Helping teens successfully transition back into the community, when they leave one of the residential treatment centers for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, is among the chief aims of the Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Youth Services (DYS).
“We want to see the kids thrive when they go back home – get back in school, stay out of trouble and really plan for their future – and we know that the support of their families is key to making that happen,” said DYS Director Betty Guhman. “But we can’t wait until teens are out of our custody to engage with families and help rebuild the bonds between parent and child.”
Therefore, DYS hosted its inaugural Family Day Aug. 4 at all seven of the Arkansas managed treatment centers. The events brought a sense of normalcy for youths in custody.
In all 93 youth had 302 family members attend the festivities.
“The most important thing to our youth returning home and being successful is the support they receive from their family,” Guhman told residents, parents, and staff of the Mansfield facility at its Family Day event. “Having great family support is one of the best ways to help a youth return home.”
The residents, their families, and facility staff played games, shared a meal, and talked with one another as a way to establish a stronger rapport.
“We wanted to give parents and youth an opportunity to do things most people take for granted, having a meal together, playing board games, or taking pictures with one another,” said DYS Deputy Assistant Director of Residential Services, April Hannah. “It was an idea I shared with Betty and Marq Golden (DYS deputy director), they approved of the vision and it eventually came to fruition.”
“I truly believe the youth and their families enjoyed the time they spent together,” Hannah said. “We’re going to make this a regular event for our centers.”
At the Colt Juvenile Treatment Center in East Arkansas, the campus was abuzz due to Family Day. Everyone involved was ecstatic with how well it went.
“This was a productive event for residents, staff, and the families,” said Colt Director, Connie Robinson. “It not only allowed us a chance to play games, eat, and have fun – it gave us the opportunity to discuss collectively how we as staff members and family of the respective resident, can help the individual better progress through their program.”
Families having a candid dialogue with their youth and center staff, does a lot to aid the transition process.
“Family Day was great,” said Mark Barton, director of the Mansfield center. “Getting the family involved helps us out. It becomes much easier to assist our youth when the family is involved.
“Besides the judge and probation officer, the family receives a monthly report on how their youth has behaved.”
At the Dermott center, director John Whaley enjoyed the enthusiasm Family Day created.
“Family Day gave staff a new way to learn about the residents as we try to provide the best possible services,” he said. “In return, it allowed the families to speak with case managers, therapists, direct care staff, administrators, and other families who also have a child in state custody.”
Jonathan Godbolt, Lewisville facility director, emphasizes the concept of restoring optimism in the lives of residents. He acknowledged that Family Day makes that goal easier for the Lewisville staff to obtain.
“We believe that each of our clients have the ability to improve, become a better person, and achieve anything they hope to be,” he said. “My hope is that it proves to our clients that even though they’ve made mistakes in the past – they’re still loved and supported.”
Cutline: A resident at Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Center (middle) laughs with his parents as they play cards during the first-ever Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Youth Services (DYS) Family Day at the Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Center.