Insight From Our Clinical Director: Part 3
Interviewer: So you were part of the design of this (Family Center), which I love. I remember the meetings when we would sit down with the architect, and lay out the dream for what this space would look like. Can you talk about some of the pieces that you advocated for, that you were happy to see in the final plan?
Jamie: The smile on my face is indicative of the fact that this is something that I would love to be a part of, as part of my experience here with the agency. Obviously I love the work, which has kept me here, but this is really exciting to me. When I thought about it, the building itself had probably three very specific kind of components to it. One is there is such rich history, when I first came here, I was amazed by the history of the agency. I was fortunate to be here to celebrate the 100th anniversary. And so there’d be a place where family members and staff people could celebrate this same history. It is unique.
Interviewer: How many years have you been here?
Jamie: I have been here more than 20, so a fifth of the entire agency’s history, I’m part of the history and very proud to be a part of that history.
The other component was to have a place for admissions. Every young person that we admit has to go through a series of meetings, assessment and consent. You know we work in a legalistic system as well. And to do that in a welcoming place for the families, where you’re not again, sitting in a small conference room with a stack of papers, so there’s a little privacy… I envision this to be a place that is a little bit separate from the rest of this building, and to be a place that showed well. So that the first impression a young person and the family would have would be this new, open, multipurpose kind of center where we could bring them in, make them comfortable, and then do the business that we have to do in order to admit them into the facility.
The third part really was a working space that included a place where families could have a meal. Finding space that works well for family members and that also works well for some of the requirements we have for supervision, is challenging. A large kind of canteen area where multiple families could come and visit and could be supervised by one staff person would be great. Oftentimes we lose the opportunity to observe valuable interactions because of closed doors. I also envision a play area for kids, adequate restroom facilities and changing areas for young kids. We kind of forget that, going back to how we started this conversion, that every young person that we have here has family. And that may be a biological mom and dad, an adoptive mom and dad, a foster family, an adult sibling, a great maternal grandmother, grandparents, you name it. And whoever that is, we’re going to reach out to them. And so the vision that I thought, would be this welcoming kind of place that had adequate space to do all of these things.
The other part of the work is the clinical work and I’m fortunate to have some talented therapists on my staff… to be able to provide them with private space that’s away from the fray, where they can work with families, and then even potentially as we look to expand the kind of work we do, provide them with office space. You know I have a number of licensed independent practitioners who could do additional work teaching and offering counseling. We are nationally recognized, and this facility would allow us to start to share that work with this local community, and to bring in other facilities and do trainings ourselves. There are a number of state initiatives that we’re at the forefront of currently, and so a training space, both for the staff here and for others outside of our community. That really was and is my vision and I think it’s a critically important part of our growth and development. And again, as I’ve said, we’ve tripled the number of young people that we serve without any increase in office space or capacity.
This project would allow us to do our work more effectively. We would provide this unique state-of-the-art, one of-a-kind combination of history and culture with warm, welcoming and adequate space for clinical supervision and places to do group that are separate enough that it affords for some confidentiality, but open enough that you can do other things like host family events. For example, once a month we try to host our families for an event on campus, and again, based on the size of some of our living units, it’s easier for some of our “outpost living units”, which are further up our campus… but for the main McNally cottages, those events happen only a couple times a year because the space is very, very small.
Just the other day I was in a team meeting and a mother was in tears and said to me she really wanted to be a part of a support group….to be able to offer our families that opportunity to work with us, to partner with us, and to come to a space where they could hold a monthly support meeting in a place like this away from the rest of the staff, where they could have conversations about what it’s like to have a young person in care, what the impact has been on them and their lives, and what they’ve learned would be incredible. And what’s exciting to me is that because at any given moment, the snapshot of the facility is that our young people and our families are in different places in their healing. The families that are new to us would have an opportunity to learn certain things, while a family that is deep into the heart and hardest part of the work - which is where they’re trying to reconnect or heal old traumatic issues within the family - find new ways of relating and parenting. We also would then have boys and families who have made significant progress and the young men are close to completing their treatment program. Very few of our young people or families have had very positive transitions, so to teach that part as well and to have the opportunities to do so in a kind, teaching, historical, working space that’s family friendly, young person friendly, sibling friendly, and also meets the criteria that we’re beholden to from our state and license and contract… to me is just the ideal circumstance.
Interviewer: Can you speak about the interns that you have here and the relationships that we have with the universities.
Jamie: I’ve been very fortunate and I’m a big believer that to be effective in this work, there’s a teaching part. Once you have your degree, the real hard work starts. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an affiliation for many, many years with Rutgers University, Seton Hall, NYU, Fordham. We bring graduate students here from these institutions and they will do a clinical internship for academic credit with us. And currently, of the 15 people on my staff, 5 have been former graduate students. For us to have space where the students can get the experience of doing work, but they can do it in a place that is still able to be supervised relatively easily, recognizing that they have some limits to their ability to problem solve and trouble shoot, but to have the space for this to happen naturally is ideal.
The other is really just space for therapy. We currently run our therapy groups in space that is not occupied. What does that mean? That means we’ll use the living units, the living rooms, we’ll use a classroom on afterschool hours… to have a separate dedicated space where we can run treatment groups, where we can have family therapy sessions, where the family therapy room really looks more like your living room than it does like an office space, which has really always been my vision. To have space where paid employees, licensed people, clinical interns, staff people, nurses can go and mingle with families in a different atmosphere… to me is just something that is unique across the board. I have had the opportunity to go and see other facilities and there is no facility like ours. Every day I’m so grateful for the resources we have, and yet I’m a realist to know that we could do better and that this is an example of us doing better and creating a new unique resource that doesn’t exist anywhere in the state of NJ... that would continue to make us the preeminent treatment provider in the state and would open us up to other opportunities for outpatient work, for bringing in the local community, and providing education, for example, for the local high school. We get numerous requests, myself and my staff, to speak to different issues. Issues of, unfortunately, suicide in a local high school, or drug use or parenting, or a specific diagnostic kind of issue. To be able to bring groups from the outside here into the space like this, a showpiece as it were, would be great. Additionally, the networking that would come from that, I tend to think the sky would be the limit for the impact we could have.
Interviewer: Thank you Jamie.To be continued…