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Posted: Jan 19, 2010 11:04

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Boys Town, Nebraska 68010
Doug Czyz
National Admissions Coordinator
402-990 5371

Visit by Larry Stednitz on September 09, 2009

Forty two years ago, I had the good fortune of working at Boys Town, Nebraska-my first experience working in a residential program. At Boys Town, I was a high school counselor and a volunteer football coach. Last September, I was asked to visit Boys Town's campus as an Independent Educational Consultant, providing my impressions of the organization's services.

Founded in 1917 as a private, not-for-profit home for boys, Boys Town helps children (boys and girls) and families through its Integrated Continuum of Care, which provides the right treatment, at the right time, in the right way. The Continuum offers Intensive Residential Treatment Center Services, Specialized Treatment Group Home Services, Intervention and Assessment Services, Treatment Family Services, Foster Family Services, In-Home Family Services and Child and Family Support Services.

Boys Town is located 15 miles www.west of downtown Omaha, Nebraska, on 900 well-groomed acres. The boys and girls live in one of 70 Family Homes located throughout their campus. Boys Town currently has an enrollment of more than 450 boys and girls, grades three through twelve. These Family Homes are large and would fit right in to some of the nearby Omaha neighborhoods. The residences are staffed by trained married couples called Family-Teachers who serve as surrogate parents, role models, teachers and counselors. This residential model of treatment is called the Treatment Family Home Program.

Boys Town works with many students who are several years behind in school. Some have been identified as being seriously emotionally disturbed, with relatively low academic achievement due to deprivation, learning disabilities or academic performance that has been negatively impacted by emotional overlay. Some students at Boys Town, while not developmentally disabled, are on the lower end of intellectual capabilities, while others are average to high average intellectually. Roughly 25% of the population has been identified as having learning disabilities and/or attention deficits. A wide variety of Axis I psychiatric disorders are represented, as well as personality and attachment disorders of varying degrees. Typical youth who come to Boys Town may have serious behavioral problems, experienced school failure, a history of runaway behaviors or drug and alcohol abuse, or are victims of physical or sexual abuse. Boys Town rules out acutely suicidal, actively psychotic or seriously aggressive youth.

Boys Town's residential treatment model, the Treatment Family Home Program, is a very well-researched approach. Family-Teachers apply behavioral principles to teach life skills, build appropriate relationships and help youth develop self-esteem. The program utilizes a low tolerance for inappropriate behaviors, coupled with warmth and praise for appropriate behaviors. Boys Town is clearly not a control-oriented program but rather a youth-empowerment model. Education is incorporated into each resident's life. Most are behind in academic achievement, and the school program operates with an average of one teacher to ten students. The school has adopted a reading curriculum that enables students to gain, on average, two years of improvement for every year they are in the reading program. Although Boys Town implements a psychosocial model, boys and girls may receive individual, group and family therapy as well as psychiatric services as an adjunct to the Treatment Family Home program if clinically indicated.

Boys Town has a very extensive therapeutic co-curricular program. School staff members, athletic personnel and the Family-Teachers support each other through continual communication in order to maximize the influence of each others' roles. Included in this array of offerings are boys and girls cross country, baseball, JROTC, boys and girls track, marching band, girls volleyball, boys football, girls and boys basketball, student counsel, sports summer camps, wrestling, flag corps, girls and boys soccer and cheer leading.

Boys Town takes athletics seriously as a very important teaching tool. The program utilizes an established curriculum called Competing with Character. Boys Town's use of this approach, promoting sportsmanship and good character, has earned its students an award for best sportsmanship at the Nebraska State Boys Basketball Tournament two years in a row. Boys Town has a long history of exemplary athletics. Athletic facilities surpass those of the majority of colleges and universities I have visited. These facilities include several athletic fields for a wide range of outdoor sports and an in-door field house that can accommodate a full range of athletic activities and provide the necessary equipment. The field house is large enough for an indoor football practice.

Boys Town's well-experienced leadership team consists of individuals with extensive educational backgrounds and experience at Boys Town, as well as other residential treatment centers. Their experience surpasses that of staff at the vast majority of programs around the country. The direct-care staff ratio and longevity is also excellent. For example, the Treatment Family Homes on campus have two Family-Teachers and an Assistant Family-Teacher for every eight youth, at least a 1:4 caregiver-to-youth ratio at all times. Additionally, Boys Town has a full staff of teachers, special education teachers, recreation/athletics staff and other direct-care and support staff. Many direct-care staff members have been at Boys Town for several years. It is not unusual for some to have been in the Treatment Family Home Program for more than ten years. This is an impressive strength.

An important topic in the Parent Choice Industry is "What research has been done to demonstrate outcomes?" Boys Town has been performing important, extensive research on its child- and family-care programs for more than 30 years. In 2004, the Boys Town National Research Institute for Child and Family Studies (NRI) was developed to further expand these research efforts. In 2005, the NRI began working with the Center for At-Risk Children's Services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Researchers are engaged in two federally funded research projects. Boys Town has conducted or been a partner in more than 100 research-based studies dating back to 1980.

I had the opportunity to have dinner with the boys and Family-Teachers in one of the Family Homes. At the front door, a staff member and a boy welcomed us into the home and we were greeted by all of the boys, each nicely dressed, well groomed and courteous. Each looked me squarely in the eye, shaking my hand while welcoming me to their home. All residents were present except one boy who was at football practice. The boys, as is their custom, planned and made dinner along with staff.

The boys asked me many questions without prompting from staff members. Communication skills are important for all of us, and the boys were socially accomplished in carrying on conversation at dinner. I later learned that the boys were taught to ask interesting questions, which enables them to develop this important skill. It was obvious that some struggled more than others, but they all were able to make me feel comfortable at dinner! The boys gave me a tour, during which they were coached and prompted by the Family-Teachers. I also attended part of the junior varsity football game that evening. The game was well attended, and enthusiasm was obvious. It looked and sounded like any football game across the state of Nebraska, with cheerleaders, parents, local fans, a band and well-conditioned athletes. I recently saw a news clip that applauded Boys Town's undefeated 2009 regular season.

It is interesting to walk through the Village of Boys Town, an incorporated Nebraska municipality. The campus is busy most of the day. Boys and girls walk to lunch, school or sports activities. All are well dressed and appear as youth do in any other village or town around the country. In the early evening, the boys and girls were playing outside their homes or walking to and from various activities. As night came, the campus was quiet, except for a few isolated boys and girls laughing and playing in their yard.

While Boys Town is nonsectarian, they encourage residents to explore their spiritual life. Boys Town youth come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, and the referral sources include private pays and a wide variety of public agency pays.

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