Children's Voice November/
December 2008

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From Campus to Community: Walker School Expands to In-Home Care

Lisa Danovitch and Christine Sullivan play with a young boy at Walker's Needham, Massachusetts, campus.

In 2005, staff at the Walker School saw that Massachusetts was leaning towards requirements for community-based care for children. Walker's campus in Needham was already a hub for 5- to 13-year-old children with severe emotional distress and related behavioral issues, who are served at an on-site residence, school, and hospital. But staff wanted to get ahead of the state's push for greater community response to troubled children and began brainstorming what became the Family and Community Integration Services (FCIS) program.

Lisa Danovitch, director of marketing and contract management at Walker, said the CWLA member agency hoped to transfer its knowledge of residential care to the new home-based program, but jumped into the first case without adequate preparation. "We underestimated how difficult it was going to be," she says. "It just got very out of control very quickly." There was no model to follow. "There are other home-based services that are less intensive, and historically haven't worked very well with our kids," Danovitch explains.

Walker has made it a point to do better since then by gathering research, establishing protocols, and continually reevaluating their methods. At the same time, the team knows that protocols will get them only so far; the care they provide is unique for each child. "It has to be case-by-case, very individualized, you have to listen to the families," says Christine Sullivan, the Walker clinician who is the clinical team leader for FCIS.

The key component of the program is the assessment phase at the beginning of a case. It is a "thorough-in-home assessment to really get concrete goals and figure out what's going on," Danovitch explains. Seeing where a child starts out makes it easier to see improvement in behavior over time. Sullivan says assessment is a Walker signature: "It really makes us stand out." These in-home visits allow staff to identify and prioritize concerns. "The assessment period is a really helpful time," Sullivan says. "Because we're working with families that are dealing with so many problems, [cases] can be really complex."

It also provides the opportunity to ensure parents are allies. "We look not just at the problems but when things are working, what have they been doing well," Sullivan says. Because FCIS work takes place at home, it's even more critical for families to direct their own treatment. Sullivan emphasizes "getting the family's voice in there." She and Danovitch ask parents to explain what they need: "What's it going to take for your child to be home more often?"

To get the assessments right, outreach workers have to see an accurate picture of a family's daily life. "We're not having a meeting--if you're going to the store, we're going to the store with you," Sullivan explains. Making FCIS a truly community-oriented solution is the point of the program; outreach workers explore the services a family can find within their own neighborhood, like programs at the YMCA or other local organizations. But this tailoring is also a problem, since their families live all over Massachusetts: "That's been a huge challenge--we can't possibly know every community," Danovitch says. Staff must familiarize themselves with each new area when they take on a new case. Another aspect of a distant client is that travel time must be factored in when planning a child's treatment. To address some of these issues, Walker tries to create connections with local agencies, some of which may be able to take over cases that begin in FCIS.

Lisa Danovitch, director of marketing and contract management, and Christine Sullivan, clinical team leader for Walker's Family and Community Integration Services program.

Sullivan currently works with one other case manager and five outreach workers; they cover 16-20 cases total, but are planning to add more staff and grow the program. Sullivan tries to accommodate staff's schedules and give them two days in a row off work, because FCIS work is done "when the families need us," as Danovitch described it--not 9-to-5, Monday through Friday. "Being flexible and being able to give [families] the service when they're home is key, it really is key," Sullivan says. "If wake-ups are an issue, we'll be there at 5 in the morning; if bedtimes are an issue, we'll be there at bedtime." Additionally, Walker has a clinical on-call service 24 hours a day available for families they serve.

"We've had a lot of success, which is why there's so much passion behind it here," Sullivan says. "I feel like they're really behind this program and developing it and growing it."

Aging into College

Western Michigan University launched a program this year for foster care youth who age out of the system, reaching 18 without being adopted. An article in the Detroit Free Press explained that the Seita Scholars initiative offers mentoring and peer support in addition to tuition. WMU expected 12 students this inaugural year; they have 51.

Donations allow all the scholars to start out with the basic necessities for dorm life: a laundry bag, comforter, towels, soap, and a shower caddy. And like other freshmen, they have something else as soon as they step onto the Kalamazoo campus: an instant community of peers. For more, click here.

Showing the System

After all eyes were on Texas Child Protective Services last spring, the Austin American-Statesman decided to follow the local CPS docket, "one of the least-known, if busiest, segments of Travis County's civil court system." The cases of children who have been removed from their parents are closed to the public under state law, but by not printing the names of children or parents, the newspaper was able to highlight the work done by CPS personnel, CASA volunteers, attorneys, and judges. View an interactive presentation and the four-part series of articles.

All About the Children

In June, the Simba mentoring pro-gram at Ohio's Franklin County Children Services, a CWLA member, celebrated its 21st annual brunch with the theme It's All About the Children. They took the theme literally, as several young boys who benefit from the program and other local children served as the master of ceremonies, the keynote speaker, and the morning's musical performers. The Simba program pairs young African American boys involved with Children Services with African American men in the community. Franklin County also has a program for girls called Malaika.

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