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Wednesday, Oct 21, 2015

SAFE program at Berkshire teaches impulse control methods and rethinking responses

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Berkshire Jr. /Sr. High School Principal Mike Mitchell showcases the SAFE program poster with student Latrell.

From its start as an idea to help youth and staff be safe, the SAFE program at Berkshire Farm Center has grown into a model for creating a better living and working environment. Self-regulated, accountable, flexible, engaged (SAFE)—these words can be the difference between a “good move” and a negative reaction for people who have trouble controlling impulses. “Choice is freedom,” says Dr. Diane Dillon, VP and Chief Psychologist for the Center of Excellence for Trauma-Informed Care (CETIC) at Berkshire Farm Center. “That’s why we’re teaching kids strategies for how to handle uncomfortable emotions.”

Stop, breathe, and choose.
The four aspects of the SAFE program foster a culture of conscious decision making that becomes part of all youths’ lives at Berkshire. “The beauty of the SAFE program is that it’s at all levels of understanding,” says Dillon. Students and staff are leaning to “stop, breathe, and choose” before they respond. “To be successful in life, we all need to learn to regulate and moderate emotions. That’s the point of this program,” says Dillon.

Students learn and practice accountability in all aspects of SAFE, and they demonstrate this value in programs such as Workforce Development. Students participating in internships and externships learn how to be accountable for their own behavior and responsibilities in the workplace.

Learning flexibility is crucial to SAFE because the unexpected can trigger high emotion in at-risk youth. “We need to be prepared that we won’t always get our way,” says Dillon. Berkshire incorporates flexibility into the daily lives of youth at school and in their residential programs so that they can practice these strategies in real life settings. SAFE includes the aspect of engagement in its list of values to encourage people to stay involved in their own lives. “We need to teach [these skills,] in addition to job readiness,” says Dillon. “Social and emotional learning is as predictive of success as reading and writing.”

High impact intervention
The SAFE program is integrated into school through high-impact intervention that infuses these values into all aspects of a youth’s day. “It’s not natural to breathe and choose,” says Dillon. “But when we stop and breathe, it creates a physiological space between our initial reactions and our responses.” This helps us stay away from triggering situations and choose better responses.

Because you matter.
Safety can only be a priority when those working toward it realize why they need to be safe. Only when youth truly believe that they matter does safety become a high priority. “You’re important to me, you’re important to us,” says Dillon. This simple truth is all too often what is missing in the lives of at-risk youth. “These things that seem simple are not always obvious,” says Dillon. “It’s love, listening, and limit setting that heals.”



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