Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press Published 6:00 a.m. ET Oct. 14, 2018
Dr. Maria Muzik, an Associate Professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry, left, chats with Mary Ludtke from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 at the opening of the new Starfish Partnering with Parents Center in Dearborn. (Photo: Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press)
Imagine being the parent of a child whose needs are many and may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychological counseling to deal with trauma.
Now imagine that you, the parent of that child, must take your child to different places all over the county for each of those services, whether you have the transportation, time off work — or money to make it happen.
Now imagine that you are that child. And you’re 5 years old. And you to go to all of those places while also going to school.
If you can’t feel the sheer frustration and pain of that or are unmoved by any child or family having to endure that, then you should skip this column. You should just keep ignoring that, by ignoring the plight of children in need, we are ignoring the potential of children who could be future leaders of industry, politics, health or community.
Instead, we make them future burdens.
But if you understand that Michigan’s future depends on how well we empower and prepare all of our children, then we have something to celebrate: that a community agency that serves hundreds of children is trying something different.
Starfish Family Services, which announced last year its intent to focus more on helping children through trauma, has created that rare center that allows families to get all their services in one place. Starfish isn’t the first, but it is helping to lead the way in changing how family service agencies work. Starfish, which works with hundreds of families and children a year, has consolidated the services they offered in four different places all in one space for children up to age 6 at the new Partnering with Parents Center in Dearborn.
The 12,500-square-foot space has applied behavior analysis rooms for children who have autism, group therapy rooms, sensory rooms for occupational and physical therapy, a speech therapy room and a couple of outpatient therapy rooms.
The center, a one-stop shop for families, is creating a neighborhood of services and making a family of those who need help and those who give it.
“We had a lot of focus groups with families and a lot of what we were hearing was that they were tired of having to go four, five sometimes six, locations to get the services they needed for their children, Gillian Ogilvie, manager of maternal and early childhood services at Starfish, said in an interview. She will manage day-to-day operations at the center.
“We had kids who had such diverse needs, and they had providers all over the county, in multiple buildings. And our families were saying how challenging that was, traveling and building relationships with different centers. So we wondered how we could we pull all the services we provide into one location, a professional home for parents to go to. This was a huge wake-up call for us.”
It should be a huge wake-up call for all agencies working with children and families. We have to stop making it so hard for children and families to get help.
We have to stop pretending that trauma doesn’t affect how children feel in a classroom, at a camp, on a stage.
What Starfish is doing is creating a family of care to improve the lives of families. And they are doing it at a time when the tensions and rancor and trauma of the times, whether it is kids experiencing or seeing violence to a general increase in anger across our communities.
The reason I’m learning so much about Starfish is because the organization is my partner on a months-long project looking at how trauma and toxic environments affect how children learn.
That means spending time with the 75 staff members in their new Dearborn space in The Atrium, a mirrored building that, ironically, allows those entering to see themselves coming and going.
The goal is to make sure those going see themselves more clearly and feel more prepared to do great things.
“… We see kids who are living with toxic stress,” Ogilvie said. “That is not an anomaly among people. We don’t make assumptions that families are living in trauma, but typically they experience trauma whether it’s the parent or child. We make sure families have access to relationship-based services. Every service we provide has some kind of parent component or building better relationships between parent and child to boost resilience from any kind of traumatic event.
“We want to make sure each child as a secure attachment relationship in their lives,” she said. “And parents are more likely to accept help if all the help is in one place and they’re familiar with the staff. They don’t want to hear, ‘We want to refer you to this establishment down the road. We don’t know how you’ll get there and don’t know where you’ll park and you won’t know the staff, but….’”
The center, which will serve 750 children and families, had its open house on Wednesday, on World Mental Health Day, which since 1992, has existed to help remove the stigma of mental illness.
If the world can do it, then individual communities must remove the stigma, work together to give children what they need to all start on a level playing field and start building leaders rather than lingerers, bright stars rather than those to whom we point and wonder what might have been.
Contact Rochelle Riley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley.