By Ryan Nollan, Providence Home Coordinator
Wyatt* is a fun, athletic, and bright 7-year-old boy with a great smile. He was removed from his home because his parents were struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Their addictions meant they sometimes failed to supervise Wyatt and his siblings, who were found wandering the streets late at night or left at the babysitter’s for days in a row.
Sara, an 8-year-old girl, was severely emotionally and physically abused by her parents. Her parents both went to prison but left behind a little girl with deep-seeded emotional scars that are too much for her to handle and too much for the numerous foster families she was placed with.
Other families don’t have any trouble with the law but are like Todd and his mom, a single-mother trying to raise an 11-year-old boy with ADHD and other learning issues that cause him to get easily frustrated and act out violently towards his mom.
The Flathead Valley is one of the fastest growing counties in Montana and is home to three of the five fastest growing cities in Montana. As the Flathead Valley continues to grow, so does the population of kids and families that find themselves in need of services. Many have the same stories as Wyatt, Sara, and Todd.
When families begin to struggle, parents often reach out first to a therapist. There are many good ones in the Valley, but few specialize in emotionally disturbed children and their families. More often than not, therapy is just a starting point for services and is not the final solution. Often, medication management, regular in-home support, school counseling, and specialized after school programs are needed as well. Currently, it is hard for families to find these services and be served in a reasonable amount of time. Couple this with a families’ struggle to pay or find funding to supplement the cost of services and you soon see why families continue to struggle until the story becomes one like Wyatt’s, Sara’s, and Todd’s.
At the point where the adults can no longer care for the child, a number of things can happen. The children can be placed in a foster home, where well-meaning families try to change the storyline these kids have experienced so far. Quality, well-trained foster families are a huge need for the Flathead Valley. Intermountain is currently investing more time in recruiting and training families that feel called to foster children. Unfortunately, because of severe abuse and repeated neglect, a growing population of kids need more support than a good foster family can provide.
Both Wyatt and Sara were first placed with foster families. Unfortunately, through all their trauma, they acquired some very unsafe behaviors that neither foster homes nor the school could manage. At Providence Home, we are able to work through their mistrust, shame and guilt with them until they are able to return to their foster families successfully. Todd was placed with Intermountain and is currently still with us, continuing therapy with his mom along with two visits a week to repair their relationship and work on a healthier relationship.
There are currently no other facilities in the Flathead Valley that can serve young children like Wyatt, Sara and Todd, so kids must be placed in facilities in other parts of Montana that are often hours away from their home and extended family. This exacerbates the child’s trauma and makes it very difficult to work with the family or to work on integrating the child back into their home, school and community.
Fortunately, we had space at Intermountain’s Providence Home when these three children were in need of more intensive care than could be provided through outpatient therapy or by a foster family. Intermountain’s relationship-based approach and staff trained in working with emotionally disturbed children allows us to cope with and help heal children like these.
Providence Home, is a therapeutic group home that has been in the Flathead for several years and currently is located in a small rented facility in Kalispell. We are anticipating moving to our new purpose-built facility in the south Valley in June.
Our current 5-bed facility is at capacity. Wyatt and Todd have families that maintain weekly family therapy along with spending regular time in the home working closely with their families and Intermountain staff on healing and building healthier relationships. Sara does not currently have an identified family to return to, but because she is here in the community, she can visit regularly with her siblings.
With the growing population of kids that need residential care, we are very excited for the completion of our new residential home. Not only will we have more beds available to meet the growing needs of children and families in the Valley, but there will be much more physical space for the staff to work with children and with families.
We are grateful to Flathead County, the Montana Department of Commerce’s Community Development Block Grant Program, and the many donors and businesses who helped us find the resources to build the new Providence Home, and we look forward to inviting our friends and supporters to a dedication ceremony on June 30. If you are interested in visiting the new Providence Home facility, please call me at (406) 260-4336.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these children.
Ryan Nollan is the Coordinator of Providence Home, Intermountain’s therapeutic group home for children ages 4-13.