Frontier projects success in eastern Utah lauded at meeting
|Some of those attending last weeks workshop dance to the entertainment during the lunch break.|
Two is better than one and four is better than two; that adage has represented 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 about four years ago.
But the project as an entity will come to an end this fall when the grant that has been supplying the money to run the program comes to an end.
"We will continue to work to make sure people still get the services they need in the best way possible," said Zena Robinson, community development director for the program last week after the organization put on a workshop for professionals and interested parties.
Before the program, 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 their particular situation.
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 Robinson last year during an interview. "We have been here to teach the community to work collaboratively in a holistic way. It has been our goal to bring all the agencies together to do what is best for families in the area."
The project's goals were reinforced last year by a study that was done by Utah State University.
The report, titled "Services and outcomes for youth and their families participating in the Utah Frontier Project," showed 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."
Since that study was released even more data has been amassed and it shows that the program which brings services under one roof for stressed families, works well.
What has occurred is a "triangulation" of services involving the caregiver (parents, guardian, etc.) the clinical help and the child themselves. The program has taken away stress from care givers, has given children a sense of people caring about them and willing to work for them and it has made professionals feel they are accomplishing a lot more when working with the families.
At the beginning, Robinson and the people who worked 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 individually with the professionals. At times parents 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 of any program set up to help the child."
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. As agency activists now put it rather than planning a program for the families, they now plan a program of aid with the families.
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 have been done since the inception of the program," 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 or her 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.
Layne Miller said that as the lead advocate for the program in this area he often 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 instead of planning it themselves with the help of professionals.
"We begin by having the family list its strengths, where it can help itself," stated Miller during a program review last year. "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 with the start she hopes that the agencies they have assisted will continue to work together.
"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 have been contacting us for help," said Robinson.
The meeting last week was held at the College of Eastern Utah and the program not only included professionals who have worked with the effort, but also parents and kids who have lived through it. Many of them related success stories of the program to the audience. Most are still not completely out of the woods with their problems but huge strides have been made.
"I have a foster son who has had a rough slant in life," Amy Hill from Emery County told the group during one of the segments of the program. "He sometimes doesn't know why he does the things he does but he wants to improve himself. The Frontier Project did not ever forget us. The family advocates were always there."
What the future for the program is no one knows for sure other than that the money runs out soon. Some hope that the agencies the project has been working with will eventually contract with them to keep it running.
But regardless of what happens the program has proved what can be done when all the interested parties in a problem work together to achieve a positive outcome.