Recently, a young girl was referred to Excelsior that was struggling in many areas of her life – diagnosed with Clinical Depression at just 14 years old, she was failing most of her classes, pursuing unhealthy relationships with older men, abusing drugs and alcohol and self-harming almost daily.
Naturally the girl’s mother, Tammi*, was scared and willing to do anything to get her daughter the help she needed. But Tammi also recognized something deeper. She understood that it wasn’t just her daughter that needed help. After a few months of treatment, Tammi recalled: “the family was completely torn apart, the whole family, it wasn’t just her. When we started with Excelsior, my first thing was fix us, not just her.”
The reality is that families are interconnected – it’s impossible to completely separate the child’s issues from that of the family. Regardless of the challenges a child may face, and regardless of how stable and loving a family may be, children don’t struggle in silos. And they don’t recover in silos either. Families recover together.
This is why family preservation is the foundation of Excelsior’s programs. Too often in situations like the one described above, the child is assumed to be only one who needs help. When this happens, they are often removed from the home to receive intensive services within a residential treatment facility or elsewhere. While some cases are so severe the out-of-home placement is the only option, Excelsior strives to keep this from happening.
It has been demonstrated time and again that if we can prevent out-of-home placement (assuming the home environment is still safe for the child), the youth has a better chance for long-term success. As such, Excelsior works to improve the mental health and well-being of the entire family system, not only of the child.
This is how family preservation works – by being family-focused, rather than solely child-focused. Involving the entire family in the treatment process helps them learn and grow as a unit. We make the youth and the family the experts of their own situation, which not only addresses problems more effectively, but leads to increased commitment and accountability of the family members.
Addressing Challenges at Home
To truly involve the entire family in the treatment process, we must work with families in their homes and communities. This simplifies learning and behavior change for family members – rather than talking about a situation in hindsight, unhelpful behaviors and family conflicts are addressed when and where they naturally occur, providing valuable insight for everyone involved. As children and parents gain more self-awareness, they can begin to recognize challenges before they escalate and implement healthy and adaptive coping strategies to avoid conflict and crisis.
Plus, providing services in-home gives our therapists greater insight into the core issues affecting the family, which leads to the development of healthier home and family environments.
Early Intervention to Build Resiliency
It’s important to note that within the model of family preservation, dedicated focus is placed on early intervention and preventative strategies that build youth and family resiliency. It’s not enough to address the easily recognized problems, we must also work to reduce potential risk factors and enhance protective factors. In other words, we must minimize triggers that lead to problem behaviors while fostering individual strengths and support resources. This combination helps build resiliency so the youth and family are better equipped to handle challenging situations in the future.
Considerable emphasis is placed on enhancing natural supports that will aid the family after the paid professionals are gone. Because as much as we love our families, the aim is always to help them become self-sufficient so that they no longer need to rely on us!
To Sum It All Up
Above all else, Excelsior’s focus is on keeping families together. By enhancing safety within the home environment, improving relationships between family members and creating sustainable community support, we minimize the need for out-of-home placement. With a focus on early intervention and building resiliency, we preserve families and empower them to foster the skills and resources needed to thrive.
*Name has been changed for confidentiality