Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute
Spring is supposed to be a time of newness and re-birth, but one spring day this year offered me the chance to reflect on the importance of the past. I attended the birthday party of my best friend’s daughter this past weekend and was visiting with my best friend’s mother, Mrs. Dreher. My parents were high school teachers who had to find morning childcare for my brother and me when we were in elementary school, and Mrs. Dreher volunteered to help out. Each day, they would drop us off at Mrs. Dreher’s house, and she would send the three of us off to school together, my best friend, my brother and me. At this recent birthday party, Mrs. Dreher was sharing that she had recently done some spring cleaning and came across the toothbrush that she had kept at her house for me when I stayed with her those mornings. She would give me breakfast then ensure that I went off to school with fresh breath and clean teeth. (Apparently, my brother’s oral health was less a concern, since she did not have a toothbrush for him. If memory serves correctly, he rarely used one anyway!)
For approximately 30 years, my toothbrush has sat in her linen closet in a small pink travel case, and it still sits there today. She told me that even as she tossed out old tubes of Neosporin and other assorted first aid remedies, she kept the toothbrush “just in case you ever stop by and need to brush your teeth.” We had a very hearty laugh and a tear or two at this sweet gesture. That silly pink travel toothbrush was a symbol of a friendship between her daughter and me that had spanned grade school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school, lives build in different states, our weddings, the bumps in our marriages, and the arrival of four children between us. It was a reminder of where we had been, the connection we had forged, and the bond of a friendship that feels like family. I counted myself lucky to have something so deep and lasting.
That same night, I noticed that a number of Andrus graduates had been reconnecting with each other on Facebook. I had the sense that this electronic forum, so different from the tangible object of a toothbrush, was in many ways the same for these young men and women: a symbol of belonging to each other and to something that had shaped who they have become. I read their posts with a hope that they were feeling about Andrus what I had felt with Mrs. Dreher – a sense of lasting connection, of being known and cared for. I had a momentary fantasy that we could keep the toothbrushes of all the children who left Andrus. I quickly realized that that would be gross and decided that that the Facebook posts were much more sanitary. To each his own as it relates to holding tight to being loved - toothbrushes or Facebook - but for all of us, I hope that the feeling of having a shared history and memories of being treated with kindness persist.
Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute
Today in my Nonprofit Executive Leader’s class at Columbia University, we talked about the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. It reminded me of the Sanctuary expression we use that “safety and comfort are not the same thing.” It also made me think about the ways in which I have at times shied away from risks for fear of failing and what it means to step out of my comfort zone.
Last weekend, my 9 year old son gave me some insight around this. He plays basketball in our town on a team that made its way to the playoffs, mostly on the skill and talent of a boy named Eli. My son, Jonah, played a terrific season as a scrappy defensive player who would grab the ball and feed it to Eli for a score. He grew quite comfortable in this role and found his rhythm there with his team. For the final game of the season, Eli was sick. Jonah was called upon to take a different role, one pretty far outside his comfort zone. The whole team seemed rattled, knowing they were facing opponents with significant talent and height. His team, including my son, voiced some reservation along the lines of: “These guys are really good. We can’t win without Eli.” The first half was a disaster. Jonah took his usual role and got his hands on the ball in almost every play, but the ball never seemed to make its way to the basket. At the half, his coach gave him a pep talk, but I saw the panic in his eyes from the mere thought of taking on the leader role. He liked playing it safe, playing defensively, protecting the basket. These are exceptional attributes in a basketball player, but not the ones this team needed at the time. I overheard his coach say to him “I know those kids are good, but they have no idea how good you are. Go show them.”
My heart in my throat, I watched my little guy run out on the court and make calculated decisions about when to pass, when to drive to the basket, and when to drop back. The rest of the team followed suit with more confidence. They stopped trying to compensate for Eli’s absence and just went full force into the game. The ball still didn’t make its way into that hoop as many times as we would have hoped for, but the boys played hard and were fully invested in each other. He and his team didn’t win the game, but they played to win, and my son stretched the boundaries of his comfort zone. Jonah also won the respect of his fellow players, the respect of his coach and the overly enthusiastic and horribly embarrassing gushing of his mother. These were important gains and lessons, though he probably could have done without my gushing. I’m afraid he’ll just have to develop a new comfort zone for that too.
Submitted by: Brian Farragher, Executive VP and COO, ANDRUS
On Wednesday evening, January 25th I touched down in Singapore. I had left home some 25 hours earlier to begin my journey half way around the world. Plane hours are like dog years, it feels like time is standing still.
I will admit I was nervous about this trip. I was approached by the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports back in the summer. At first, they had invited Sandy Bloom, but she felt she could not fly half way around the world and leave her 95 year old father behind in Philadelphia. Sandy recommended I make the trip, and given my commitment to growth and change I figured I would step out 14,000 miles outside my comfort zone and take the plunge.
I am very happy I decided to go. Singapore is an amazing country and I met so many wonderful, caring and committed people. What drew them to Sanctuary was the interest in how the organizational issues can positively or adversely impact the treatment clients receive. It’s great to know that many of the Sanctuary principles have a universal appeal. Although my new friends in Singapore thought they were learning from me, I am quite sure I learned a lot more from them.
I think my biggest take away from this experience was the opportunity to rethink the issue of punishment. The Ministry is grappling with the issue of punishment throughout the Children’s Services sector, and I was inspired by the efforts and their willingness to ask themselves and each other some very tough questions about their long held beliefs and assumptions.
I must confess all the conversations about punishment and consequences made me rethink our practices here in the US and specifically here at Andrus. Although our use of punitive practices is more refined and nuanced than our friends in Singapore, punishment and consequences is still at the center of how we think about our work with troubled children and how we think change occurs.
Human beings are wired for reciprocity. If someone is good to us we are good to them, if they treat us badly, we treat them badly. Many of the children who we serve have histories of being treated badly, sometimes by their families, often by their schools, and more often than we care to admit by treatment programs. As a result they approach all new relationships with the assumption they will be treated badly and often assume malice, even when it may not exist. More often than not these assumptions about the world cause them to treat caregivers badly and this behavior inspires caregivers to respond in a reciprocal fashion. Doing so serves only to perpetuate the child’s world view and reinforce destructive patterns.
The challenge it seems is to help staff respond to children and families in ways that are counterintuitive. It is our nature to fight violence with violence, hurt with hurt, pain with pain. It seems our ability to help people recover relies on our ability to change the script for our kids and families and avoid falling, thoughtlessly, into this reciprocal pattern. The assumptions we make about the value of punishment in extinguishing challenging behavior serves only to maintain the cycle of violence, hurt and pain, by reinforcing the child’s world view. It is clear we need to find another way.
So how do we make sure staff people consistently address challenging behavior in counterintuitive ways? How do we ensure that our responses are not simply our knee-jerk, default responses but emerge from our better angles, our sense of compassion, empathy and love? We have not figured that out yet, but it seems to me that an important first step is avoid responding to staff in this reciprocal manner. If we want staff to behave in ways that are counterintuitive, I suppose supervisors and executives must do the same. We all lay traps for each other and the more these traps elicit the responses we expect from others, the more our world view is confirmed and solidified.
I left Singapore on February 3rd. I had lots of time to ponder my experience as I sat on the plane for another 20 plus hours. I was inspired by the intent of the people I met to change the way their country approaches its most vulnerable kids. It made me think, “If they can be so bold to contemplate this change on such a grand scale, we certainly can do it at Andrus.” We can rethink the way we respond to troubling behavior, by responding in a way that creates a new script and hope for the future, rather than repeating old and destructive patterns of the past.
Sometimes you have to travel half way around the world to discover the truth that has been right in front of you all along.
Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute
This past weekend, I was sitting in my mother’s living room with a sprinkling of relatives representing four generations of our family. My eight year old son responded to his great-grandmother’s question about what he is doing in school with a 10 minute lecture about the civil rights movement in the US, the role of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and the contributions of Jesse Owens to the way blacks were perceived in the world. We were riveted. He told a version of the civil rights story that belied his age with total fascination and an air of disbelief: “Grandma, can you believe that white people made black people move to a different part of the bus if they wanted their seat? That Hitler wouldn’t shake Jesse Owens’ hand? That black people and white people couldn’t get married to each other? That some white people didn’t even think black people were really people. ” What he didn’t know was that both his great-grandparents and grandparents had in fact lived through that time and watched that world change around them.
My five year old daughter sat dumbfounded, as if what her brother was saying about pre-civil rights beliefs were as preposterous as a belief in unicorns. “Really, they thought you could get germs if you drank from the same water fountain? Mommy, I’m so glad they figured out that was stupid!” I am too.
I started to wonder what it will be like when I am the oldest in a sprinkling of relatives of many generations. What will my grandchildren or great- grandchildren find preposterous about how we behave now. The questions I hope may be: “Grandma, can you believe they used to pay people who worked on Wall Street more than social workers and teachers? That there were people who thought kids were sick or bad if they acted out when bad things happened to them? That they used to think people would change if you just punished them enough and didn’t pay any attention to how our brains work?” And they will be surprised to learn that I in fact lived through that time, and with likeminded others, helped that world change around us.
Submitted by: Dr. Nina Esaki
The study on the "Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) among Child Service Providers" conducted by Drs. Nina Esaki, Director, Research of the Sanctuary Institute and Heather Larkin, Assistant Professor University at Albany School of Social Welfare, was accepted for presentation at the 25th Annual Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy Conference, in Tampa FL March 4 - 7, 2012. Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute, will be filling in for Heather Larkin who, due to a prior commitment, is unable to attend.
The ACLI Research Brief on the study is available: click here
Details of the conference are available at: http://cmhtampaconference.com/