EGFS as an alternative to filing unruly charges.

Discussion in 'General Parenting Archives' started by Nancy, Dec 9, 2004.

  1. Martie

    Martie Moderator

    Dear Nancy,

    MrNo was at The Academy at Swift River which is in Cummington MA in the Berkshires. It is on 600 acres about half way between Pittsfield and Northampton.

    It is an excellent program in my opinion and as a bonus, their consulting psychiatrist (required for students who take medications) is the best adolescent psychiatrist I have ever encountered as a parent or professional. When MrNo came home, my biggest fear was that Dr. C. wasn't going to be his psychiatrist any more. MrNo has a new psychiatrist whom he doesn't like any better than the others, but now he copes. MrNo actually believes that Dr. c. helped him A LOT. This is high praise.

    I have always wondered where Penta's girl is--it sound as tho' it is all girls. MrNo did not want an all boy environemnt as he had always been picked on by boys. ASR is co-ed and initially, all MrNo's friends there were girls. Gradually, that was addressed and he made some male friends. Since he has been home, he has been able to find male friends easily for the first time in his life. Most of them are "strange" as in artsy--but who cares? I never said he wasn't marching to a different drummer.

    ASR is part of Aspen Education which has many programs, mostly on the east coast and in the Rockies and Utah. The reason many egbs are in remote areas is they depend on location to reduce flight risk. ASR is on 600 acres but it is only about 20 miles from the MA Pike. Any determined kid could leave but MrNo was too depressed to be a runner and by the time he wasn't as depressed, he didn't want to leave.

    Another unique thing about ASR is the students do a 6 week service learning project in Costa Rica as a culmination and transition back to their real life. MrNo thrived there: he loved the Ticos (indigenous population) and the place where the program is located is far south in the rain forest. I know programs out of the country send up a red flag--but ASR is in MA and sends about 10-14 kids to Rio Rapido (Swift River in Spanish) every two months. They maintain their own staff there and it is a priviledge to go. I mention this bec. the Costa Rican child welfare dep't has shut down some horrendous boot camps but the relationship with Rio Rapido is excellent because of the rain forest projects and other service projects--as well as the staff is obviously caring, speaks Spanish etc. etc.

    MrNo learned enough Spanish while there (and during the preparation phase) to enter second semester Spanish II when he came back without ever having taken Spanish I in a regular high school. He is in Spanish IV now although he only has taken 3 years of Spanish. If MrNo didn't want to be a musician, he would like to go to different countries to live with the people and learn the language! Next on his list is German--he is less interested in classroom study than getting to Germany. Fortunately, something may work out. My nephew married an Austrian woman so I'm sure we could arrange something. But I digress....

    I guess I am telling you about ASR backwards: the program is in 3 phases. The first is Passages and it is a wilderness experience (in the back 500 acres of the 600) but only to get the new student's attention. No TV, radio, telephone, etc. but also no hiking around with heavy packs trying to "break" the kids. They focus on what behaviors got them to ASR. Most students stay in Passages for 30 days--MrNo was there for 45. However, when he got to Main Campus, fter he sort of defensively coasted for a month or two, he then started to make very steady progress. There are 4 Family Resolution weekends that the family must agree to attend. I wondered what could be done in such a short time but the answer turned out to be A LOT. One of the resolutions included sibs over the age of 10. It was very interesting to see the other students' sibs. Terhe are also two "home visits" before Rio Rapido to see if the students avoid temptation of their old lives. Since MrNo had much less of an "old life" than the older students, his home visits went well. Some student s did not do well and were "adjusted" (demoted) to a lower peer group upon return.

    The academic program is very much college prep. The classes are small and they will deal with minor Learning Disability (LD) and ADHD but are not equipped to handle major processing deficits. One girl in MrNo's peer group was staffed out because she couldn't handle the abstract level of the Life Steps (the process they use in group therapy.) Fran's son experienced a similar type of program at his egbs--I think it is a fairly common approach in non-punitive environments. School is used as a reality rub: there is mandatory study hall with help available. If students dont't do the work, they fail. MrNo failed English one quarter. The Monday after the Friday he failed, he was back in the same class while others moved on. He didn't repeat that behavior.

    There are LOTS of rules and consequences but what I liked about the place is even tho' it is important to live by the rules (especially when you have about 100 disturbed adolescents in residence) they never pretended that living by the rules in a controlled environemnet was the same thing as solving internal problems that lead to bad choices. Real change only comes from within and ASR acknowedges that fully. Why the place was so good for MrNo was the big three rules (get you kicked out if you violated them) were NO drugs, sex or violence. It wasn't as though MrNo was having problem with drugs or sex at age 14 but the violence was a biggie for him and ASR felt very, very safe. That allowed him to open up. The day before we were supposed to go to our first Family Resolution, a student was removed from the school for hitting another student--no blood, the hit kid wasn't "hurt," but the violence offender was off-site before dinner according to my son. The whole group was pretty shaken up by this experience. There was one tough (looking) kid in MrNo's group and in an atmosphere that allowed "a little" physical acting out, he could have been a problem. After the first student left, the "tough" kid never caused a problem. Interestingly, ASR will not keep anyone involuntarily (which is why they do not accept kids from transport) and 3 of MrNo's peer group turned 18 while there. At the beginning, all vowed they would leave at 18. All three stayed and graduated from the progam and two of the 3 graduated from h.s. at ASR. Being so young, MrNo had a lot of h.s. ahead of him when he graduated but he earned all the credits he should have while he was there.

    MrNo received the Headmaster's Award for his peer group. One is awarded per peer group but the criteria for selection are not stated. On the way home in the van, his sister asked, "What did you do actually to get this award?" He thought for a minute, shrugged and said, "I guess I screwed up less than anyone else while I was there." His Dad and I were very amused. Actually, I think he got the award for traveling the farthest distance from beginning to end. He went in a very, very depressed young adolescent--a little boy emotionally in many ways--and came out a middle adolescent who was driven a little "batty" by the immaturity of his peers at his next school--particularly when he was a sophomore. Now that he is an older adolescent, he is very responsible and a mature young man-- well beyond his years in many ways--except he still is late with his English papers! It is hard to believe he has changed so much since Oct of 2001 but he did.

    I hope this long response is helpful. If you have any specific questions, I'll try to answer but please remeber that programs evolve and MrNo has been gone from ASR for two years on Nov 15.

  2. Nancy

    Nancy Well-Known Member Staff Member


    It helps a lot. I am so glad you found such a good program for MrNo. I know how worried you were about him. I hope that any program I put my daughter in is as good as the one you describe.

    I have a question. If a child wants to leave badly enough wouldn't they just break the hitting rule to leave? Especially in the beginning while they are adjusting.

  3. timer lady

    timer lady Queen of Hearts


    I can honestly tell you I have no words of wisdom for you. I have my difficult child in Residential Treatment Center (RTC) & although I see small steps of improvement I'm not all that hopeful.

    Having said that you've had your J since birth & have a better foundation to work with.

    Sending you very gently {{{hugs}}}
  4. Martie

    Martie Moderator


    Your question is a good one.

    First, the staff does not "crowd" students and provoke acting out as in some punitive environments tend to do. "No violence" works in all directions: no one touches anyone (except for the voluntary acceptance of public hugs)and this makes everyone safe.

    Second, all students come voluntarily. Most have been in involuntary wilderness programs first (MrNo was an exception) and they have experienced restraint, and uncomfortable physical hardship of hiking day after day with heavy packs. So ASR is a place many of them would want to stay because they realize that if removed from ASR, their parents will have no choice but a locked, punitive facility.

    At our interview, I spoke to a young man who was already 18 when he entered (not usually allowed) and he was a "poster child" for why one should USE an opportunity such as ASR. He had been in the jj system AND at Island View (a locked psychiatric facility which is very good but uses restraint because of the population they have.) This young man made a big impression on me: he "saw the light" but almost too late in terms of age for an egbs: ASR let him in on a special contract bec. he was already 18 with a negative history in several programs but he was begging for a chance to "do the work" he had been fighting off (probably literally) since he was 15.

    He said to me, "even if your boy doesn't come here, tell him that places like Island View are very tough and scary. This place has rules but it is like a resort where you get to think about what to do with your life--keep screwing up or do something to help yourself." Now MrNo was not capable of thinking about the rest of his life at that point (he was hoping that the rest of his life could be measured in days or even minutes at that point) but the above quote pervades the atmosphere and both inhibits violence and prevents kids from leaving an open facility--as in no fences or locked wards. The students are expected to stay on the campus and they do. If they leave, students under 18 are picked up by the Cummington police (a very safe experience I would think) and parents must come to get their child. For students who are 18, parents are notified if they leave but the police are not called as an 18 year old is free to leave.

    Of course their success rate isn't 100%--if it were, you would know they were lying. One girl in MrNo's peer group may have been placed prematurely by her scared adn angry, divorcing parents to get her out of the house. She "didn't belong there...." (obviously a common defense). She talked her mother into removing her after Passages and went home to her public h.s. and did fine. MrNo is still in contact with her. Probably she wan't a real difficult child; she was just reacting to her parents divorce, so when she realized where she was and didn't want to be there, her self control kicked in. That obviously isn't an option for most kids.

    Also ASR is honest about who their program helps and doesn't keep students who aren't working out. They have as many students as they can handle, so they don't want to have kids who are not working with the program (after an extendded and pateint effort to get wthem "with the program.") There were many "rich kids" there whose parents could have afforded to make ASR the child's "home" but it doesn't work that way. It is a 14 to 16 month program, period. In between the very rich, there were more kids whose parents were making tremendous sacrifices for their child to be there. Another interesting tidbit about the culture: a couple of kids--not in MrNo's group so I didn't know them well--had been at ASR and either left or were removed but after OTHER placements begged to come back. the second time at ASR was successful.

    Finally the staff-student ratio in Passages is 1:2 so when students would have the highest potential to hit or shove (or run) to get removed, they are hauling water so they can cook dinner. (Does anyone want dinner even if no one wants to go get water???)Passages is a cooperative, reflective time where the kids do enough physical labor to be "good for them," but not as punishment-- they do it in order to make Passages work, but the real emphasis is on almost continuous group and individual therapy. They keep reflection books and think about what got them to the "middle of nowhere" when everyone else is talking on their cell and listening to their i-pod. This makes getting to main campus, and staying there, attractive. Later, getting to Costa Rica becomes very attractive and kids stay in the program to go there and for the pride of finishing the program.

    I hope this helps you understand what it is like. It is not perfect but it was an excellent fit for MrNo and that is most important in egbs in my opinion.

  5. OTE

    OTE Guest

    I agree wholeheartedly that the fit between therapist and child and program and child is what is critical. As said above, sometimes the programs have something specific to their program that just clicks for your child whether it's equine therapy or overseas volunteer work. (in my humble opinion the equine therapy was helpful to mine because of the desire for risk having never ridden before and the underlying excellent balance which is common to dyslexic kids.) I'd add that having kids of similar backgrounds whether than be adopted, race, socioeconomic or ciminal/ drug history is also helpful. My purpose here is to add one other thought...and I noted this when Sweet Betsy came home and had some problems.....

    Mine went to a local program paid for by the state. It didn't have equine therapy or anything else "exotic". It was 8 kids max in each of two houses going to school together all day (behavioral school) and then to another building for therapy from 4 to 8 every day plus a half day on Sat. These 16 kids -max- were divided into different therapeutic groups during the therapy hours. And these groups covered all of the common issues from sub abuse, medication management, anger mgmt, family issues, to social skills and so on. The child was put in groups based on what they thought the child needed. Individual and family was also done at least weekly. But there was so much staff there that each child got plenty of individual attention. All staff were therapeutically trained at least to some extent. All had at least bachelor's degrees- including overnight staff! There was no restraint. Violence was cause for dismissal. School kept a daily log for each child which was given to the program each day when they picked up the kids. School and program therapists talked daily. But the biggest point here is that all 16 of these kids were at least somewhat local. When one left they kept in touch with the others. So they developed their own support network and when mine left he kept in touch with several of them several times a week. I found on many occasions that these other kids were able to calm him down over the phone when he was home and getting ready for a rage.

    In terms of non or semi-therapeutic activities they had art therapy and once a month Fri night talent shows. Mine was the dj for the fri night shows.

    What I'm saying is do look locally in addition to long distance if this is the way you decide to go. And yes, the earlier the better. Years of dysfunctional thinking as a pre-teen will take longer to overcome. The more ingrained the dysfunction the longer it takes to overcome.

    one other quick note: this place screened who they took carefully and tossed kids out for violence, drug use, etc. So most of the kids were like mine, first time in Residential Treatment Center (RTC), with intact families they could work with, had no extensive criminal histories,.... I compare this to other places he's been where there are kids who have years in foster care, extensive criminal histories including violence, have been in multiple RTCs and jail, etc.
  6. SassyGirl

    SassyGirl Active Member


    If you are looking at programs, I would also highly recommend Boulder Creek Academy ( This is where my son is. My son was 13 when he started at the egbs. He has been there since last February and is thriving.

    I figured I could either go the medical/egbs route or the juvenile justice system route. One is rehabilitive, one is punitive. I chose the egbs because I did not see my son as a juvenile delinquent. He needed help. I knew if I had him sent to juvie I would not get the same boy back.

    My son's school is closely tied with an excellent adolescent psychiatric hospital.

    My son's therapist is the best I've ever seen. She is the one who explained difficult child's Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) issues to me. She "got" my son in one week. We had two therapists in our own town who literally gave up on our son. Couldn't help him they said.

    He's doing so well. Yes, it is expensive. And to me? It is worth every penny.