(Woodbury Reports is printing this as the third in a series of articles regarding the evaluation and development of residential schools and programs for children. Each article will address a program component and/or issue that is topical and critical to effective programming.)
Previous essays in this series have addressed the issues of leadership and program philosophy. This essay will describe the role and purpose of the program model. The model is what applies the philosophy. The purpose of the model is to provide the structure or vehicle through which the mission and philosophy are accomplished.
A model is “a standard that is suitable for, or worthy of imitation or comparison.” It is synonymous with “ideal” or “mold.” A model must be able to be duplicated in a wide variety of settings.
Effective models will have several characteristics in common. Typically, an effective model will address all aspects of the program schedule twenty-four hours a day, and will include all appropriate interventions. An effective model is clearly stated, and internally consistent. Models develop a language that articulates the values and roles of all staff.
It is important to have a written document outlining the overall parameters of the model. A model should be reviewed at least annually, and updated whenever policies and/or procedures are changed. The policies will include all aspects of the program, including meeting licensing requirements. The written document must be available for review by new staff and should be readily available and accessible to all staff at all times.
All Disciplines and Services are Included
The model must be designed in a manner that assures the rights of all students and staff. It should include a behavioral system outlining specific staff interventions, positive and negative consequences that can be used, and describe the methods by which youth can gain privileges. It will include the role of education, emotional growth approaches, spiritual needs of youth, recreational needs and activities, life skill activities and approaches to family systems.
Self Evaluation Systems
Good models have systems that continuously assess the success of the program and individuals. These feedback systems are often included in the program’s quality improvement and risk management plans.
Pulling It All Together
Models evolving out of the program’s mission and philosophy are developed to address the various needs of a specific population of youth. For example, a behavioral system for youth with histories of run-away, an inclination of violent attacks, or other aggressive behaviors requires a model that emphasizes structure and strict enforcement of rules. A less rigid environment better serves youth who do not present disruptive behaviors.
To illustrate, Joe, an experienced therapist, decided to develop a residential program for a group of rebellious and behaviorally disruptive boys who are identified as having significant problems with authorities, including police arrests, drug use, fighting, and runaway behaviors. Joe found this population to be of particular interest to him. He enjoyed dealing with their “in your face” attitudes and their sense of adventure. He also thought he could help them reintegrate back into the community and be productive citizens.
To continue the illustration, he thought the origins of the problems started because close supervision was lacking and these boys seldom had to work for what they got. They had a distorted view of the world and felt they were entitled. Furthermore, they were alienated from adult figures, which further justified their behaviors. Their thinking patterns were distorted as well. They began experimenting with alcohol and drugs, further reducing healthy daily habits. They dropped out of most age appropriate extra-curricular activities and were entrenched in a negative sub-culture. They had lost all sense of a positive purpose in life.
The model Joe chose to carry out his philosophical theories was an eclectic relationship-based model, coupled with a strong behavioral system, substance abuse treatment, cognitive training, and vigorous recreational activities.
He developed a set of rules and regulations to strictly monitor and manage their daily activities. Because Joe thought relationship building was critical to success, the staff was trained to set limits for the students, and to avoid criticism and power struggles at all costs. They did not engage the youth in arguments and were respectful in their interventions. Along side this respectful limit setting, the staff and youth participated together in two-hours a day of exciting and interesting physical activities like skiing, competitive sports, and rock climbing. This further aided in the development of close and positive relationships between the youth and staff.
Relying heavily upon knowledge from research, he implemented a token economy system that clearly outlined each privilege the boys had in their residential program. This system was written and followed very closely. He decided upon the 12-step model of substance abuse treatment, reasoning that when the boys “graduated” from the program, they could continue aftercare with AA meetings and sponsors to help them in their transition back home. He also selected a cognitive training model that research indicated was effective, and scheduled the boys into two hours per day of individual and group training.
As you can see by this example, Joe developed each of these components of his model to carry out his philosophical point of view, and to address the problem behaviors as he saw them. If Joe had chosen a group of adolescents with different behavior characteristics, or had a different philosophy as to the cause of the problems, then he very well might have developed a very different model.
A model is the vehicle that delivers into practice the philosophical point of view held by the leadership team. It puts into place very specific and consistent schedules, interventions, and activities that work together to achieve a positive outcome for youth, building details into the program philosophy.
Programs start by clearly identifying the specific characteristics of the youth that they enroll. They must have in mind a clear profile of these youth, and their needs, and the typical causes of their problems. They then provide an overarching philosophy of what they believe to be helpful for this population. Out of that philosophy, the program builds a model that is clearly articulated, well defined, and when closely followed, has the power to help youth become successful citizens.