Lack of on-campus activities: What type of treatment center is this?


In a short-term therapeutic treatment center, you will find a calendar where all the activities for the kids are posted every month in advance. The calendar sets expectations early and follows through at the end of the week and the end of the month. The idea is simple. By providing clear boundaries for each day, it shows our residents that staff is responsible and organized. If everything goes according to plan, it might mean residents get out of the cottage for the day, having worked on their program. 

The calendar is accessible to both residents and staff. Things you will see on the calendar include on-ground campus activities along with off-ground campus activities. The on-ground campus activities include arts and crafts, volleyball games (staff against residents), video game tournaments in the REC, and movie nights outside. The off-ground campus activities include the YMCA, skate park, museums (usually days on free admission), bowling, and the cinema.

The off-ground activities are only for residents who are on a level, meaning they are following their program enough to receive a grade level of C and above. The activities off-grounds should motivate the resident to be on a level. However, most of the time when activities were posted on the calendar, the residents did not care. They were disappointed so many times before they didn’t believe the staff was actually going to take them.

The residents gave up on the level system and didn’t care if they were on a passing level to do activities or not. The activities on-campus, I can say for sure, never happen! Let me say that again: the activities that were posted on the calendar were never planned, organized, or carried out. It was just a mirage for licensing.

Broken promises

In the overall context, a promise or agreement to the residents seems pretty insignificant. A hasty assurance that we’ll go to the skate park after group on Sunday. A deal that if he does his chore, hygiene, and room care before noon you’ll drive him to the mall. 

We’ve all experienced broken promises but when “the one thing you can count on is to expect more of it” (1), that is a problem! If our resident’s passing disappointment was the only negative outcome from our broken promises, that would be one thing. Pay attention to your words, because words have power, and when we misuse them it’s a pretty big deal.

Consider these three things that happen when we break our promises to our residents:

  1. We teach them not to trust us. 
  2. We make them feel unimportant.
  3. We trigger them to feel frustrated, resentful, withdraw, and keep secrets from us.

Keep them bored 

Unlike off-campus activities, which often require money, on-campus activities require only a little ingenuity and planning. Yet every day was the same thing: nothing. And for a while, I wondered why. Until I realized that boring was the way the staff like it.

Boring kids get into trouble and that would guarantee multiple SIRs (Special Incident Report) and FYI’s to keep the kids in treatment forever. Never to reach their therapeutic or treatment goals. Think about it. If that wasn’t the case, please tell me why they couldn’t put together a volleyball game with staff and residents or a craft activity for the kids. They are waiting for the kids to take initiative. They want the kids to pick up the baseball glove and form two teams and play a game.

My theory is they do not want the residents to get better because if they got better, who will fill their empty beds? This is how they believe they will keep all the beds full. The congregate care industry complex, for-profit, group homes (7-12 children), and institutions (12 or more children) are treating to make money. So they try to increase the time spent in congregate care, especially the ones that are easy to take care of.

What did I do?

My go-getter spirit couldn’t just let me sit back and watch, so I made a few phone calls and set up two activities. The first one was an off-ground volunteer activity to an animal shelter, and the second one was an on-campus boxing class with a certified trainer. Two activities that could reduce stress, anxiety, depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve cardiovascular health. (2) And the best part was that both activities were free!

Everything was done with the only thing left to do was to set up a date with the contact person listed for each outing. However, when I presented my ideas to the event coordinators, providing them with a flyer where they could find the contact information, location, and a brief description of who the organization was, unfortunately, my two activities were turned down!

Although I thought I was helping to solve a problem, to the director of this organization, I was tampering with their money. What if they got hurt? What if a dog bites them or they hurt themselves while practicing boxing? Do you think licensing would want to pay us?

They also kept the public away from the group home, even if they were coming with good intentions. Of course, the trainer (if he was approved) would have been outside as no one is allowed in the group home unless approved, but even him being an outsider was dangerous.

They didn’t want people to get too close, because that would mean they would see how the group home facility was operating things.   

How treatment counselors are being set up to fail

The people in charge – the cottage managers, executive directors, assistant directors, directors, and senior vice presidents – kept the staff in limbo. And because the employee turnover rate was so high, no one really knew what was going on until it was too late and they quit (having a funny feeling that management felt disengaged and the work environment felt confusing).

Staff needs residents to look forward to something in order for the rule system to work, yet no one knows who was responsible. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my coworkers and I also wondered: Where is the accountability? All I knew, was that there were two activity coordinators, but when I or other staff asked:

  • “What time is the outing today?”
  • “Is the outing still x,y,z?” 
  • “When will the outing money be passed out, so we can leave?” 

The activity coordinators just looked at us with a blank stare on their faces. They were thinking, I don’t know. I am waiting for the cottage manager to tell me what to do. Deep down, I believe they felt embarrassed to say, “I am not really in charge, I just do what management tells me to do!”

I wonder, does the cottage manager even want the activity coordinators to follow the calendar or are the activity coordinators just really bad at their job? If I had to choose, my money would be on the former because the amount of unreliability was too outrageous. All I know for sure was that nothing was done that was ever posted on the event calendar, especially the on-ground campus activities! The reason why? I guess I will never know.