At Waterford Country School, we talk a LOT about our agency model (The Children And Residential Experiences: Creating Conditions for Change (CARE)). It brings us together as a team. It makes us feel, as one staff member said “I don’t work at Waterford Country School, I am a part of Waterford Country School.” At the end of a year, the Leadership Team takes the time to reflect on the last year and the moments we’ve had, the struggles we’ve pulled through and the successful moments we’ve witnessed with our children and families. We take just a few of these “moments” and share them for our mutual encouragement. Here are just some of our “CARE moments” in 2017.
A 6 year old in our Foster Care program was having a particularly rough day. Couldn’t stand to be in the car, was starting to act out in dangerous ways and was eventually taken to the ER to be assessed. There was hours and hours of waiting as staff and foster parents stayed with the young boy…but the amazing thing was watching another child in therapeutic foster care, the child’s foster sister, be the ONLY person who could compassionately calm and encourage the young boy. This foster teen, who had a lot of struggles of her own, was absolutely the presence of stability in those moments of crisis. A beautiful example of how relationship matters. The bond that helped in a time of crisis was not even between staff and child or parent and child but between one struggling child to another. #CAREmoment
The short term Shelter program noticed that one of their boys came off the bus in football pads, helmet and gear. Knowing the background of this homeless teen who had come their way, they thought this was strange. After a call to the school, they found out that he was not on the football team (as they suspected) but was so eager to play football that he dressed the part to and from school. Instead of trying to convince this teen that this was not realistic, WCS staff saw this as an opportunity to reach him. They organized football drills outside at the Shelter, getting other teens involved and encouraging peer interaction through sports. One day the young man did not come back on the bus as he was supposed to. A WCS staff member drove out to the school to search for him. He found the teen, dressed in full gear, playing with a group of kids from school, some of whom were football players. Where once there would have been a punishment for not getting on the bus and returning to the shelter… instead the staff member stayed and watched, letting him play for quite a while. He knew he was seeing personal success, for this was a teen who previously had no peer group – playing football and interacting well with a group of kids. After a while the staff member went out and encouraged him, ran some plays with him and emphasized all that he had done well that day. This teen boy eventually went home to a relative but his interest and determination to play football gave us some valuable moments, short term care can still build growth, self-confidence and success if we take the time. #CAREmoment #sheltersuccess
The Outdoor Education Director remembers the day a wounded Red Tailed Hawk was released. The healing that takes place for children in our programs can often be mirrored by the rehabilitation of our injured animals. “We do as much for animals here as we do for kids, there aren’t too many places like that around,” says the Outdoor Ed Director. He remembers the student who was interning on the Farm/Wildlife Program being right by his side for the hawk’s release day. To see a child who has been really struggling care for an animal throughout it’s healing process and then watch it fly again, returning to it’s natural environment, it’s a good reminder of why we do what we do. #CAREmoment #wildliferehabilitation #natureheals
In our Children’s Mental Health Clinic there was a child who desperately needed help but adamantly refused to come in to the Clinic to work with a therapist. Not willing to let location stop this child from healing, the therapist went to the child’s home and met with her. This willingness to work with the family and meet the child where she was, eventually changed the outcome of the child’s behavior. It wasn’t long before the child was able to come into the Clinic and meet with her therapist to continue treatment. #CAREmoment
In our Residential Treatment program a teen girl was having a particularly rough day emotionally. After getting the invite to sample some food at an office potluck in Human Resources, the Residential Supervisor invited the teen along to give her a break and take a walk. When the Supervisor and teen visited the Human Resources office, they met the Director of Staff Support. He initiated a friendly conversation with the teenager and she was particularly interested to find that he was the one who brought in the crockpot full of chili, she LOVED chili. She wanted all the details. Who made it, how was it made, what was in the recipe. Student and staff bonded over their love of a good bowl of chili that day. As the time went on, they smiled and chatted whenever they saw each other around campus. Although they were in completely different places at Waterford Country School most of the time, they had made a connection. When he found out she was going to be leaving the residential program on a definitive date, much to her surprise he brought her a very special bowl of chili to say goodbye and good luck. She and the residential staff were touched by his ability to make a connection and make a teenager feel like she was listened to and cared for. #CAREmoment
The Therapeutic Boarding School program noted how the CARE approach allowed new students to settle in. One of their first students came in very angry, with his parents and life in general. He was so angry and unwilling to accept this new environment that he shoved his bag under a chair and wouldn’t unpack anything. He refused to let staff buy him anything, whether it was for his new room or his birthday. He just did NOT want to be a part of this new environment. Slowly, staff members noticed his artistic interest and talent. They watched as he started making special artwork for other kids or staff. They encouraged his artistic skill by giving him a wall project in the residence hall recreation room. He was asked to design, plan and paint his own wall mural for the space. He eventually unpacked his bag as he realized, no one was going to make him conform to a certain set of rules here. His individuality was still intact and it was okay to be expressed. He found a place to belong. #CAREmoment
The Development office saw how CARE changed the way staff and children interact in a big way. One night after hours some students broke into the Development Office and messed with the Receptionist’s desk and supplies. The Receptionist was upset and anxious after the incident as it left her feeling unsafe in her environment and hurt. A Supervisor in the residential program called a meeting and to have a conversation with the teens who were at fault. The teenagers and residential staff and the Receptionist sat down together. She was able to share with the teens how their actions affected her, giving her a safe place to express herself. They were able to see what they had done in a different light and apologized to her in person. What could have been a situation of escalated punishments and hard feelings turned into a real life moment of airing emotions and resolving a conflict. Such amazing personal success for our staff and children to work through. #CAREmoment
Our Food Service workers in the cafeteria noticed that one of the students was constantly taking plastic spoons and chewing on them. Upon investigation, they found that he was hoarding them because the movement of chewing on the plastic spoon was stress relieving for him. They were still concerned that the plastic spoon would break and cut or harm him so after thinking about it, they came up with a solution. They offered the child some plastic straws to have as his own. What a great compromise to both ensure the child’s safety but respect his need to use his coping skill. #CAREmoment
In our Adoption program interacting with families is key. In this case last year, 4 siblings were looking to be reunited and adopted into one home. Many pre-adoptive homes were screened and considered, our Adoption Social Worker went out to visit 3 possible families and chose the one he thought would best fit the siblings. However their biological father was opposed to this home and the adoption. Rather than give up or ignore the biological father’s input, our Adoption Social Worker met with the father. He spent hours of time befriending him, talking to him about his opinion, educating him on how the adoption process and what it would look like. Eventually this biological dad gave his permission and the 4 siblings were brought together in one forever home. The hours of care and time that the social worker put into working with the dad made a lasting impact on this case and for the future of the four children. #CAREmoment #foreverfamily
In our Summer Camp program the camp director was struck by how CARE mentality had changed not just the staff but the students who graduated. This summer the one of the Camp Interns (an older or former student who is working as a Jr. Counselor) who was with the 11 & 12 year old campers made the realization that these are “tough kids” very much like he was when he started at Waterford Country School. He saw a lot of himself in them and became a very involved, caring and compassionate part of the Camp staff. It was amazing to see a young person grow in maturity and self reflection during his time as a student at Waterford Country School. #CAREmoment
Of course there are countless stories every day of how we use the principles of CARE in our approach to children and each other. For more information on how the CARE Model can change the outcome for children in residential and congruent care settings, visit Cornell University’s Residential Child Care Project research and publications.