As I look forward to being home for the holidays, I also think about young people whose current life circumstances prevent them from being at home. Right here in greater Springfield, there are youth living in group care situations or in secure residential treatment. CHD operates several such programs to help youth facing issues including mental wellness, strained family dynamics and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
As these young people transition through the continuum of care, the long-term goal is generally to reunite them with families or guardians. So, whenever practicable and especially during the holiday season, the youth get opportunities to spend brief periods of time at home with loved ones.
“A successful transition back to home life is a process,” according to Katisha Woods Johnson, Director for the CHD Terri Thomas Girls Program. “You don’t want youth who are assigned to secure treatment or a therapy component in a group environment to complete their assignment, which can take weeks or months, and then just go home abruptly without an appropriate transition.”
As Katisha explains, during holiday times it is especially important for youth to be connected to their family to be part of whatever rituals they celebrate. CHD works to facilitate such opportunities for parents and their children who are in our care. Because family engagement is one of CHD’s overarching goals, we try to incorporate it into every youth’s treatment plan. Clearly each case is unique and we don’t force this upon either the youth or the families if the timing or circumstances aren’t right. When they are able to go back home, we want the transition to be as seamless as possible.
CHD also has developed internal activities to celebrate with youth who are not ready or able to leave treatment. This lets them feel connected within the program. Last year, for example, we held a big celebration for youth in the juvenile justice program. Local businesses helped by supporting the event. Suit Up Springfield provided the young men and women with business suits and career wear, and they dressed up for a family-style celebration in our gymnasium.
Importantly, family members of the youth were invited to come eat a meal with their child, on site. We allowed them to take pictures, just as people do when they celebrate the holidays in their homes. Believe it or not, for some youth this was the first family photo they’d ever taken. This event was so successful that we’re doing it again this year and plan to make it an annual tradition.
My favorite of the holidays is Thanksgiving because it’s simply about giving thanks for family times and ties. Some youth in the care of CHD do not have an appropriate home to go back to, or they are in a lock-in situation and cannot go home yet, but I believe these young people still deserve to enjoy that same sense of belonging and togetherness.
However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a joyous holiday season.