“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.
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.
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.
For most people in this valley, daily outdoor activities are a critical aspect of a healthy well balanced lifestyle. However, for kids and families in crisis, this is an aspect of life that becomes less of a priority when taking care of the basic daily essentials and when dealing with challenging situations.
One of the ways we fulfill our mission to help children and families find their way to fulfilling and constructive lives, during the summertime, is to help the kids improve their sense of physical control, joy and belonging through outdoor activities. We make it a priority every day that the kids at the Van Vleck House participate in some form of physical activity in the out-of-doors. Youth Care Workers are integral in making this happen and are always looking for creative ways of motivating the kids to participate in new and fun adventures.
Activity highlights from this summer include what we like to call Student and Staff Olympics. This is a day of field games with teams of staff and students participating together in games such as tag, relays, “jousting” and a basketball/ultimate Frisbee/team handball hybrid called Versaball. The kids volunteered for a morning in exchange for time on the Snow King Ropes Course. This involved helping to spread bark chips on the pathways and culminated in several hours of high adventure. Each of the kids returned with stories of daring and excitement. Other outings have included fishing on the lakes, skateboarding at the skate park, tennis at the park and hiking.
Summertime at the Van Vleck House presents the staff and kids with a multitude of opportunities that aren’t normally available during the school year. Summer break allows us to spend more time with the kids and present them with some new activities and challenges. With the longer and warmer days we can travel further afield and get into activities which expose the kids to things they may have wanted to try but couldn’t or to activities that transform into a new interest. The increased time together also allows for a focus on therapeutic issues and an increase in attention to maladaptive behaviors. This is a time which enables us to more clearly identify what the issues are and gives ample time to practice and process new ways of thinking and trying out new behaviors. It is also a time to play, which as we know, allows for the residents to let their guard down and just be kids, which can be extremely healing. By trying new things, the kids are able to increase their self-confidence and resilience by challenging themselves to push the limits of their comfort zone. Trying new things in a fun and relaxed way increases kids’ ability and motivation to experiment with new behaviors in relation to their world view, family system and peer relations.