By Katie Boucher
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
I sometimes joke that my job as a case manager is a little bit of everything, usually all at once! The real answer is that I, and other case managers at the Ranch, support the long-term success of our kids by advocating for them and creating community connections.
Accessing resources to help young trauma survivors succeed is challenging for families who are not well-versed in navigating the web of community, state, and federal human service systems. Securing the community support and aftercare services is so important to the long-term success of Ranch kids—so, case managers help families get everything in place.
Because communities, children, and families are all so unique, the solutions are different for each child. Determining these ongoing needs starts the moment a child is admitted to our residential treatment program. We start by administering clinical assessments and tools that help us determine the needs of our kids and families, but it really comes down to talking to the child and family to determine their strengths and challenges, and what is important to them. When we know these things, we can develop an individualized treatment plan specific to each child.
Kids in treatment are "kids first," so when we create treatment plans, we try to give kids opportunities for normalcy. Normalcy looks different for every child. For some, it's attending church with their family every Sunday and then going to brunch at Perkins. For others, it's applying for jobs and colleges, staying involved with extracurricular activities, or celebrating special life events and holidays. Continuing activities that bring them joy helps youth transition home when they complete treatment.
Engaging with and supporting families is another key part of case management at the Ranch. We know that placing a child in treatment at the Ranch is not easy. Over the years, I have heard from families who appreciate having someone to call when they are feeling unsure or when they want to brainstorm interventions they can use at home.
We typically have daily contact with families through calls, emails, or in-person visits. Families are the experts on their own lives, so we work closely with them to make sure we are putting things in place that will be realistic for them to continue once their child is home. For some children we parter with home-town community members to find activities the child can participate in when they return home. Others we connect to mentors, or set up intensive in-home therapy services, after-school programs or activities, PATH Family Support services, or therapy with a provider in their home community. We also help families understand and access insurance coverage through Medicaid to ensure they can afford the services they need.
When reflecting on the single most important factor in my own successful transition to adulthood, I attribute my success to having supportive people in my life. I imagine you could do the same. Support can come in many ways, and for kids who won't be going home, or don't have any family to involve in treatment, the support must come from outside the family. It's up to us to bridge that gap and find other ways to provide the support kids need.
Our end goal is always the same, regardless of the child's family situation—find the best-case scenario for the child. This might include developing a plan specific to vocational and independent living skills to prepare them for Job Corps, the workforce, or college.
Our role doesn't stop when a child leaves the Ranch. Families often reach out to us weeks, months, even years after their child has moved on. Sometimes they want to celebrate their child's continued success, and other times they ask for support and guidance. Either way, we are blessed to hold a space in their lives. By creating lasting connections with youth and families, we can remain a resource for them across the lifespan.
Ranch case managers leave no stone unturned to ensure kids go on to create rewarding lives, even when the odds are stacked against them.
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