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Posted: Dec 26, 2006 09:57


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by Lon Woodbury

It seems that the only thing that never changes is that things are always changing. I was reminded of this by the recent changes in our office. Former Newsletter co-editor Kathy Nussberger left our office to take on the job as managing editor of the Bonners Ferry Herald. This resulted in Kristie Campbell taking on full responsibility for the newsletter, as well as continuing her work with advertisers, the full Directory process, handling finances and our web development, as well as client sites we develop and host. It has also resulted in all of us shifting our work load to keep information flowing, and having to hire new staff. It also means that all of our contacts who have been sending press releases and articles directly to Kathy will have their future material lost unless they switch and send it directly to Kristie or myself.

Anybody who has run a business or any organization knows that constant change is the norm, and to survive, these changes must be taken in stride and adjusted to. This is especially vital in the private sector because we don't have the luxury of virtually guaranteed funding that public entities have regardless of whether they perform well, mediocre or poorly. In the private sector, we must constantly change to meet the needs of our clients and readers or they will go elsewhere.

Adjusting to constant change has been the hallmark of the successful schools and programs in the network for residential, special needs programs as well. I have seen several schools and programs that developed a unique and successful approach to working with children, and after a few years of maintaining that approach found themselves in a financial crisis caused by reduced enrollment. Those that are able to adjust to the different needs and wants of their students thrive, while those who stay with the same old ways become irrelevant or disappear. In a very real sense, any successful school or program today is considerably different than it was even just five years ago due to the need for constant change to meet changing circumstances.

The network of residential schools and programs for children with behavioral/emotional problems has also changed considerably in the 18 years since I started my educational consulting business. In November 1989, I wrote my first newsletter, a four page bi-monthly publication to share information with professionals and parents. Over time, it expanded to 32 pages each month to meet the increased demand for information and the increased amount of information available. To supplement the newsletter, I created a directory of pre-screened schools and programs based on the views of professional educational consultants. The reach and flexibility of the Internet was also harnessed to meet the information needs of an increasing number of parents and child workers. All of these changes were needed to survive by serving the needs of the parents looking for effective results to help their children in trouble.

In 1984, when I first started as Director of Admissions at Rocky Mountain Academy, a CEDU School in north Idaho, the schools in the network were few. They were strongly influenced by alternative education ideas and strongly resisted the perceived arrogance of "experts." By arrogance I mean the general tendency of the mental health industry was to go for the convenience of fitting the child-in-need to the program, rather than fitting the program to the needs of the child.

This new approach of residential healing based on a sense of community, structure, wilderness and emotional growth was astoundingly successful, and the network rapidly grew through the 1980s and 90s. It continues to grow in this first decade of the 21st century. Many concepts that were first seriously introduced into this network have since been adopted by mainstream residential mental health facilities. They include using the wilderness as a major healing tool, ropes courses, the structure that builds a community based on consequences rather than punishment, equine therapy and counselors as mentors. These elements are commonly used in even the most conservative of the mainstream mental health facilities today.

Another change has been the demand for that kind of accountability that seems to best be served by professional oversight, and staff who are trained and credentialed. Whereas 20 years ago mental health clinicians were viewed with suspicion by many of the leading schools and programs in this network, most quality schools and programs have now expanded their clinical staff to at least supplement the work done by structure, nature and mentors.

While change is necessary to meet changing needs and cultural perspectives, it also always comes as a challenge. Several current challenges will produce results that might either expand or reduce the quality of services to children.

  • The expanding clinical presence in
    schools has the potential to enable the network to better serve broader needs
    of a difficult to work with population. On the other hand, it might revert
    back to the practice of the 1970s, where too often a hospital or RTC would
    do its thing, and the children were poorly served by some highly credentialed
    people who looked more at a diagnosis than the child.

  • Expansion of large corporations buying up
    existing programs might provide greater resources for programs or schools
    to better serve their populations. Worse off, the fears might be realized
    of faceless and powerful large corporations putting success for profits ahead
    of service to the children.

  • Development of state regulatory activities
    and the proposal of federal regulation might do what its advocates wish for;
    eliminate the worst abuses that currently occur in some programs. Instead,
    it might result in centralized authorities destroying quality programs and
    make them similar to the current public system which way too often tragically
    fails children.

  • The rapid expansion of marketing based on
    finders fees (cash for kids referred by referral sources) might just be another
    and less expensive way for parents to find places for their children. More
    likely, it might result in inappropriate and unsuccessful placements to maximize
    a referral agency's cash flow, and overwhelm the efforts of professional
    trained consultants to put the needs of the children and their parents first.

Change is occurring at all levels - it always has and always will. But still, we work in a dynamic industry in exciting times. Tune in in another ten years to see how it all works out.

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