We Need A Home-First Approach

home first“Emily” is not from a broken home. She is not an abused child and has never suffered the loss of a parent. She’s a smart kid and has the IQ test to prove it, but she’s failing out of school. Her anger turned to apathy a couple of years ago when she realized how little work she actually had to do and still get passed along to the next grade. Now, almost done with high school she shows an inkling of interest in graduating but getting her to the diploma stage is going to take some serious work. Why did this happen? And why didn’t anyone catch it before it was almost too late?

The goal for my Struggling Students: To understand each area of their life because it has been proven, time and time again, that failing academics are really just a symptom that something else is wrong. No kid would willingly fail English if it wasn’t a cry for help. Naturally, the conversation turns to home life, as this is such a huge piece of the puzzle. Yet so many providers do not want to get their hands too dirty and, in fact, are prohibited from becoming too attached to the family. Yes, you must have boundaries. But no, you cannot fix an academic problem by simply addressing what goes in the classroom.

I get it. I really do. Serving the family is really, really hard! That’s precisely why I opted to attend law school instead of pursuing grad school and even avoided Family Law like the plague. Families are messy. But I couldn’t avoid it forever, especially in my line of work. As I’ve learned over the years, we cannot be afraid to get our hands dirty because that’s really the only way we can all come together to help that kid– to help an Emily.

When a child goes into the foster care system, they have a team of support care professionals assigned to their case who come together periodically and form what is affectionately known as a Wraparound service. It’s like a giant hug from all those who care about this kid: Therapists, Social Workers, Doctors, Lawyers, Foster Parents, and sometimes Teachers, CASA Volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and Guardian Ad Litems. This Wraparound model brings together an interdisciplinary approach to serve “the best interest of the child”. That got me thinking: Shouldn’t all of our child-centered services be of the wraparound nature?

Emily’s story is more common than you might think. There would have been countless Parent-Teacher Conferences, phone calls home, e-mails with the Principal Cc’d and Bcc’d, Student Success Team (SST) Meetings, and maybe a Request for a Referral for an Evaluation and followup Psycho-Educational Assessment to look for any special education needs or a polite suggestion to look into other local schools. It would be unlikely, however, any one of those administrators, teachers, or therapists would have walked into Emily’s home and had a coffee and chat with her parents at the dining room table. If they had they would have seen a couple divided on parenting styles (permissive v disciplinarian), a family without a clear set of expectations for their children (associated learned helplessness), or overworked parents who were so stressed about financially providing for their kids they forgot to build in time to spend with them.

All roads lead back home. Once we acknowledge that, we can build our services with a home-first approach.We can help parents learn how to reconnect with their kids, we can build community to let them know they are not alone,  and we can provide support by looking first at what’s going on inside those four walls.  Yes, as the parent the onus is on you. But do not feel as if you are alone on this journey. The more you acknowledge you need a little help, the more guidance others can provide without being afraid to get their hands dirty in those family dynamics.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder of Terry Tutors and Creator of the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

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