A New Approach: It Will ‘Revolutionize’ Treatment

Crittenton Services Inc. in Wheeling is implementing a new approach to treating traumatic stress in clients and helping staff to deal with the stress they encounter.

The new, evidence-based framework – known by the acronym of ARC – “will revolutionize the way Crittenton serves its clients across the state of West Virginia,” said Kathy F. Szafran, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization. She believes that Crittenton Services is the first, and only, treatment facility in the state utilizing this particular practice.

“We have adopted a framework in which we’re choosing to operate as an agency,” Szafran said. “It’s for all of our programs.”

Currently, Crittenton serves more than 500 children and families within its residential program and Wellspring Family Services, a community-based counseling service, she said.

The ARC model stands for Attachment, Self-Regulation and Competency, Szafran said.

The Crittenton agency, with headquarters in Wheeling, is adopting a model being used by Crittenton’s sister agency in Kansas City Mo. There, the Crittenton Children’s Center is in its third year of utilizing the ARC model, she said.

“It is an evidence-based model. It is proven to work,” she pointed out.

This approach is spelled out in “Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents: How to Foster Resilience Through Attachment, Self-Regulation and Competency,” a book written by Margaret E. Blaustein and Kristine M. Kinniburgh. The model was developed by the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass.

“We recognized that the majority of our clients suffer from a variety of trauma experiences, such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment,” Szafran explained. “Working with these children and families in a residential environment and in a home-based program is challenging for our staff. We believe that this is critical for all staff to have a sound foundation regarding the framework of our treatment environment. Treatment is much more than meeting with the therapist once a week; we focus on creating an environment of healing.”

The agency president commented, “We want to create a safe, healthy attachment system for our clients to buffer the impact of the stressor they have endured. Once our clients are feeling safe and connected, we can begin to teach the skills to effectively manage experiences on many levels. Attachment, self-regulation and competency is the key.”

The method involves “the understanding of healing and how do you create an environment” of healing, she said. ARC offers “a universal approach to creating consistency and a type of harmony in the environment so someone who is wounded can truly heal,” she explained.

To launch this approach, two day-long training sessions were held in September for all 140 members of the Crittenton team from five sites. “Funded through a local foundation, the training included every member of the Crittenton staff, from the receptionist to the most seasoned therapist

and psychologist,” Szafran said.

Two implementation teams have been formed, one for the residential program and one for the Wellspring Family Services community team, she said. Monthly consultation occurs with the ARC staff from

the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute to assist with the integration of the

model into daily practice.

“There are 10 building blocks that we are going to be utilizing in the residential program to create the environment,” she said.

Also, Crittenton therapists who go into homes are helping parents create this environment.

Noting that caregivers and therapists also are affected by the stress that their clients experience, “taking care of ourselves becomes more important” in this model, the agency’s leader said. The ARC approach also can be used to model “how we treat each other,” she said.

“We are traumatized every day by hearing what these children have experienced every day,” she related. “We knew we needed to get something to help all of us.”

As part of the philosophy, staff members are being made aware that “the whole atmosphere at Crittenton” and that every employee, not just the therapists, can have an effect on clients. Staff members can help clients establish positive routines and rituals, which are aspects of life that may be missing in a chaotic situation, Szafran said.

These steps can be as basic as families setting bedtime and storytime for their children and, in the residential program, for “celebrating birthdays in a special way,” she said. “All those things calm and help heal.”

At the Crittenton Children’s Center in Kansas City, the staff is well-trained in teaching clients the tools necessary to begin the healing process, and the clients demonstrate the ability to utilize the tools to self-regulate, gain control of their behavior and experience increased self-reliance, she said.

Since starting the program, the Crittenton Children’s Center also has seen a reduction in staff turnover and improvement in staff job satisfaction, Szafran said.

Reflecting on the new philosophy regarding healing and embracing issues of trauma, she commented, “It is certainly a paradigm shift, but in a very positive way.”

She remarked, “I think we’re going to see positive outcomes, not only from the children’s families we serve, but also with our staff.”

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In other developments, Crittenton’s Wellspring Family Services soon will be opening an office in Parkersburg, where families are already being served. Wellspring operates in 18 West Virginia counties, with a waiting list at each of its five sites (Weirton, Ohio County, New Martinsville, Morgantown and Parkersburg), Szafran said.

Therapists employed by Wellspring go into schools and homes to meet with families. They travel to more than 90 schools in this region of the state, she said.

The residential program in Wheeling serves a maximum of 42 young women. A waiting list is kept, with priority given to West Virginia girls, she added.

Crittenton Services also operates Cradles to Crayons childcare centers and an intensive outpatient treatment program for adolescent girls in Ohio County.

The agency’s largest annual fundraiser, Paint the Town Pink, will take place at the Wheeling Artisan Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 31.