A frightened young man resistant to help

*name has been changed

At just 13 years old, Joe* was referred to Guardian Angel Home because of chronic truancy and academic issues at school, and significant behavioral matters at home with his mother and step father. Though he has been temporarily living with his grandmother, Mildred*, he continued many of his negative behavior. Mildred feared that while she loved Joe and wanted to give him a safe home, she was not able to manage his behavior or provide him the help he needed to address his issues. Joe had suffered significant emotional neglect and physical abuse while growing up with his mother and stepfather and had significant attachment and had difficulties managing his emotions.

When Joe arrived at Guardian Angel he was scared, angry, defiant, and openly resistant to any treatment or therapeutic attachment with staff, as well as cooperation with the on grounds school educational program. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

For the first three months he refused to participate in therapy sessions, actively fought attending the on-grounds school, and spent almost all of his school time in the time out room as he was so disruptive in the classroom.

Joe’s behavior in his resident living hall consisted of defiance, and aggressive verbal and physical attacks of other residents and staff. Staff consistently used verbal coaching cues and behavior management techniques, as well as approved safe physical restraints when needed to help him try to begin to modify his aggression.

Joe began to slowly participate in individual therapy with his therapist Duane, as well as receiving structured consistent daily guidance, support, and behavior management from the hall residential staff. As Joe began to start to develop trust of the teachers and staff he finally began attending school and successfully remaining in the classroom for at least a half-day by his fourth month at Guardian Angel. It was discovered that in all of the chaos and missed school over the years, that Joe was not only behind in his reading level- he essentially could not read.

A plan for change develops

It became clear to the Guardian Angel hall therapist, hall supervisor, and staff that Joe had severe attachment and loss issues. Joe felt really alone, insecure, and scared and yearned for a secure and safe family relationship, but was fearful of trusting anyone as he could suffer even more emotional hurt.

The therapist and residential staff designed a specific plan to help Joe feel safe and secure and supported and to begin to learn how to trust. It became clear, as with so many other neglected and abused children, that his acting out was really a plea for help. A plea for the nurturing attention and the parenting that he had never received from his mother who had severe mental health issues, or his alcoholic stepfather who was abusive to him.

Joe’s therapist began to gradually help Joe talk about his hurt and loss, his difficulty trusting, and how he could begin to relate to others differently and manage his anxiety, fear, and anger differently.

Staff on the hall were instructed to use de-escalation language and to to give Joe support and even hugs when his behavior escalated and began to become verbally and physically aggressive. The hall supervisor, Jake, modeled this approach himself for several nights so the staff would see that it could be successful. The more staff helped Joe express his anger verbally in a different way, and provided nurturing and verbal support, the incidents of aggression and required physical restraints were reduced dramatically.

Joe ultimately had to begin to address and to face his biggest source of pain and hurt – his mother’s mental health issues, her emotional abandonment of him and her neglect of him allowing abuse by his step father. This would be a long process, but he began to start to express his feelings with his therapist and start to try to move on with his life.

As time went on, Joe’s mother stopped visiting him, and he slowly began to accept that he was never going home to her.

Hope for a future?

Staff began to talk with his grandmother and Joe about a plan for him to possibly live with her after he made more progress at Guardian Angel. His grandmother was open to the idea and worked closely with Guardian Angel staff and had staff supervised visits at the Guardian Angel facility. She then took him for weekends at her home for first shorter afternoon, and then longer overnight visits. They both received therapy together to carefully talk about the possibility new living arrangement. Joe began to trust his grandmother wanted to be there for him and that she loved him. He had previously not spent very much time with her as his life before with his mom had been so chaotic.

His grandmother was extremely happy and impressed with the changes she saw in Joe and his new self-control. The Joe she knew before was angry, withdrawn, and very hard to manage when he did visit her in the past. She let Joe and staff know that she would definitely like to try having Joe come to live in her home. In individual therapy Joe continued his grief and loss work and learned more about the effects of parents with mental illness, and its effects and impact on individuals in the family. He was also provided continued counseling on his anger and expression of his many feelings of loss and hurt.

After nine months of treatment, Joe began full weekend visits at his grandmother’s home. The visits went well after working hard together on the rules and expectations. Joe was finally getting consistent structure with the program at Guardian Angel and now at his grandmother’s home. He felt safe and secure with grandmother more each week.

Joe’s grades and behavior in the on grounds school continued to improve. He made fast progress on his reading skills and comprehension. His behavior on the unit was consistently more cooperative and he showed increased self management of his anger and more positive peer interactions with other residents in his daily living.

A new beginning

Joe was discharged to his grandmother’s home after 14 months of treatment at Guardian Angel Home.

A follow up therapy and casework support program were provided for him and his grandmother for the next several months.

He enrolled in a high school program in the Peoria community. Joe was on his way. He had taken steps to work through unthinkable neglect, hurt, and loss to begin his life anew. He learned how to trust again. He learned how to believe in himself again. He developed hope for the future.

This was a future just a short time ago that was hard to envision. But the staff at Guardian Angel Home believe in the strengths and the possibilities for a better future for each young man that walks through their doors. Joe overcame enormous grief, hurt, and pain in his life with the help of a loving family member and the supportive expert staff at Guardian Angel Home.

This is just one of the many children who come to us as a last resort and in many cases a last hope for change. Joe is one the countless stories of success and hope for the future at Guardian Angel over the past several decades and we are privileged to provide this program for years to come for those most in need in our communities in Central Illinois.

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