For more than 100 years, Louisiana Methodist Children's Home has rescued "lost" children.
Today, the number of children in need of care in Louisiana is as great as ever. With recent changes in state law, the Children’s Home has willingly taken on the much more difficult task of caring for the state’s most neglected and abused youth. This required a transition into a level of service known as “Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility” or PRTF. The Children’s Home has spent millions of dollars to upgrade its campuses and hire additional staff to meet the PRTF standards of care.
More than half of the children are privately placed with the remainder placed by the state. Medicaid covers 85-95% of the cost of PRTF services. Roughly 70% of the facility’s entire budget goes to helping the 280 children who rotate in and out of the 126 beds located in the home’s three campuses, located in Ruston, Sulphur and Mandeville.
Recently, the Children’s Home in Ruston took in a child with more than 55 foster home or treatment facility placements in the last four years. He had used up all the “grace” provided in the system. After he was placed in the home, clinical and residential staff worked diligently with the child to create appropriate attachments; build emotional regulation skills; and provide an environment where he feels wanted and loved. The staff also addressed his chronic behavioral and diagnostic issues. “Imagine what this young man’s progress could have been if we had been his first or tenth placement, rather than his 56th,” said Patrick Blanchard, Director of Development and Public Relations for the home.
The Louisiana Methodist Children’s Homes operate with one direct care staff member per three children all day, all year round. The residents receive medical care in the campus clinic; benefit from intensive emotional and psychological therapy; are educated by attending an on-campus school; receive snacks and three meals a day, just like any other child. Recreational opportunities abound, and the children also enjoy the holidays with the blessing of donated gifts at Christmas. Weekday devotions and Sunday chapel are offered, as well as regular Bible study.
“We are keeping children safe from using drugs, being abused, running the streets and committing crimes,” said Dr. David Wheeler, Vice President of Clinical Services. “Over time, outcome measures indicate a significant improvement in children from when they came into treatment to when they leave. It is always encouraging when youth keep in touch after discharge to let the staff know how they are progressing in life.”
To address the growing needs of Louisiana’s children, the Children’s Home is building a new campus on 126 acres east of Hammond, La. “We will incorporate the best of what we do on all three campuses and place an Outdoor Wilderness Learning (OWL) Center right next door to the residential halls, so all of our children will take full advantage of the transformational experiences that therapeutic recreation can bring,” said Blanchard.
With its Family Counseling Center and state-wide “sister,”Family Plus Counseling Services, the agency helps children and families heal the hurt that is tearing them apart. “We have highly skilled and licensed therapists who specialize in addiction, anger management, trauma, couples and family therapy,” said Blanchard.
Serving a 12-parish and county area in North Louisiana and South Arkansas, the Family Counseling Center offers three specialized areas of care: Children’s Services Program, Trauma Recovery Program and the Family Relationship Program. With 164 years of combined licensed experience, the Family Counseling Center is also a vital partner in the Lincoln Health Foundation’s Mental Health Initiative, which provides mental health care to the underserved. It also plays a supportive role with the National Guard, first responders and churches to strengthen understanding of mental health issues.
Family Plus Counseling Services honors the Children’s Home’s mission statement through its outreach to the congregations of the Louisiana Annual Conference. Its success is measured through outreach to United Methodist churches across the state. By creating individualized services for these congregations, Family Plus is offering education, early intervention and prevention in communities throughout Louisiana.
Rev. Warren Clifton, pastor of Faith Crossing United Methodist Church in Walker, recently said, “There’s a great need for mental health counseling in the Livingston Parish area, and very few places have it. With Methodist Family Plus Counseling Services, I can make a pastoral referral for a church member for an initial counseling session at no charge. The church member and the Methodist Family Plus counselor talk about the problem and decide on future sessions, and whether insurance is available or whether the church member can pay on a sliding scale.”
Family Plus Counseling Services also provides community outreach programs such as a recent presentation at Ingleside United Methodist Church by Mamie Moses, PLPC. The “Self-Care for Caregivers” program helped participants identify themselves as caregivers and recognize their need for stress management tools. One visiting participant thought the program was so informative and enjoyable that she asked, “How can we get similar training at our church?”
The agency’s statewide Methodist Foster Care gives very troubled children safe and supportive homes to live in while their broken homes are sorted out or until a new, wholesome permanent home is found.
As an example, with the help of the Monroe office of Methodist Foster Care, a 15-year-old has found a home where one of her sisters could join her. Her original home was almost uninhabitable, and she shared a room with her two sisters and a brother. She lived a life of poverty and bounced through three regular foster homes and two other therapeutic foster homes before being invited into “Mrs. T’s” home. She calls Mrs. T “momma,” and says she is “lucky to have her.” Now a straight-A student, she is Harvard or Yale bound, according to a child placement worker at the home.
The Outdoor Wilderness Learning (OWL) Center helps families experience the God-given joys of life without drugs, alcohol or other destructive influences. Whether it’s the challenge course, horses, canoes, bunkhouse, family lodge, conference center or just wandering the beautiful 800-acre wilderness campus, the OWL Center offers one transforming opportunity after another.
“I worked with a 16 year old boy who had problems with authority. His mom wanted him back home, but each home visit ended with tears and a return to the Children’s Home. During individual Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) sessions, he worked with an orphaned foal, and learned the importance of managing his temper – and what it was like to have something not respect his authority. During an equine family session, he and his mom were able to get to the root of their problems, and began to make progress. Shortly afterwards, he went home - and this time he stayed home. His therapist felt that the Equine Assisted Learning sessions were the turning point in his time with the Children’s Home,” said Samantha Luttrell, Equine Program Supervisor.
The Life Skills Training Center helps older children, who will soon be adults, learn how to manage the basics of life. Skills like personal banking, grocery shopping, paying bills and finding a place to live are taught. “More than 20 percent of children who age-out of foster care will become homeless. Twenty-five percent will be involved in the justice system within two years of leaving the foster care system. Seventy-one percent of young women who age out are pregnant by 21, facing higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance, and involvement in the child welfare system,” said Blanchard. A stable home, a job and enrollment in an educational program - basic expectations for most middle class families - are huge indicators of the success of the Life Skills training program.
Creating this array of interrelated, community-based services is costly. Consider the funds needed for staffing, travel, infrastructure, statewide information technology support for communication and electronic health records, brochures, websites, training and the hundreds of other expenses associated with such a state-wide venture.
“We continually expand our reach beyond our grasp to guide more children and families home to experience God’s love by following the teachings of Christ. We depend on you (United Methodists), the Body of Christ, to never let us go so we can continue to serve God through serving children and families,” said Blanchard.