Study results reinforce Frontier Project's goals
Two is better than one and four is better than two represents the founding principle of the Frontier Project.
In an effort to unify Castle Valley professionals so children with severe emotional disorders and their families could receive the best treatment possible, the project was formed from a variety of local experts bringing special skills to the table.
In the past, families in need of counseling for problems associated with children with SED often did not know where to turn for all the resources to completely help alleviate the situations.
Community professionals had been working with families for years, but not in a strategic way as a unified group.
"Our charge, right from the beginning, was to work on that problem," said Zena Robinson, community development director for the project. "We are here to teach the community to work collaboratively in a holistic way. It was and is our goal to bring all the agencies together to do what is best for families in the area."
Now the project's goals have been reinforced by a study recently completed by Utah State University.
The report, titled "Services and outcomes for youth and their families participating in the Utah Frontier Project," shows with raw data that outcomes for families participating in the project have been positive.
"We have had 170 families enrolled in the project," stated Robinson. "To get into the program, a family must have a child that has a severe emotional disorder. Having a child such as that affects a lot of factors in a family situation."
At the beginning, Robinson and the people who work with the project found that parents with children with SED often became confused and did not know where to turn for assistance.
"What was happening was that, at first, families didn't know where they should seek help for their problem," explained Robinson. "Then as they did find help with, say the schools or a mental health professional, they got involved in a myriad of different services, but all individually. They had so many agencies involved that they were meetinged to death. That meant high costs in terms of personal lives and it tended to set up failure."
But after the Frontier Project came along, the program acted as a type of clearinghouse for local residents needing assistance. It brought all the agencies together, keeping the number of meetings parents and children had to attend down to a minimum and it also did something else.
"Instead of professionals telling families how they should run their lives and setting up programs for them, the families began to control their own destinies," pointed out Layne Miller, the lead advocate with the program. "It gave the families the chance to drive the train."
The data used in the report to analyze the situation in Carbon County shows that the program has been successful. Surveys and statistics indicate that since the inception of the Frontier Project affected children attended school more regularly, suspensions, expulsions and detentions were down, youth behavior problems overall decreased, negative effects on families decreased and social support increased.
"Basically the data shows that these kids are more successful because of the way things are done now," states Robinson. "We have been able to develop resources for the families including support groups, family advocacy, clinical consultations and even child psychiatry where needed."
A large contributing factor in the success of the Frontier Project has been the use of creative innovation called the Wrap Around Plan. The plan uses all the supports a child has to envelop him in a supportive atmosphere. It includes professionals, friends, religious leaders, relatives and others if needed.
"We begin with that and then as the child and the family progresses, we slowly back out the professionals and then the natural supports are left," explains Robinson.
Miller said that as the lead advocate he finds that people are often shocked by the way the program is run, because they are so used to being led down the trail by others. In this case, they have to design their own program.
"We begin by having the family list its strengths, where it can help itself," states Miller. "Often that takes quite some time. People are not used to doing that. Eventually they find that they are the ones driving the train here, not the professionals. We are trying to get away from the model of experts knowing what is best for the individuals involved. It is family decision based."
The Frontier Project's grant will run out the end of September. Robinson said that they will be applying for a one year extension, but that their real hope is that the agencies they have assisted will contract with them to keep up the work.
"I think the best sign that this has worked for families is that people who heard about the program by word of mouth from others are now contacting us for help," concluded Robinson.