Building Relationships and Starting Conversations

“To help children and families find their way to fulfilling and constructive lives”: This is the mission of TYFS as a whole, and directly aligned with my goal as a therapist for the Van Vleck Group Home and Adam’s Canyon Crisis Shelter.

I took over the role as individual and family therapist for these two facilities back in May of 2017. While they serve different purposes and meet different needs, we begin the relationship with these children and families the same way; by starting a conversation.  By opening these lines of communication and starting this dialogue we begin shedding light on the bigger picture of what factors are impacting the family and child’s life, both positively and negatively.  We become more aware of what aspects of life they struggled with and how we can best begin addressing it as a team. Whether in a long term placement or crisis placement, our residents are in treatment for a limited amount of time and a large part of our job is providing the support and resources necessary to begin setting children and families up for success where they previously struggled. For the family, the conversation starts with focusing on what is going well, what strengths both the parents and the children possess and what has worked in the past. This creates a positive and proactive foundation based on already present strengths and skills of the family as a whole. Once this foundation is established, we move the conversation towards the concept of empowerment and autonomy. This is helping both the parents and child begin to feel that they have some power over the choices they are making as well as the impact those choices have on their life and those around them. Many times we need to understand this to recognize which behaviors are maladaptive and that we have the capability to respond in new ways to old situations.  These skills can range from learning how to ask for what you need to creating choices to accepting responsibility for behavior and responses. This constitutes the bulk of the work done in individual and family therapy as well as in group home and crisis shelter. These concepts of empowerment and autonomy promote social and communication skills, encourage positive peer interactions and aid in establishing healthy relationships.

Whether a 30-day voluntary crisis placement or a long term court-ordered placement, the end goal is to set the foundation for success in the future and provide support and resources needed to facilitate continued success. As an organization we work closely with other community resources to connect children and  families to these supports and ensure the family feels prepared for the future.

2018 Budget Session Update for TYFS

The 2018 Legislative Session is a Budget Session, with many difficult decisions facing our State Legislators on how to form a balanced budget when State revenues have decreased significantly over the last few years. The Department of Family Services and the Department of Health have seen major cuts (about 30%) in their budgets in the last two years. However, this year in response to a proposed State budget reduction in daily rate paid to residential treatment centers and group homes  Governor Mead wrote, “ I recommend denial of the reduction to the standard budget. This reduction impedes a provider’s ability to provide adequate services for court-ordered youth who cannot be served by their local communities.” I greatly appreciate the Governor acknowledging that programs such as Red Top Meadows and the Van Vleck Group Home cannot sustain further cuts in payments received from the State.

He specifically addressed the daily rate paid by the State for service and the Joint Appropriations committee, thanks to in large part to Representative Schwartz, has said via their budget that numbers of youth served should not continue to be reduced.  The statements made by the Governor and the Appropriations Committee were greatly appreciated and speak to the importance of helping troubled young people find a new and better direction while they are still young.

It makes me anxious to watch and listen to the process of discussing how much service we should provide for troubled youth and then read the paper regarding the tragic shootings in Florida this past week. I do not know a great deal about the shooters history  but I know he needed much more supervision and treatment than he received. Because of economics there is a consistent push to make treatment shorter and faster, and I understand there are limits to funding, but we need to be careful to not create tragedies in order to address short falls in budget incomes.

Thank you to Governor Mead, Representative Schwartz and the Joint Appropriations committee for understanding the importance of our work. We hope the whole of the Wyoming Legislature does too.

Staff Highlight: NOAH STRAUSS

Noah Strauss was born in Brunswick, Maine.

He attended the University of Maine in Orono where he majored in Elementary Education. He then moved to Jackson Hole two days after graduation to ski and play.

He was drawn to work at the Van Vleck House so that he could engage in active work with kids, where his fun loving nature could shine through. He likes the fact that there is constant change in his job with all the different kids he interacts with.

Noah enjoys getting the kids to participate in physical activities that they might not have tried before and loves helping to create new experiences for the kids. According to Noah he gets the most gratification from “seeing growth happen, seeing the kids improve their lives, to return home,  and witnessing a-ha moments for kids when they gain insight into their lives.”

Noah has worked at TYFS since 2013. He is currently a Lead Youth Counselor at the Van Vleck House.

ADAMS CANYON STAFF SECURE FACILITY

Over the past year, Teton Youth & Family Services has begun to offer a new service to the community. This service comes in the wake of an increasing number of adolescents who are reporting suicidal ideation. Often these kids show up at the hospital, but are also being identified as at risk by school personnel, their parents or the Counseling Center. The service that we offer is utilizing the Staff Secure portion of the Adam’s Canyon Crisis Shelter to house and care for adolescents in a suicidal crisis for up to 72 hours.

While this is not the same level of definitive care that one would find in a hospital setting, it is a safe and secure setting which allows families to rest knowing their child is in good hands while a more definitive plan is made.     Staff Secure means that we have two staff available per individual resident and that the resident agrees to stay in placement voluntarily with the consent of their parents. We are able to provide this service through a collaborative effort between Teton County Government, St John’s Hospital and the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center (JHCCC). An adolescent who is identified as in need of help can come into the ER or go directly to the JHCCC for an evaluation. A team decision is then made as to the best course of action given the concerns.

Part of the difficulty in helping teens in this type of crisis is that given our rural setting, it can require many hours of travel to find definitive care for these young people. The distances required to travel to Idaho Falls, Casper or even Salt Lake City put a strain on parents who are scared for their child’s safety or local law enforcement personnel who are sometimes called upon to provide transportation. Additionally, St. John’s Hospital is not equipped with a therapeutic setting and staff to help these kids during a crisis. Our Staff Secure facility allows for close supervision with caring individuals who are trained in suicidal intervention. The staff are supervised by our clinical therapist who also meets with the youth and has the additional assistance of a therapist from JHCCC who performs the initial assessment as well as provides ongoing assessment of the individual.

As a precursor to opening this service, we performed a safety audit of our facility with the assistance of the St John’s Hospital safety specialist. In association with Teton County Facilities Department, we completed several safety upgrades that have rendered a safer and more therapeutic setting for youth. During the past year we have been able to serve 10 youth in various levels of suicidal crisis. This has allowed their families much needed respite. In some cases, the adolescents were able to return home with a safety plan and referrals for further counseling. For others, it meant a brief crisis placement then a return home. Those adolescents with the most acute need were able to access more definitive treatment in a psychiatric setting.

For more information about this service please contact 307-733-6440.

RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT FACILITY GIVES BACK TO COMMUNITY

The theme of fall at Red Top Meadows is community service and the importance of being a positive member of a community. The staff and residents recently returned from their Fall Wilderness Experience where our residents paired up with the Jackson Ranger District Forest Service Trail Crew to work on trails down the North Fork of Fall Creek. The ultimate goal, that we have been working on over the past few years, is to revive a multi-purpose trail that is referred to as “The Knob.” This trail will ultimately provide another option for the surrounding community to hike, trial run, mountain bike, horseback ride and hunt.

Long Draw Outfitters, working out of a hunting camp in the area had discussed, with Trail Supervisor Tim Farris, a particularly problematic   section of low-lying predominately mucky trail near their low camp. As a result, this years mission was to reroute about 1/3 mile of trail out of a low wallow and to drier, higher ground on the side-hill above. Our residents camp on-site for the duration of one week to complete our work. Our crews were fortunate to find sunny afternoons of hard work to warm themselves up from frosty mornings with frozen boots. After crushing out a significant part of the reroute in the first two days, the crew spent the final days perfecting their work and closing the old trail.

This trip provides a valuable opportunity for our residents to take pride in hard work and feel like positive members of a larger community. One resident said after the trip, “I’m proud to have accomplished such a large project with all the other people that were working side by side with me. I felt part of a community when we would stop at lunch and just enjoy each other’s company, then eventually get back to work.”

Go check out their reroute before the snow falls! If you don’t get there this season don’t worry, their hard work will benefit the surrounding community for years to come.

Teen Power: Fostering Relationships Through Jobs

“Our work is about relationships.”  This message is true and fundamental to TYFS as a whole, and the Teen Power is certainly no exception. Teen Power is an extra-curricular activity open to all Jackson Hole Middle School students. We seek to connect youth looking for work experience with community members who could use an extra hand. But far beyond that, Teen Power is an  opportunity to develop individual character strengths and meaningful relationships.

This past summer an older adult who was having difficulties being active enough to exercise her dog called to inquire about Teen Power’s services. We were able to connect, Jessica, a 7th grade student who lives in the same neighborhood, with Donna and her pup, Bella. Jessica loved the opportunity to make some money, but her parents were more excited about witnessing her place a high value on helping others while demonstrating responsibility. Now that school is in session, Jessica can only help out a few times a week, but in hearing her talk about her first work experience one can easily identify a growing sense of personal power and purpose. Jessica also forged a connection with Donna, who acted as another caring adult in her life.

Not all Teen Power jobs result in long-term relationships, many are one-time home or yard projects or babysitting needs. These still contribute to a student’s sense of self. The weekly after-school component allows for career exploration at the same time as students learn about communication, team-building, gratitude, and other soft skills fundamental to future growth and success.  We believe that by providing a  supportive context in which young  people can feel more connected to something they care about, they will be less likely to engage in maladaptive  future behaviors.  We strive to keep our work centered on developmental relationships by helping young people discover who they are; develop abilities to shape their own lives; and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them. If you are interested in learning more or have an opportunity or a student to work, please contact Ben Brettell at bbrettell@tyfs.org or 733-7946.