I spent the week in northwest Montana and the north Idaho Panhandle in search of small, safe and cost effective programs for troubled youth. This author admits to frequently referring families and youth to programs that have all the "bells and whistles," and long histories of stability. Caution is always a good principle when referring families to programs. On the other hand, one has to be careful not to overlook new, small and/or uniquely creative programs for our families. After all, some of the largest and most effective programs have grown up through the efforts of good people who began their mission in their own homes or modest campuses. I learned long ago that effective programs are often started by people who have a dream and the talent to carry that dream out.
One can only imagine the remoteness and serenity of the Wardle Home as you drive down a narrow, winding dirt road off Highway 95 in the northern reaches of the Idaho Panhandle. The family home, an attractive and functional 3,000 square foot home built by the Wardles, serves as the base for their work with a maximum of four young women, (generally of high school age or post high school). The young women share the home with Theresa Wardle, her husband Patrick, and their two-year-old daughter Maureen. Patrick is a local builder and clearly has the skill and talent to build comfortable homes. His competency provides a good role model as the home's "father." He also fully participates in the running of their home and working with the girls on various projects.
For example, he works with the girls on art projects, gardening, feeding of the family's dogs, goats and chickens. I was unable to meet Patrick, but Theresa shared with me that Patrick is more "black and white," while she was more prone to being "gray." She said this combination was a positive aspect for their home because there are times when both perspectives are needed. Maureen, a precocious two-year-old, gets to be the young women's little sister and does an excellent job.
Theresa, a licensed clinical social worker, brings with her the personality and clinical training to relate to and understand the various issues facing young women today. She has extensive experience working with a well respected program in the State of Montana called the Missoula Youth Homes, and has served as a therapist for both Rocky Mountain Academy and Northwest Academy of CEDU fame. I found her training, demeanor and maturity well suited for working with young women. Through these experiences, she brings an understanding of personal and clinical needs necessary for their girls. She strives to empower the girls to recognize their own strengths and achieve their goals.
The Wardle Home would have to be considered the quintessential "mom and pop" program. The program is deliberately small and conducive to developing positive relationships with the girls, thought to be the most important healing ingredient. Theresa recognizes that assuming the role as a therapist can be counterproductive since she operates as a surrogate mother, serves as a mentor, coach and a listening ear for the girls at all hours of the day. It is for that reason the girls have a therapist in the community who does individual and family therapy. However, Theresa brings with her the training to recognize the need for structure, consistency and the power of "normalcy" in these young women's lives. Her clinical background also provides an understanding of the importance of working consistently with the parents and other professionals in designing treatment plans for the girls. Theresa occasionally brings in extra help to allow her to take a break, and as she says, "give the girls a break from me." Fortunately for the Wardles, the demise of CEDU in this area allows for ample well experienced staff that along with Theresa provides strong female roll models. I had the pleasure of working with one of these staff when I was the director of Boulder Creek Academy. She is a credentialed teacher and an expert at creatively bringing the best out in her charges.
A family based model recognizes that it is critical to reach out into the community to provide the variety of services and activities for healthy living. The girls are fully integrated into the community, attend the local schools and participate in a variety of North Idaho activities, including skiing, hiking, horseback riding and a myriad of water sports. This model of care has a strong therapeutic premise that community integration is vital to personal growth and is equally important as traditional therapies. The girls can earn enough trust to have the privilege of having their own car.
The girls enrolled into the Wardle family need a nurturing environment and have various emotional, behavioral and/or relationship difficulties. I spent time talking with two of the three young women currently with the Wardle family and found them bright and engaging. One girl is planning to be with the family for the next two years while she completes high school. The other young lady is returning to her home in Kansas, anticipating enrolling in a four year college. She is excited, yet apprehensive about re-integrating into her hometown. The other is anticipating how it will be for her to be back in the public school system. In referring a girl to the Wardle's, I am under the impression that diagnosis is of little value, but rather an appropriate girl would be in the learning stages of using new skills to manage anger, impulsiveness, self harm issues and show an interest in taking the next step in their lives.
They are licensed as a foster home by the State of Idaho.