Insight into youth recovery and remote learning during COVID-19

Teenage boys in society today face their own unique struggles. When coupled with dual mental health and substance use issues, these same struggles can become even more consuming.

At CHD’s Goodwin House, a residential addiction treatment center that serves boys aged 13-17, residents are able to take a step back from their everyday lives and the situations that may have led them to the program, practice healthy coping strategies, and embark on their path to recovery.

Staffed with a program director, clinical director, master’s-level clinicians, educational and aftercare coordinators, and recovery specialists, Goodwin House fosters a supportive home-like environment for each resident during their up-to-90-day treatment through individual, group and family therapies; educational workshops; and school and vocational guidance.

While residents are at Goodwin House their treatment goals focus equally on mental health and substance use. Each day, members of the program’s clinical team run groups that cover topics ranging from life skills and psychoeducation to anger management and recovery and more. Staff also help residents access community-based groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) either in person or, amid the pandemic, via Zoom. Once residents complete their treatment, Goodwin House’s aftercare specialists work to help each boy transition back into their living environment and provide continued support afterward.

When it comes to gender- and age-specific programs like Goodwin House, Program Director Daniella Grimaldi explains that having a program focused on the individual needs of teen boys can be critical in providing very focused and specialized support to each resident.

“The ways that treating adolescents in recovery is different from treating adults is that teens need more guidance and structure, and above all, they need dependability and people who are going to stand up and advocate for them when they can’t say what they need to say,” Grimaldi said. “Though adults need this advocacy too, many teens don’t have everything they need to say readily accessible, and sometimes really struggle to speak up about what they need in terms of support.”

“For teen boys in recovery, we’re working to help them through the most difficult times in their life,” Grimaldi added. “Adolescence is very challenging already, especially when you’re a teen boy who feels like they need to keep everything that goes on with them under wraps. And it becomes even more difficult when they struggle with substance use.”

With school now back in session virtually for all residents, Goodwin House staff have been extra focused on providing educational support to those served, most of whom have never been exposed to online schooling. At first, this shift created a lot of anxiety for residents, many of whom early on did not think they’d be able to succeed learning in this virtual format.

“The ways that treating adolescents in recovery is different from treating adults is that teens need more guidance and structure, and above all, they need dependability and people who are going to stand up and advocate for them when they can’t say what they need to say.”

Daniella Grimaldi, Program Director, Goodwin House

Before remote learning, residents were able to experience more social interaction with their classmates and teachers. Now, residents in school via Zoom are required to keep their cameras off to help protect the privacy of their fellow residents. Though in the best interest of those served, it also creates a noticeable distance between residents and their classmates.

“My staff have done a really tremendous job getting them all feeling more comfortable about virtual school,” Grimaldi said. “Our first week, we each took a client and sat with them for the entire day during school to help them adjust. This wasn’t something any of them are used to. I have to give everyone a lot of credit: residents are doing a really great job adjusting, and staff have been instrumental in supporting them.”

Recovery-centered programs and groups have been taking place in the evening once remote learning is finished for the day. In addition to regular groups, Goodwin House also organizes guest speakers and events for residents, and creates opportunities for in-house “commitments,” an activity where boys and staff alike can each share different personal stories as a way of recognizing shared experiences and lifting one another up.

“The boys that we currently have at Goodwin House do a fabulous job working together to support each other. They make sure they can be a person of reason for one another and they go to staff when they need the help,” Grimaldi said.

Goodwin House is an insurance-based program that receives funding by the Mass. Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) and the Dept. Of Public Health (DPH). Though most insurances are accepted, Goodwin House does not send away anyone who is referred, including those without insurance. With an open referral system, anybody can refer a teen boy in need, including the Dept. Of Children and Families, parents, parole officers, schools and teens themselves.

Learn more about Goodwin House.