June 18, 2018
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Training begins for at-risk kids program

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

MILBRIDGE, Maine — A group of about 40 child care workers and community members from Hancock and Washington counties received initial training Wednesday for a new program designed to decrease the number of Maine children placed in residential care programs.

Wraparound Maine is a state initiative that has adopted the philosophy and process of the Wraparound National Initiative to work with youth ages 5 through 18 who have serious emotional or behavioral problems and are either already in a residential treatment program or at high risk of that type of out-of-home placement.

The state Office of Child and Family Services has allocated $4 million to implement the program throughout the state and already has Wraparound programs operating in six locations.

Catholic Charities Maine was awarded the contract to administer the program in Washington and Hancock counties. That program is part of the second round of program development, which also includes sites in Kennebec and Somerset counties and in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Wraparound is a family-driven, team-based process for planning and implementing services and supports. Instead of relying solely on state agency, case management treatment, the Wraparound program combines the expertise of trained agency workers with the local support of community and family members to create a team that works with the child and family.

In many existing programs, much of the support service is professionally driven, relying on professionally drawn plans based on prescribed services, said John VanDenBerg, a psychologist and a pioneer and innovator in the Wraparound process, who led the training session Wednesday.

“We offer the services we have, rather than the services they need,” he said. “That can be helpful. But Wraparound individualizes the program, and we look at where it fits your family. The family develops the plan with the support of people they trust.”

It is not an easy process, VanDenBerg said, and requires a great deal of commitment from the agency and community team members. Those team members represent a variety of agencies — often including law enforcement — as well as mental health professionals, educators and other community members along with the child, parents or caregivers, and other family members.

The team meets regularly to develop, implement and monitor a plan for services and support that is based on the prioritized needs identified by the family.

According to Paul Vestal, director of children’s services for Catholic Charities, the people attending Wednesday’s training session represented all of those fields and others, including a banker and a lawyer. The group will receive ongoing training as trainers and coaches and will help to develop individual teams in communities in the two counties.

According to VanDenBerg, the process works for a number reasons: It allows the family to identify its priority needs, and works with them to identify ways to meet those needs; it builds “self-efficacy,” meaning the family learns to do things on their own with support; it builds on those natural supports that exist in a community; and it promotes integration between the family and community and among the various agencies that often work with the same child or family.

Although VanDenBerg acknowledged that the process is very hard to do, it is worth it. Areas around the country where the process has been used have shown reductions in residential treatment population, in psychiatric inpatient placements and in juvenile correction commitments.

That fits in well with the goals at Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services at the Department of Health and Human Services, according to Frances Ryan, the office’s director of special projects and the Wraparound Maine director.

The state has allocated $4 million for the Wraparound Maine project which began in 2007 in Aroostook, Penobscot, Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc, Cumberland and York counties. During the past several years, Ryan said, OCFS leadership has focused on reducing the number of children living in “out-of-home” placement situations.

“The focus of the leadership and the director has been that kids have a family and a community,” Ryan said. “Wraparound enhances and supports that effort.”

Since 2004, the number of children in Maine Foster Care who are placed in residential treatment has declined from 747 youths to 245. Ryan said that, although results from the Wraparound programs already in operation are still being tabulated, those programs are having results.

“We’re definitely seeing kids who have been placed in long-term residential treatment out of state coming back to their community and back home,” she said.

Representatives from WINGS, which administers the program in Penobscot and Aroostook counties, also said they have seen remarkable results in the short time the program has been in effect.

‘We’ve seen a great number of kids return from out-of-home placement,” said Kelly Osborn, a mobile specialist with WINGS in Penobscot County. “I think the biggest key is that the parents feel empowered.”

According to Ryan, the OCFS expects to work with approximately 200 children and their families at any given time through the Wraparound program. Twenty of those children are in Washington and Hancock counties.

For more information about the Wraparound program in Washington and Hancock counties, contact Rebecca Thistlewood, rthistlewood@ccmaine.org, 255-4116.

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