Imagine spending years bouncing from one foster home to the next, having no caring adult in your life, and perhaps being the victim of physical or verbal abuse. This is the background of many of the children who live at Hillsides residential program.
Now imagine a therapeutic approach that emphasizes Respect, Information Sharing, Connection, and Hope (RICH relationships) that provides children with the self-love and sense of safety they have been missing.
This is exactly what is happening in the Hillsides cottages. There, staff members like Mel Lozano put these attributes into daily practice with ground-breaking results.
“These kids have been taught that when they interact with adults, they will be blamed for something and there will be shame and guilt,” said Mel Lozano, cottage supervisor. “We want to teach them that we are here to listen to them, and respect them. We will gather the needed information, and we will give them hope that they can form meaningful relationships that will last.”
Creating RICH relationships can hinge on very small details. Mel has arranged his office so when teens come to talk to him, they sit adjacent to him on a couch, not across the desk from him. “Because there is literally no barrier between us, kids feel more comfortable opening up to me,” he said. “Once they do, we can work toward reaching common goals.”
RICH is letting a youth take a walk off campus to blow off steam, but following behind at a distance of a few feet to make sure they are safe. “I call this a therapeutic walk,” said Mel. “Once a kid settles down, they often share the underlying reason they were upset. For example, maybe it was their aunt’s birthday and they miss her. Then we do everything we can to get in touch with the aunt.”
As a result of this empathetic approach, the youth feel comfortable talking to staff. They also listen more and are more open to helpful suggestions. In addition, they are acting out less, incident reports are down, and require less supervision. It is a win-win situation for both the clients and the staff.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the RICH model is that staff were already practicing the concepts before being trained in them. “The groundwork has always been there,” said Mel, “but now we have a name and a technique to go along with what a lot of our staff have naturally been doing all along.”