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Opinion & Essays - Sept, 2000 Issue #73 

Home Visits
Kristie Vollar

[The author is the daughter of Woodbury Reports publisher Lon Woodbury and his wife Denise. Kristie graduated from the Explorations Wilderness Assessment Course in Montana in 1993, and Mission Mountain School, also in Montana. Her presence at Woodbury Reports is a demonstration of the positive relationship that has evolved since she has returned from the above-mentioned programs.]

When adolescents have lived in a secure setting for a year or more, and have been working on the issues that led to their placement, most have gained several tools they need to continue their progress outside of this safe environment, and are ready to try these tools back in their home environment. Home visits are an integral part of many of the special purpose schools for struggling teens, and function as a test to determine whether or not they will be able to continue their progress back in the “real world.” It is a transition tool used to find which issues need to be addressed and require further work. 

Before adolescents can go on a home visit, they must be in a good position emotionally and should feel confident that they will be able to continue progress once they are back in their home setting. In my experience, the kids who were eligible to go on a home visit also had to create a home visit plan. The home visit plan consisted of a list of past behaviors and issues that are not appropriate, or acceptable behaviors for the child to engage in while at home. They could range from isolating themselves in their room, attention seeking behaviors, seeking out past “friendships” and hanging out with that crowd, to issues like drug abuse. Since these may be some of the behaviors that helped the parents decide that the child “at-risk” needed to have an intervention in the first place, they are the behaviors to be avoided. The home visit plan usually lists several suggestions or consequences, just in case the child slips back into old behaviors. One suggestion for the adolescents is to use tools they have been learning in the program in order to work through the issues that arise at home. Another suggestion is to sit down and have a family meeting each evening to check in on how everyone is doing. Generally, adolescents who have made enough progress to go on a home visit are able to be open and honest about how they feel and what is going on with them. Sometimes, however, they become overwhelmed by their success or by the possibilities that are now available that have been denied them for so long, that they begin to keep secrets. These secrets take a lot of energy to maintain and the child will slip, or as it is sometimes called, “relapse” into old addictions or behaviors. If the child were to “relapse” into old behaviors like fighting with their family or by staying out late with old friends at a party, or engaging in sexual activities, the consequence that would be used would be to immediately send the child back to the school for more work on those issues. Even after a scheduled return to the school, the child and staff determine which issues arose while at home and they begin to address them. 

Without home visits, there really is no way of knowing how adolescents will react or behave once they go home permanently. They may feel overwhelmed and slide straight back into old patterns, they may slip gradually, or maybe not all. In any case, home visits are a good tool to gain insight about how they will respond to the home setting, while they still have access to the tools and support they need to address whatever issues may arise. 

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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