a walk from time to time (Yes, you can walk goats on a leash just like a pet dog.) Another cottage has taken responsibility for the evening feeding and lock up. In addition, classrooms and other cottages visit often and give the goats treats.
The P.A.W.S. (Pets Assisting With Sanctuary) program started with two dogs several years ago and has been growing since. The dogs are all personally owned by staff at Andrus and go through a screening process in order to become a part of the program. You can now find canine companions in three classrooms, two cottages and in the offices of three clinicians. Most days you will find children walking the dogs around campus and taking responsibility for their care. There are a number of children that request one of the dogs as a part of their clinical session or earn time with a campus dog as part of a behavior plan.
Come back next week to learn why animals are so successful with our children…..
“Failure of treatment” – what does that mean?
Speaking generally, we don’t consider a restraint to be any one person’s failure. We are not looking to place blame or point fingers. But when we get to the point where a restraint is needed, we consider that the treatment we provide has in some way failed the child. This could be a systems issue (e.g., not enough staff on that evening, standardized testing that we haven’t prepared the children for, an unspoken and unresolved gripe a child may have with a staff person, or a trip having to be cancelled.)
It could be that there’s more we need to learn about this child and what keeps him/her calm. Or that we need to know more about what triggers this child, and what are his/her early warning signs. We need to remember that time and space relieves pressure. Time is on our side. If we give the child time to calm down, often s/he will deescalate and a restraint won’t be needed.
We do our best to live by the creed “mistakes will be made but learning will occur.” It is vitally important for us to learn from crisis. So whenever a restraint occurs, we conduct a rigorous post-event debriefing – or Round Table – with the staff who were involved. This format helps us do our best to learn from every restraint, and to decrease the likelihood of a recurrence.
It is important in Round Tables that a climate of true safety is established. This includes no finger-pointing and no blaming. Staff are invited to say so if the tone feels harsh, or if they would feel more comfortable discussing the incident in supervision rather than an open forum. Round Tables only work if staff feel safe sharing openly and honestly. They must be willing to say so if they felt something they did is not something they would do again. They must be willing to “Monday morning quarterback” themselves and allow others to do so, in order for us to learn from the incident.
Among the things we’re looking for in the Round Table are:
- The child’s trauma history
- What were the setting conditions (did we fail to plan a smooth transition? Were we stressed about something and so we came across as impatient?).
- What additional triggers for this child can we discover, so we can avoid them?
- What additional early warning signs can we discover? (It’s easier to blow our 50 matches than to put out 1 fire).
- What adjustments can we make to how we work with this child so that s/he’s less likely to end up requiring a restraint?
As we continue to hold these discussions, we get a clearer and clearer sense of what works each child, and what backfires. In other words, it helps us truly individualize the care we provide.
We trust the cottage staff, and the cottage teams, to use their best judgment. We know a Milieu Therapist’s job is a very, very challenging one. People do not get “in trouble” for implementing a restraint. We do insist, however, that staff align with our outlook on restraints, use them only when the proper threshold has been crossed, and then work diligently to learn from the crisis to decrease the likelihood that it will recur.
Billyee Stevenson is the Library Media Specialist at the Orchard School.
Are your children taking the proper precautions when online? Everywhere you look today, there are kids carrying a piece of technology with the capability to access the web. What are they spending their time doing, and are they making good choices about what personal information, and photos they share? Are they posting inappropriate material? Chatting with strangers? Being bullied?
These and other questions are important to ask yourself when checking in with your children about their Internet experiences.
Below are some tips to help your child be safer on the Web:
• Learn about computers so that you can enjoy them with your children.
• Have your children show you what sites they’re visiting, and which you deem appropriate for their age(s).
• Keep computer in a family room or open area.
• Talk to your children about what they can and cannot do online.
• Parents can download/purchase filter software, which eliminates certain material from being available to their children.
• Make sure your children are not spending too much time on the computer.
• Inform them that nothing is completely private. Hackers can get into your e-mail and add you to spam lists.
• If you don’t know the sender, do not open a file or document that needs to be downloaded. Delete it without opening it.
• Teach your children not to share specific information, such as full name, address, school, or telephone #).
• Alert your children to NEVER plan to meet anyone they just met online.
• Warn them that people online may not be who they claim to be, even if they sent a picture.
• Only allow your children to enter age-appropriate chat rooms and be sure to supervise.
• If you are being bullied online, tell a trusted adult. Nobody has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, disrespected, scared, or insulted.
Lastly, if you wouldn’t do it in real life, don’t do it online.
At Andrus, our approach is based squarely on our understanding of trauma as a central organizing life experience of our children. We operationalize that approach through our implementation of Sanctuary. The central question that is our starting point in working with our children is moving away from the question “what’s wrong with this child” and instead organizing our approach based on the question “what happened to this child?”
The medical doctor’s creed is “first, do no harm.” In trauma informed care, our creed must be “first, don’t re-traumatize.” It is therefore worth noting that restraints are the most traumatizing intervention we do. For children with a trauma history, restraints are the most re-traumatizing thing we do.
It’s worth remembering too that every form of trauma involves being controlled by someone else – generally a caretaker and generally someone bigger and stronger than the child. Our children are therefore extremely sensitive to anything that can be perceived as being controlled. If we want to provide the antidote to trauma, we should be very careful to avoid anything that can be perceived as controlling. The antidote to control is collaboration. The field says “the more you do with a child, the less you have to do to a child.” Whenever possible, give the child multiple choices. Give the children real control. It is for this reason that we had the children create the cottage accountability plans for unsafe behavior. Give children control and ownership wherever possible, and the need for restraints decreases. And remember – no staff ever won a power struggle.
I had a conversation with a reporter from the Journal News the other day and it occurred to me it might be worth writing something of my own, based on the conversation.
Our conversation was prompted by the tragic death of Corey Foster, a young man who was in care at Leake and Watts. There is a good deal of speculation about what happened in the April 18th incident, but speculation is really not helpful. What is clear is that this is a terrible tragedy. A family has lost their child and a system, which is supposed to protect children, failed to do what it is supposed to do.
Nobody comes to work in any residential program wanting to hurt anyone. Our staff are motivated by a desire to help children to grow and change; to make sense out of their life experiences and create a future that is different from, and hopefully better than, their past. When something goes wrong; and in this case terribly wrong, there is often a rush to judgment and an urgency to find who is to blame. That is understandable, but generally not helpful.
What I told the reporter I spoke to was that residential programs are serving the most vulnerable and injured children in the system. They are children who have often been mistreated, sometimes by their families, almost always by the greater society. As a result they have trouble trusting others and believing anyone has their best interests at heart.
I went on to tell her that I never cease to be amazed at the extraordinary work done by our direct care staff, and I don’t presume our staff are different from the staff at Leake and Watts or any other facilities in our area. Our staff come in every day and face very tough odds. They work with the most vulnerable kids; they are not paid very well and often work long hours. They must be incredibly flexible, endlessly creative, eternally hopeful and enormously patient. They carry the yoke of our kid’s pain, hour after hour and day after day. They are hardly ever thanked for what they do well and generally chastised for their shortcomings. Every day they make heroic efforts to help kids that most of society views as hopeless and helpless. Every day they affirm for these kids that they do matter, even though most people would like them to just go away.
It seems the only time the general public really pays attention to what is happening in these programs is when something goes wrong. This serves to further demoralize an already beleaguered system.
When I hung up the phone last Friday, I reflected on our conversation. We all feel terrible about the death of this young man. At the same time, I feel blessed to do this work and lucky to be doing this with so many compassionate and heroic people who care so much about the children and families we serve.
While the “F” is the last letter in SELF it should always be our first consideration. All too often people who are victims of trauma and organizations that are victims of chronic stress become stuck. They lose a sense of imagination and cannot envision a future that is any different from the past.
As a result, everything we do needs to be about creating a different future for ourselves, our organization, our co-workers and our kids and families. Without hope is the future we are doomed to repeat the past.
As agents of change w need to always be hopeful and often that requires us to manufacture hope. In his recommencement address at the University of Portland in 2009 entrepreneur and environmental activist Paul Hawken said “hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful”. For those of us who both give and receive help there are plenty of reasons to feel hopeless. We know, however, that the future can be different and there are things we can do today that will yield a better tomorrow.
Our job is to create that sense of future for those who seek our help. To do this we must be able to create that sense for ourselves as well.
All change involves loss. All too often we forget to acknowledge this reality when we plan. Often it is this inability to acknowledge and manage losses that blocks real and meaningful change. Even changes that are exciting and welcomed are accompanied by losses. A young married couple celebrates the birth of their first child but in doing so they may not appreciate what they are losing; a good night’s sleep, independence, coming and going as you please.
When we are asking children, families or co-workers to change we always need to understand what they are going to need to give up to make the desired changes. More often than not our inability to change is grounded in our inability to accept and manage the losses that accompany growth and change.
Whenever we are asking people to change a habit, a task, a symptom we need to help them consider what they will be giving up as a result of the change.
For people who have suffered traumatic losses, they often become trapped in the past, constantly repeating past experiences in the present. We cannot rescue people from what has happened in their past but we can help them acknowledge and grieve their losses and successfully transition to a happier and healthier future.
Whenever we think about organizational change it is imperative to consider and acknowledge the losses as well. If we close this program, move these services, employ this new technique what will be lost in the process? Failing to acknowledge and plan for these losses will stall the change process.
Siobhan Masterson, CSWR is the Director of Clinical Services at ANDRUS.
When I was a little girl, I used to climb to the top of a tree in my backyard. It was my special spot. The tree looked out on a barn, where barn swallows used to build nests every spring. My perch allowed me to see the secret life of these birds as they darted about, returning to the nest with worms and twigs, rushing back to the nest when a larger bird or squirrel came too close to the nest where the baby birds waited, vulnerable.
I miss that tree. It wasn’t the view, or the birds alone that made that spot so special. It was the quiet, the chance I had during my day to retreat from whatever was happening in my life and regain some sense of inner calm and connection to something greater than myself. There’s a quiet that you can find in nature that is almost like a rhythm, maybe similar to the rhythm that a mother and baby find when they are holding each other so closely that their hearts beat in sync.
These days, kids need those moments more than ever. Screens, cell phones and the Internet seem to permeate our homes and lives. I heard one mom say to her daughter, “can you please put that phone away for a second?” and I empathized. But it’s not just the kids. Cell phones and I-phones keep us plugged in when we need more than ever to unplug, to find that voice inside that’s like a beacon to wisdom. Richard Louv, the author of the Last Child in the Woods, (http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/) said in his most recent book that “the future will belong to the nature smart – those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high tech we become, the more nature we need.”
At ANDRUS, we use technology more than ever to get our job done faster. But some of the most exciting developments to me are the ones where we are building access to the natural world – our labyrinth, our garden and trails, even our animal programs. Because through them, I believe that we are helping ourselves and the kids find their way back (or toward)our wisest selves. As Mary Oliver (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mary-oliver) writes in Morning Poem: If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere. And if your spirit carries within it the thorn, that is heavier than lead, if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging, there is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted.