As part of its ongoing pursuit of excellence in the service of children and families, Baptist Children’s Homes partnered with Cornell University in implementing their CARE model program in 2009. The CARE (Children and Residential Experiences) model is a multi-level program developed as part of the Residential Child Care Project at Cornell’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Transitional Research (BCTR).
“Our eight-year partnership with BCH has been a very successful one,” Frank Kuhn of BCTR at Cornell says. “We have a co-learning relationship. BCH has been part of making the model better as it has evolved.”
In a recent edition of the journal for ALIGN, a child care provider group in Alberta, Canada, Jack Holden and Charles Izzo of BCTR summarized CARE: “CARE is a principle-based program that helps agencies use a set of evidence-informed principles to guide programming and enrich the relational dynamics throughout the agency. CARE aims to enhance the therapeutic environment in group care agencies by improving the quality of relationships and interactions among youth and adults.”
The CARE program’s six principles form the foundation for creating a successful framework of residential care and undergirding the provision of quality care. They are:
Developmentally focused – Meeting a child where he is developmentally is paramount. Therefore, a child’s activities must be developmentally appropriate to the child. Activities are designed to build on successful experiences.
Family involved – Children need constructive family contact. Retaining children’s connection to family and immersion in community is essential for success.
Relationship based – Children need healthy attachments with the adults who care for them. Building trust relationships foster a child’s success.
Trauma informed – Children come into care having experienced a wide variety of trauma and often challenging behavior is rooted in that trauma. Adults who are sensitive to the pain a child has experienced is essential.
Competence centered – Children have strengths and weaknesses. Matching a child’s activities and expectations to a child’s strengths and abilities help him meet expectations and reach goals. Adults are responsible in helping children reach competency.
Ecologically oriented – To be successful, children must live in an environment that is engaging and supportive. Positive role modeling through one-on-one interactions fosters success.
Holden and Izzo also write: “The core challenges for agencies implementing CARE are ‘achieving congruency throughout the agency in serving the best interests of children,’ therefore the six principles apply at all levels of the organization.”
Congruency is the quality of agreeing or the success at being in harmony. BCH utilizes the CARE principles at every level, including administrative and supervisory. A group of BCH’s state and area administrators, including president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell, made up the first training class. Blackwell and the others knew for the program to work, everyone needed to be on board. CARE training is conducted for all cottage parents, and each cottage parent is certified through Cornell. Today, supervisors even use CARE principles when working with staff members they direct.
“BCH has good, caring people who are serving children and families for the right reasons,” Kuhn says. “Children and families are first. BCH strives to have well-trained professional staff and there is a priority on congruency. BCH is moving in the right direction.”
Using CARE is more involved than a rewards-and-consequences model. Giving consequences and walking away from the problem is easier, it’s immediate and nothing else needs to be done.
“CARE is not for the faint of heart,” BCH chief operating officer Keith Henry says. “A child will test you to see if you’re going to drop him like other adults in his life have. Children need to know that you are not going to give up on them. It takes more time and greater personal investment by the caregiver.”
In the foreword of CARE: Creating Conditions for Change, Professor Jim Anglin from the University of Victoria in Canada writes: “But make no mistake – this is tough work that requires rigorous training and ongoing supervision of the highest order; thus the need for a powerful, integrated and well-grounded model for understanding and addressing residential life and residential child and youth care practice. But the lives of the young people, and their futures, are worth the struggle and they deserve our very best efforts.”
BCH stands committed to make a difference in the lives of children. Henry says, “Going to CARE was a positive move for us. CARE works. Our cottage parents are more confident as they help children be more successful. It has become a part of who we are.”
Lean more about the many services and 22 locations where BCH serves children and families at www.bchfamily.org