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Monday, Aug 19, 2013

Berkshire hosts delegation of Family Services officials from Singapore

Delegation from Singapore visits Berkshire's residential campus. Pictured left to right: Mohamed Yunos, Jaye Holly (Berkshire's director of staff development), Andie Siew, Tan Li Jen, Thulasi Ramasamy, Prabhavathie, and Lee Kim Hua.

Berkshire Farm Center hosted a delegation of six representatives from the Ministry of Social and Family Development of the government of Singapore on August 19th.

The Ministry officials visited Berkshire’s residential treatment campus in Canaan, New York, in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains.

After being welcomed by Berkshire CEO Tim Giacchetta, the delegation began a very busy day at Berkshire. They came primarily to learn about three areas of Berkshire’s extensive operations: its implementation of the Sanctuary model of treatment; its home-based foster care program; and its comprehensive system of care.

The delegation learned about the clinical structure connecting all of Berkshire’s various initiatives, as well as how the agency tracks its impressive outcomes.

The Ministry’s director of rehabilitation and protection, Lee Kim Hua, said the visit was part of their process to review what they are doing for children and youth to make sure the children in their care can return to their families as soon as they are ready.

Jim Dennis discusses Berkshire's goal to reunify children and families as soon as they are ready during interview by WNYT television.

Berkshire works toward that end as well. "Our goal is to reunify children and families as quickly and safely as we can," said Jim Dennis, Berkshire’s chief program officer, adding that Berkshire staff work to ensure that we can utilize our system of care to make sure that children and families are getting the right level of services.

Dennis provided the delegation with an overview of the agency’s System of Care, which involves every aspect of Berkshire’s programs and activities. Staff members then detailed Berkshire’s array of statewide programs and services for home-based foster care, community-based prevention, group homes, detention, and residential treatment.

Donelle Hauser oversees Berkshire’s residential-based programs. She explained some of Berkshire’s many therapeutic services and activities for youth residing at the campus. One of those services is the Twombly Leadership Academy, Berkshire’s answer to special education. Students at the Twombly Leadership Academy come to Berkshire after struggling to succeed at the schools in their home communities.

Hauser noted that in New York State, some 70,000 high school students dropped out in 2011. Over half of special education students drop out of high school every year. Among those who stay, less than five percent graduate ready for college and a career. Contrast those sobering numbers to Berkshire, with a 100 percent graduation rate of its special education students since 2009.

“By connecting academics with authentic paid work experiences, we’ve gained results that far exceed state averages,” said Bruce Potter, the superintendent of Berkshire Union Free School District, which works in partnership with Berkshire Farm Center. The district’s Berkshire Jr./Sr. High School is a prominent feature of Berkshire’s 2,000 acre campus. Potter discussed programs and activities at the school designed to help prepare students for college and the workplace.

Bruce Potter (3rd from left) introduces visitors to a student during tour of school.

Students participating in Berkshire’s highly effective Workforce Development Program helped prepare and serve lunch at the campus dining hall, and the Ministry officials had an opportunity to meet the students and learn about how their lives are changing dramatically as a result of their experiences at Berkshire.

Jaye Holly is Berkshire’s director of staff development. “Once the officials from Singapore learned a little about Berkshire, they wanted to talk about our system of care and how we provide various levels of services to families and youth based on needs,” said Holly. “They were especially interested in how being trauma-informed helps us provide those services, and that led us to a discussion about the Sanctuary model.” Sanctuary is a treatment model for individuals who have been exposed to trauma. Sanctuary aims at helping them succeed in the classroom, in the workplace, and in every aspect of their lives.

Jaye Holly (right) explains the Sanctuary Model for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

“Sanctuary is our trauma-informed, culture-change therapeutic community,” explained Holly, who explained that it is not a program. “It’s a culture within our entire organization,” she added. That culture was modeled after the Andrus Children’s Center in Yonkers, New York, where most of the children served come from traumatic backgrounds. Andrus created an entire system to help victims of trauma and are sharing that system with other organizations such as Berkshire. Holly said that everyone at Berkshire, whether a client or employee, learns about Sanctuary and about trauma and its often devastating impact.

“Many people who have been victims of trauma such as from child abuse or neglect, who have not had the opportunity to address that trauma, endure that trauma over and over, often resulting in higher rates of suicide, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and “re-victimization”, said Holly. “Acknowledging and addressing traumas from the past can truly change lives and create futures.”

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