The philosophy of School Based is simple: problem kids are not bad kids, they’re kids who simply need more support. This is the very sentiment Skills Development Specialist Chad Ridge tries to embody daily as he winds through the halls of Grassy Creek Elementary throwing out high fives to children passing in lines and advice to ‘make better choices’ to those working at ‘time out desks’ in the hallway.
As a Skills Development Specialist, Chad has a unique but oft necessary position in the school. He helps kids on his caseload work through issues such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a tendency to flee, a tendency to hit. Therapists on the team do the hard, emotional work with the kids one-on-one to help them address what they feel and why they feel it. Skills Development Specialists (SDS) work with the kids on their actions and how to make better behavioral choices, both in one-on-one sessions and in the classroom. “You kind of have to play a little dance with your caseload,” said Chad, referencing the relatively unstructured day-to-day operations of a Skills Development Specialist. There are a certain number of meetings they must have with their clients per week depending on their level of need, but the landscape always seems to be changing. The caseload rotates slowly, but teachers have different preferences, schedules for extra activities blend and shift, a client may have an outburst in the morning, or an emergency might pop up in the afternoon. Chad manages by staying flexible and spending his day weaving in and out of classrooms, talking with teachers and dropping in on clients to assess the needs of the day. “You have to feel out who needs what at what time and adjust accordingly.”
Kids usually end up on the School Based caseload through a teacher recommendation. Teachers approach parents about working with Adult and Child to help their child tackle behavioral issues. Often the option is discussed when working out Individualized Education Plans. When a child is added to the caseload, a team will take around 30 days to really get to know them. They asses the child’s struggles and develop an individually tailored plan with goals to work on. This happens through classroom observation, discussions with parents and teachers, and familiarizing the child with the School Based team. After 30 days, the SDS will confer about their findings with a psychologist who will provide their own feedback, and then the intensive work begins.
SDSs will often work through storybook-type models that encourage children to examine their own behavior. Titles like “Jake the Frog Settles Down” and “Hunter and His Amazing Remote Control” are designed to illustrate what it looks like to use self behavior modification skills through the example of cheerful cartoon characters. An SDS will also spend time with their clients in the classroom, physically sitting beside them and helping to navigate different types of stimulation, distraction, emotions, etc. One other important piece of the School Based puzzle is parent interaction. When parents sign up their child, they also sign up themselves. Chad says that he usually meets with parents twice a month both to discuss their child’s progress and to involve them in the curriculum. “My work with parents and their children looks a lot like play,” said Chad. He says he often plays games to model and facilitate new types of parent-child interaction individualized to the child’s struggles. “If parents are on board and they’re actively involved in the child’s therapy or skills, then it goes a lot smoother and you move a lot faster toward a graduation or resolution.”
The ultimate goal of School Based is graduation from the program. Once a child is consistently meeting their goals with less and less support from the team, that’s when it’s time to transition them out of the program. Chad has worked in School Based for over a decade and has seen so many kids work through their behavioral problems and function well in school. “School Based works,” he said simply. “We’re there for the kids when they need us.” Supplying that line of defense helps children who might otherwise escalate their behavior so much that it leads to expulsion, a consequence where nobody’s happy and nobody’s learning. But with School Based interaction, Chad has seen that happen much less frequently, a factor that drives his passion for working with kids. “I wouldn’t work anywhere else,” he said, “I love it to pieces.”
In the wide scope of Adult and Child, at times it can seem that the Therapeutic Foster Care team exists its own bubble. The team has a separate brand and a separate website and answers to an outside entity (DCS). But in reality, foster care is deeply intertwined with several other service lines, from home-based services working with biological families to primary care looking after children’s medical needs. Housed on the seventh floor of 603 E Washington St, the TFC team is fortunate to have such easy access to various other A&C service lines. In Indianapolis, there are around eight foster care agencies, but Adult & Child is the most comprehensive. “Most agencies have to refer out for services, but A&C can literally take care of all that under the same roof,” said Alicia Harding, a TFC team leader. This type of open communication is often a resource for getting quick answers to questions or being able to streamline care for children with trauma and/or other health problems.
The integrated care aspect and novelty of child therapy can be a draw for prospective foster parents looking for a support system when embracing such a challenging role. TFC is always working to keep its foster parents afloat in uncertain waters. “As an agency we really are striving to support and work with foster parents in an ongoing process, to work hand in hand for the benefit of the child,” said Amanda Vipperman, licensing specialist and team leader. Amanda also keeps track of much of the data on how many foster parents are coming into the agency. Currently, there is an average of 10 new inquiries a month from prospective foster parents and an average of two certifications per month. Alicia Harding commented on the disparity of these numbers: “It is a long process and it feels very invasive at times… You do feel vulnerable throughout the process and I don’t think a lot of people like to feel vulnerable.” In this process, foster parents must go through background checks and be prepared to discuss in great detail: their finances, their home life, their relationship, etc. It also takes a lot of effort and time to become a licensed foster parent. The entire paperwork and interviewing process alone takes roughly 20 hours. But at its heart, all these hurdles are in place to make absolutely sure that the home is a stable and safe environment for children. Through the process, the TFC team tries very hard to make sure prospective foster parents feel comfortable and supported in an attempt to keep them moving toward their goal. “There is a huge, huge need for foster parents right now for kids in our community,” said team leader Jodi Kelley, referencing the fact that there are currently more foster kids than there are homes to put them in. There has been a push from the agency to spread this message and to encourage people in the community to reach out for more information if they have ever considered fostering.
Being a foster parent can be a wonderful and life-enriching experience for many, but there are darker realities that prospective parents should prepare for when looking into the process. Many people come to fostering with the desire to give back and help a child, “but what they don’t realize is that it takes a lot of working with what feels like a broken system,” said Alicia. “And it’s never going to be a perfect system when you take a child and traumatize them further by removing them from the only home they know.” She noted that to make the best of it and stay positive, foster parents must also practice self-care and to not take themselves too seriously. She notes that foster care looks different for everyone and it’s so important to be adaptable. “It’s hitting a moving target always, but it can definitely be done.”
Did you know: the Affordable Care Act includes Medicaid coverage for youth who “aged out” of foster care, up to age 26?
According to this report:
“Effective January 1, 2014, all states must extend Medicaid coverage to age 26 for all youth who are enrolled in Medicaid and in foster care on their 18th birthday, or enrolled in Medicaid when they aged out of foster care if over age 18.
Youth who aged out in the past several years and are not yet age 26 are covered immediately, and youth currently in foster care are covered when they age out. This provision is intended to ensure these young people can have health insurance without interruption until they are age 26, and parallels the provision currently available to many youth of coverage to age 26 on a parent or guardian’s health plan.”
If you missed today’s episode of No Limits on WFYI, don’t worry! It’s available online to listen to anytime.
The guests did a wonderful job explaining the challenges that foster youth face, as well as the types of supports that are most helpful.