Fitness, Cooking, Creative Arts Activities Added To Crittenton Curriculum

As fitness activities and creative arts brighten the lives of Crittenton residents, Crittenton Services representatives are seeking to add a bright spot to the Wheeling area with the organization’s 12th annual Paint the Town Pink fundraiser.

The theme for this year’s event, Pink in Wonderland, offers an edgy take on the “Alice in Wonderland” tale. Young women in Crittenton’s residential treatment program in Wheeling are making giant paper flowers with huge pink blossoms and large, funky Mad Hatter top hats to adorn the Wheeling Artisan Center for the event, set for Saturday, March 28.

The decoration-making activity is just one component of an arts program that allows Crittenton residents to explore their creativity and express their feelings through visual arts, music and dance.

Offering treatment and education, Crittenton assists young women, ages 12-18, who are pregnant, parenting or at-risk because of other issues.

In its newest initiative to help clients, Crittenton Services has partnered with several area fitness experts to encourage overall wellness for girls in the residential treatment facility. In addition to having exercise sessions, girls participate in cooking lessons and learn about healthy eating.

Kathy Szafran, president and chief executive officer of Crittenton Services Inc., said, “The residential program serves girls that have experienced severe neglect and abuse. They grow up in ‘survival mode,’ receiving little attention to their basic needs or long-term health. The wellness program goal is to teach habits that promote physical and emotional well-being.”

The residential clients participated in the creation of the program, which they dubbed “Fit and Fabulous” and incorporates education on healthy eating habits. “Our clients have specific nutritional needs. Some are pregnant, some have recently given birth, and nearly all are still growing through their adolescence. We are also sensitive to the emotional issues around food that are present for anyone, but especially for young people who have experienced real neglect,” said Melissa Thatcher, staff nurse and team leader for the wellness project.

To keep the fitness fun, a variety of exercise options are offered. Rachel Goodman, owner of OV CrossFit, and several members of her staff volunteer their time to offer CrossFit classes for the girls three days a week.

“We are thrilled to offer this to the girls at Crittenton. We want to instill overall strength with CrossFit. It is a challenging workout. The girls can gain physical strength, but also a sense of accomplishment and mastery,” Goodman said.

For girls who prefer a dance workout, Cheryl Pompeo, director of Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance, offers classes each week. Pompeo tailors the classes to the girls’ interests, which range from hip-hop to ballroom. “The girls love the dance,” Szafran remarked.

Junior League of Wheeling members lead Zumba sessions, an extension of the organization’s commitment to Crittenton through its “Kids in the Kitchen” wellness initiative.

Representatives of Happy Goat Yoga in Wheeling present weekly sessions, with qualified staff to meet the needs of prenatal clients. Girls build strength and flexibility, plus benefit from yoga’s calming and centering effect.

“For many of these girls, the challenge is to learn how to self-regulate and make sound decisions,” Szafran commented.

Meanwhile, after years of planning and preparation, Crittenton’s new six-bed facility opened on its Wheeling campus Monday, March 2, to provide housing and services to young women who are making the transition from the residential program to independent living.

The goal of the new program is “to assist them with individual functioning,” Szafran explained. Assistance can cover a wide range of skills, she said, such as cooking meals, learning to drive, attending school in the community and utilizing daycare centers in the community.

In an important development with wide-ranging implications, “Crittenton is spearheading a Breakthrough Series Collaborative” in partnership with state officials and other agencies to use the same standardized child-family assessment tool for clients across the board, Szafran said. The tool is called CANS, which stands for Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths.

The partnership is examining “how can we, as a state, use it (CANS) as an instrument that will drive treatment and treatment discussions and to drive families,” she said.

For Crittenton’s trauma-focused treatment, clients are assessed for attachment, self-regulation and competency. Using 10 building blocks in ARC, a treatment plan is based on the child’s strengths; the plan can be reassessed every 90 days, she said. Trauma-focused treatment is the result of studies that have created a way to measure a child’s level of early trauma and its effect on brain development and social development.

Last fall, Szafran attended a national conference in Chicago on evaluating and treating children and families with chronic stress. Conference participants were invited to apply for a Breakthrough Series Collaborative, sponsored by members of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Crittenton assembled a team representing service agencies, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and West Virginia University School of Social Work. In January, Crittenton received notice that the West Virginia team had been selected.

The Breakthrough Series Collaborative merges the standardized assessment tool with family engagement and the most current, trauma-informed treatment for children and families. CANS is not only an evaluation of a child and family, but also is a progress report.

Currently, a child entering the treatment system may have multiple placements. Szafran contends, however, that “if children are adequately assessed in the first place, they have fewer placements.” She observed, “Every time you move a child is traumatic.”

Using the same standardized assessment tool would offer continuity in treatment and evaluation for children who are treated by multiple agencies or moved from one placement to another. At present, when children are moved across the system, for example, from a shelter to a residential facility or foster care, to juvenile justice, to behavioral health, “assessments don’t follow,” she said. By using CANS in all agencies, “this allows us to do that – have a baseline,” she said.

When all providers, under all systems, use CANS, the child’s “story” does not have to be recreated (which can be stressful for the child) and the progress or information about special needs a child exhibits is not lost in the transition from one agency to the next.

CANS is a universal assessment tool that is “used across the country already. West Virginia is just coming into place,” Szafran said. “CANS is such a flexible tool that you can adapt to your own state, which is what we’ve done in West Virginia.

“There are all kinds of assessments you can do for kids. This particular assessment tool is very universal. It’s looking at a broader view of the child and the child’s environment,” she explained. “It doesn’t take a snapshot. It’s a movie, a panoramic view.”

The integrated partnership also involved an internal computerized system “to have data travel with the child” and allow the data to be pulled out as needed, Szafran said, adding it was determined that “WVU was the best place to hold and analyze the data.”

Regarding implementation of the collaborative venture, Szafran said, “I am very confident that Secretary (Karen) Bowling and DHHR are committed to seeing this through.”

Bowling, the state cabinet secretary, has stated, “This collaborative is an example of a needed approach for improving systems of care.”