Seek first to understand, then to be understood

By Slim Nash
Director of Community Based Services, Western Kentucky

A large component of the work we do with children and families involves educating them and encouraging them to change behaviors. Whether we are teaching coping skills, basic household management or parenting, our jobs involve influencing change in the lives of our clients.

Recently, a Diversion Case Manager in the Family Preservation and Diversion Program in the Bowling Green office faced a particular challenge as she provided services to a family whose value system did not match hers. The family had been referred due to concerns related to the teenager’s and parents’ drug use, including cultivating and selling marijuana. The family not only actively used marijuana, but also relied on the income generated from selling it.

While the family initially presented with much resistance to services and much suspicion regarding our role in “the system” they distrusted, the case manager approached the situation by first seeking to understand the family’s perspective. By investing the time to learn about a value system very different from her own, the case manager both learned about the family and developed a trusting relationship with them.

As the case progressed, she was also able to share with the family information about the concerns and risks associated with continuing their behaviors. At the end of the case, the family had obtained legal employment and they were passing all drug screens.

Six months following the end of their intervention, the family reached out to the case manager to notify her that they knew it was time for their follow-up and indicate they were eager to see her. You read that correctly — the family that was once resistant and suspicious took the initiative to contact the case manager about the six-month follow-up.

The adults are still gainfully employed and their case with Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) has been closed. Seeking first to understand their situation created an environment where resistance shifted to resilience and lasting change was able to occur.

Great things are happening at Uspiritus

By Abbreial Drane
Uspiritus President/CEO

Approximately 200 people came together at our March 16 breakfast not only to renew the spirit, but also to celebrate the spirit of the youth we serve — that strength of spirit that helps them defeat the toughest opponents and come out champions. As members of the Uspiritus team, we are privileged to see, celebrate and be rejuvenated by their spirit each and every day.

It’s 2016 and children no longer live out their lives in orphanages that are fully funded and overseen by the local and faith-based communities. Children no longer work the farm to pay for and provide the food they eat. Children no longer have the option of avoiding facing the pain that brought them to our care.

Yes, they come to us in some of the same ways they did 100 years ago — abandonment, abuse, neglect, poverty, loss of a parent. But today we provide life-saving psychological and psychiatric treatments to heal the wounds and provide hope long before the next generation is impacted.

Today we need the federal, state, foundations, individuals, and faith-based partners’ financial support to care for the children we serve.

I can report to you today that great things are happening at Uspiritus.

At last year’s breakfast, I promised that we were moving forward, removing barriers and having faith.

This year, Dr. David Finke and his team are building Uspiritus’ treatment program … one that I believe all Kentucky’s children should receive if placed in residential care. One built on evidence-based practices, research driven care, and trained trauma-informed staff at all levels.

We are expanding our relationship with the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work with practicum opportunities for master’s level students.

We’ve committed to joining community members for an Office of Juvenile Justice grant that will improve the identification, treatment and follow-up of youth at risk for human trafficking.

And, we have joined the parity team to improve trauma-informed practices in the juvenile and family courts.

Additionally, with financial help from a concerned parent/donor, we have begun the work of developing a comprehensive program for youth in transition to adulthood.

Doors have been opened a little wider at The University of Louisville’s Weiskoff Center, where children can receive evaluations, providing the roadmap for our therapists.

We’ve signed a covenant with our faith-based partners, opening pathways of support through prayer, volunteering and gifts.

Uspiritus also partners with Kentucky Youth Advocates and Children’s Alliance, and seeks to partner with all children’s service providers who are headed in the right direction of putting children first.

As you read this, you may think I’m proud of myself, but I’ll tell you I probably feel like my peers must from time to time. Most days, I feel as though I haven’t done enough.

Just a few weeks ago, I headed into the cafeteria to grab some lunch. I can usually walk through the tables full of children, passing out a hug, warm smile and sweet words to each child who calls my name to warm their day. But not this day. This day, one little girl took the hug and then, with a smile and joyful heart, asked me to adopt her.

I struggled with my answer, explaining that I wanted to adopt all of the children who live here and, if I did that, I couldn’t work anymore. I explained that I have two grown children of my own and three grandchildren.

She promised to be a good girl and help me around the house and care for my grandchildren. She held my arm and hoped for my positive response. I left her with hopes that those caring for her would find her a much better home, one with parents who could care for her, letting her be a child for once.

My answer was truthful but feels a bit lacking for one of faith. I’ve been the little girl wanting someone to just love me, take me home and let me be a child. It’s real to me.

I’ll always wonder if I can do more. I’ll always question what enough is. I only know that each of us must answer that question for ourselves.

As you consider that question, please think about what you can do each day to be a most valuable player for these kids. Thank you for all you do as a most valuable player on the Uspiritus team.