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Two young brothers find their inner voice through play therapy
Joey and Ryan were just two and four years old when they were removed from their mother’s care for their own safety. They had been living in a house of chaos and uncertainty, where they were repeatedly exposed to domestic violence and their mother faced too many of her own issues to properly care for them. Although they had very different personalities, they did share one thing in common: the anxiety they felt when they lost contact with their mother.
The two brothers were placed in kinship foster care with Nina, their mother’s cousin. The goal was to reunify the boys with their mother as quickly as possible, but it would take some time while she got the help she needed to work through her issues and get her life back together. Although Nina provided a loving and supportive environment, she had her hands full with two boys who had been living in a household where there were few rules or routines, were separated from their mother, and traumatized by what they had witnessed.
Joey, an outgoing bundle of energy, adjusted more easily, perhaps because of his young age. Ryan, the more reserved one, began to have temper tantrums, especially in school. He would scream and cry, throw himself on the floor or hurl toys across the room; he also had trouble transitioning from one activity to the next. Things were not easy at home either, and both Nina and his teachers realized that he needed special support.
Through The Home’s Preschool Outreach Program, Ryan began to receive play therapy. During weekly sessions at school, he spent time in the playroom with a clinician named Kelly, surrounded by a dollhouse, animal and people figurines, games and books. Kelly’s initial focus was on developing a trusting relationship with Ryan; given his history, it was not surprising that he had trouble trusting others, especially adults.
As the rapport between them grew, Kelly was able to use the toys and other creative activities to help Ryan communicate his thoughts and feelings. He loved animals and would gravitate towards his favorite animal figurines. Certain themes began to develop, often involving two animals fighting each other: big vs. small; evil vs. good. Play therapy gave him a way to express what was too big and difficult to put into words, especially for a four-year-old. The safer he began to feel, the more willing he was to share what was bundled up inside.
Ultimately, Joey was also referred to the Preschool Outreach Program. His way of coping with his feelings reflected his personality; his energy turned into aggression, fighting with Ryan at home and getting into trouble at school. His behavior could no longer be blamed on the terrible twos. When he began to work with his clinician Meg, he would talk non-stop for the 45-minute session, but lacked the language skills to verbalize his emotions. Play therapy gave him a healthy way to act out and work through his anger, and gave Meg the opportunity to model positive and nurturing behavior.
In addition to working directly with the boys, Kelly and Meg also supported Nina, giving her strategies to manage the boys’ behavior at home; provided consultation and training to the teachers at the preschool; and stayed in contact with their social worker at the Department of Children and Families.
A few months ago, Joey and Ryan were reunited with their mother and are now living with her again. It took almost two years, but they are both in a much better place, as is she. Ryan rarely has tantrums, has bonded with his teachers, and loves to tell jokes. Joey is friendly, obsessed with trains, and also likes to make people laugh.
Meg and Kelly continue to have play therapy sessions with the boys each week, providing a consistency that played a major role in easing this transition. In addition to their work in the school, they are doing family therapy, helping the mother to rebuild a relationship with her sons and become a family again.
Ryan and Joey are a reminder of just how much children can overcome, and the value of play, which gave them a way to heal. Thank you for supporting The Home’s work and helping us to make stories like this possible.
February 2013 marked my 10th anniversary of serving as President and Chief Executive Officer of The Home for Little Wanderers. My senior staff and I took the opportunity to look back over the last decade at the many changes in our external environment: the business of child welfare, the local and national political landscape, the US economy, and the composition of today’s workforce.
It was also a decade of change inside our organization. By mid-2003, we had completed mergers with three other local agencies, which brought us many advantages, but also some challenges. With 32 programs and more than 800 employees, our job was to inspire a single identity with one purpose, that of helping children and families thrive and succeed.
A talented senior leadership group and the accomplishments of hundreds of staff enabled us to put in place many organizational and programmatic enhancements that have solidified our reputation as one of the most well-run, respected and valued behavioral health organizations in the Commonwealth.
We launched several innovative programs for specific underserved populations. Waltham House — a safe haven for young people identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — was the first program of its kind in New England and only the third in the nation. Academic Support for College & Life, Roxbury Village and Young Adult Resource Network, are all groundbreaking programs to help youth aging out of state systems of care who have few, if any, supports and resources.
In response to the Commonwealth's decision to move away from residential services wherever possible (our mainstay for almost two hundred years), we increased our community-based work. We are now the largest provider of mental health services in the Boston school system. In addition, we were awarded two Community Service Agency contracts, establishing programs for children and youth with serious emotional disturbance under the new Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative.
We trained all staff in a consistent clinical practice model (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), created a wellness initiative for the children and families we serve, improved the educational program in our special education schools, and developed a culture of measurement to answer the question "Are we helping and how do we know?"
One thing that has not changed during the last ten years is the unwavering loyalty and generosity of our many friends who believe in The Home and its mission. I was impressed by this support when I first joined the agency and it remains an inspiration to me every day. The Home’s work goes on and I am honored to enter my second decade at its helm.
Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Ph.D.
An innovative program helps to prepare our youth for independence
Leaving "the nest" can be difficult for the average teenager. Making the transition to adulthood is often even more daunting for young people in The Home's care. Many of them have had difficult childhoods, they struggle with behavioral and educational challenges, and lack family support and guidance. For some of them, college is simply not an option. They need to find a job, but have limited skills and resources.
The Home recognizes that preparing these youth for employment is a key component to their future success. Through its Pathways to Vocation program, The Home is teaching “hands on skills,” rarely emphasized in special education or public schools. The program was launched at our Southeast Campus last year, and now serves as an agency-wide model. Youth are exposed to a range of options including woodworking, carpentry, horticulture, health/fitness, technology, and art.
The youth at Southeast Campus have been especially busy in the woodshop, building everything from bird houses and benches to cutting boards, clocks and even a shed! They've had the opportunity to sell their items at a local farmer’s market, while simultaneously learning the basic elements of how to run a business including budgeting, marketing, and customer service. The goal is to turn this into a full-fledged entrepreneurial venture, providing these youth with real world experience of running a mini business.
It is donors like you who enable us to enhance and expand programs such as this through your generous support of The Home. We hope this is just the beginning of a robust and innovative vocational training program that will give our youth the self-esteem and specific skills they need to find rewarding employment.
The Home’s employees are an invaluable part of fulfilling our mission and goals. Every day, our skilled staff of more than 600 works to bring hope and change into the lives of the children and families we serve. The level of commitment and talent across the agency is reflected in the recipients of this year’s Employee of the Year Awards: Stephen Welcome, Robert MacEachern, Shannon Lee, Josh Martin, Vivian Soghomonian, Justin Cox, Siobhan Henry, Lindsey Baughman-Dalton, Joe LoDato and Lisa Beechinor (not pictured). The awardees included not only clinicians and counselors who work directly with the children and families, but also those “behind the scenes,” a facility manager, a trainer and staff in Program Operations and Human Resources. These employees capture the spirit of The Home’s workforce, demonstrating qualities such as compassion, perseverance, and dedication to the children and families in our care.
One 17-year-old at The Home recently got a firsthand look into the world of sports broadcasting thanks to some local journalists! Edgar spent the day at WEEI with site editor Rob Bradford, met some of the station’s well-known personalities, sat in the control room and watched a show being produced. Rob then surprised Edgar with a visit to the NESN complex where he was given a full tour, including the blue screen studio featuring the famous NESN sports desk.
Even before the lockout ended, the Boston Bruins were back in the game to help The Home. From behind-the-scenes staff to the Ice Girls and Mascot Blades, the Team supported holiday events and recently hosted Valentine’s Day and National Nutrition Month activities. Player Patrice Bergeron sponsored 12 lucky kids to attend their first Bruins game and player Gregory Campbell stopped by Harrington House!
Waltham House, our group home for GLBT youth, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a fantastic bash at Club Café in Boston's South End. The fundraiser’s attendees enjoyed a night of music, dancing and a silent auction. Thank you to the many people who made this evening a success, including event chair Jay Wayshak, the committee, sponsors, special guests and Club Café.