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NY social services group focuses on healing children, families, and organizations

December 18, 2013
by Alison Knopf, Contributing Writer
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Andrus blends Sanctuary model with trauma research to build “safe” school environment
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Much of the work at Andrus is informed by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study (see Figure 3), an ongoing collaboration between the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente. A brief summary of the ACE study and its implications is contained in a December 2012 article.

Range of services

Andrus has a residential treatment program with 73 beds for boys and girls ages 5 to 16. There are five cottages on the 107-acre campus. After treatment, which consists of intensive emotional, psychiatric, and/or behavioral care, the patients rejoin their families and home communities. The campus has a therapeutic motorbike program, a ropes course, gardens, farm animals, and therapy dogs as well as an indoor pool, movie theater, wooded hills, and a pond. The treatment team includes a psychiatrist, milieu therapists, a clinical social worker, a recreational therapist, and a program manager.

Special treatments to help autistic children, as well as children who have been traumatized, are focused on the Sanctuary Model, which promotes feelings of safety. Instead of restraints, treatment is based on family participation in the structure of the program. Using Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI), an approach that avoids crisis and de-escalates difficult situations, the team aims to provide a stable structure.

Andrus operates three mental health clinics in Westchester County, where it offers individual, group, and family therapy. Trauma-informed care, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy are among the tools used to help children and families.

Andrus has discovered that the children coming to the residential facility – who have been referred through special education committees, and whose treatment and schooling is paid for by public schools districts – can no longer be educated in public schools, said Vargas. Some can’t even live at home. About 80 are bussed in and live at home at night, and 70 live on campus seven days a week. “They’re diagnosed as severely emotionally disturbed – their families can’t manage their behaviors.”

What will help these children, so they can return to their families and schools, is to succeed, said Vargas. “A lot of these kids have never had the opportunity to experience success,” she said. For most of these children, success won’t happen in the classroom, so Andrus has developed other avenues, via greenhouses, farm animals, and gardens. By harvesting honey, caring for animals, and growing fruits and vegetables, the children can succeed and heal.

“There’s a growing body of research that is telling us that when bad things happen to children, it changes the architecture of their brain, and it alters their social and cognitive development,” said Vargas. School districts working with Andrus “get it – that you can’t have academic outcomes unless you have social and emotional wellness.”