Children living through homelessness require a variety of services to meet their basic needs, such as nutritious meals, a warm bed, and school supplies. Often, however, the experiences of homelessness permeate far deeper than tangible support can reach.
At the beginning of last year, the City of Seattle selected Solid Ground’s Broadview program (emergency and transitional housing for women and children) to implement a pilot that provides coordinated behavioral health services for children in transitional housing. According to Symone, Children’s Program Supervisor at Broadview, there isn’t another application of this type of service, to this extent, in transitional housing.
“I think it’s unusual to have a focus on children, specifically with mental health,” Symone explains. “Usually people will focus on the adults – the kids are resilient, and will recover and be fine. This pilot recognizes that kids have been through a lot of trauma, and homelessness affects them very strongly as well.”
Children of families experiencing homelessness are exposed to the same stress and trauma as their parents, such as constant uncertainty, hunger, fear and even violence and abuse. Despite this, it is rare that children – having had their physical needs met – receive the psychological care they need to cope.
Symone expresses that “these families have had historical trauma in their lives. They are homeless. Even if they’re in stable housing now, many have had years of instability. That trauma doesn’t just go away because they have a permanent place to stay.”
The pilot helps children work through their traumas. At the core of the pilot is the trauma-informed care model. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes this system as a means to “understand the impact of trauma on child development and learn how to effectively minimize its effects without causing additional trauma.”
One goal of the pilot is to create a team of supporters all working together to provide an individualized care plan designed for each child. This wraparound service coordinates family members, service providers, case managers, housing providers and school teachers to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on in the child’s life and how to address issues as they arise. “A therapist could offer advice or tips when issues come up,” Symone clarifies, “so that everyone is trying to have the same boundaries and the same ways of working with the child.”
With the assistance of three therapists, two full-time and one part-time, Broadview has enrolled 28 children in the pilot. “Initially, we weren’t sure if anyone would be interested,” recalls Symone. “But we are at capacity right now. A lot of other families would like to join because they’ve heard positive things about all the support.”
While the child therapy services are full, the pilot also provides a Parenting Support Group with a trauma-informed curriculum five to six times a month. Symone states that this service is “really popular among the families.” Families are encouraged to attend at least 10 sessions during their stay at Broadview so that they can understand how the experience of homelessness is affecting their children and learn how best to support them.
Symone expresses that all those involved in the program have “been able to see that the families have been really supported through the pilot. I think it’s a good model. Outside providers are really happy about being included and informed about the children and what’s going on with them. They’ve seen a lot of growth from the kids that were maybe struggling, or we are able to sooner catch the kids that are struggling.”
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