A frightened young man resistant to help
*names have been changed*
At just 13 years old, *Joe*, was referred to Guardian Angel Home because of chronic truancy, academic issues at school and significant behavioral matters at home with his mother and step father. Though he has been temporarily living with his grandmother, *Mildred*, he continued many of his negative behaviors. Mildred feared that, while she loved Joe and wanted to give him a safe home, she would not be able to manage his behavior or provide him the help he needed to address his issues. Joe had suffered significant emotional neglect and physical abuse while growing up with his mother and stepfather, had significant attachment issues, and had difficulties managing his emotions.
When Joe arrived at Guardian Angel, he was scared, angry, defiant and openly resistant to any treatment or therapeutic attachment with staff, and offered no cooperation with the school educational program. He was diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
For the first three months, he refused to participate in therapy sessions, actively fought attending the school and spent almost all of his school time in the time-out room because he was so disruptive in the classroom.
Joe’s behavior in his resident living hall consisted of defiance, aggressive verbal abuse and physical attacks of other residents and staff. Staff consistently used verbal coaching cues and behavior management techniques and approved, safe, physical restraints when needed to try to begin to modify his aggression.
Joe began to slowly participate in individual therapy with his therapist, Duane. Joe also received structured and consistent daily guidance, support and behavioral management from the hall residential staff. As Joe began to start to develop trust with the teachers and staff, he finally began attending school, and successfully remained in the classroom for at least a half-day by his fourth month at Guardian Angel. It was discovered that, in all of the chaos and missed school over the years, Joe could not read.
A plan for change develops
It became clear to the Guardian Angel hall therapist, hall supervisor and staff that Joe had severe attachment and loss issues. Joe felt really alone, insecure and scared. He yearned for a secure and safe family relationship, but was fearful of trusting anyone as he could suffer even more emotional hurt.
The therapist and residential staff designed a specific plan to help Joe feel safe, secure and supported so he could begin to learn how to trust. It became clear, as with so many other neglected and abused children, that his acting out was really a plea for help. He desired the nurturing attention and the parenting that he had never received from his mother, who had severe mental health issues, or his alcoholic stepfather, who was abusive to him.
Joe’s therapist began to gradually help Joe talk about his emotions involved with the hurt and loss he was feeling. They talked about overcoming his mistrust of others, and how he could begin to relate to others differently. They also worked with on helping Joe manage his anxiety, fear, and anger differently.
Staff in the hall were instructed to use de-escalation language and to give Joe support, both verbally and with hugs, when his behavior escalated to verbal and physical aggression. The hall supervisor, Jake, modeled this approach himself for several nights so the staff would see that it could be successful. Incidences of Joe’s aggression were reduced dramatically as the staff began to connect with him through their support and affection.
Joe ultimately had to begin to address the biggest source of his pain – his mother’s mental health issues, her emotional abandonment of him and her neglect of him which opened the door for the physical abuse Joe suffered at the hands of his stepfather. This would be a long process, but he began to start to express his feelings with his therapist and started to move on with his life.
As time went on, Joe’s mother stopped visiting him. He slowly began to accept that he was never going home to her again.
Hope for a future?
Staff began to talk with Mildred and Joe about a plan for him to possibly live with her after he made more progress at Guardian Angel. His grandmother was open to the idea and worked closely with Guardian Angel staff. She had staff-supervised visits at the Guardian Angel facility. Then, she took Joe for weekend visits to her home. First, they were short afternoon visits, and then they became longer, overnight visits. They both received therapy together to carefully talk about the possibility of a new living arrangement. Joe began to trust his grandmother wanted to be there for him and that she loved him. He had previously not spent very much time with her because his life with his mom had been so chaotic.
His grandmother was extremely happy and impressed with the changes she saw in Joe and his new self-control. The Joe she knew before was angry, withdrawn and very hard to manage when he had visited her in the past. She let Joe and staff know that she would definitely like to have Joe come to live in her home. In individual therapy, Joe continued his work through his issues with grief and loss He also learned more about the effects of parents with mental illness, and the effects and impact it has on individuals in the family. He was also provided continued counseling on his anger and expression of his many feelings of loss and hurt.
After nine months of treatment, Joe began full weekend visits at his grandmother’s home. The visits went well after working hard together on the rules and expectations. Joe was finally getting consistent structure with the program at Guardian Angel, and, now, at his grandmother’s home. He felt safe and secure with grandmother more each week.
Joe’s grades and behavior in his schooling continued to improve. He made fast progress on his reading skills and comprehension. His behavior in the unit was consistently more cooperative. He showed increased self-management of his anger, and more positive peer interactions with other residents in his daily living.
A new beginning
Joe was discharged to his grandmother’s home after 14 months of treatment at Guardian Angel Home.
A follow-up therapy and casework support program were provided for him and his grandmother for the next several months.
He enrolled in a high school program in the Peoria community. Joe was on his way. He had taken steps to work through unthinkable neglect, hurt and loss to begin his life anew. He learned how to trust again. He learned how to believe in himself again. He developed hope for the future.
This was a future that, just a short time ago, was hard to envision. But the staff at Guardian Angel Home believe in the strengths and the possibilities of a better future for each young man that walks through their doors. Joe overcame enormous grief, hurt and pain in his life with the help of a loving family member and the supportive, expert staff at Guardian Angel Home.
This is just one of the many children who come to us as a last resort, and, in many cases, a last hope for change. Joe is one of the countless stories of success and hope for the future at Guardian Angel over the past several decades. We are privileged to provide this program for years to come for those most in need in our communities in Central Illinois.