Farewell Message by Lee Grogg

You have made it possible for us to continue our work with and on behalf of children that most people want to ignore. Your support has distinguished you as not only kind, but discerning. I also want to take this opportunity to say goodbye. After 42 years as a nonprofit CEO with the last fifteen wonderful years at Ryther I am retiring. I am so grateful to all of you for the help you have been in the task of making sure Ryther continues its important work.  We have made a lot of progress, but much remains to be done.  I am confident it will be done because Karen Brady has been chosen as my successor. Karen has been devoted to Ryther for the past twenty years in a variety of capacities. Frankly, I have never met anyone better suited and prepared for the job.  I know you will extend your kindness and support to her.

There are far too many people in the children’s services sector who believe children can recover from severe trauma by themselves in a “normalized” environment or with uncoordinated help from a fractured and siloed mental health system that has never adequately addressed the needs of abused and neglected children.  This is one reason why the system is impoverished and habitually prone to crises. 

 Please stay connected with Ryther.  Please continue to express your support of a proven program that can alter the futures of children who might otherwise be doomed to a life of impossible struggle and pain.  Join Ryther in the fight to make sure the system focuses on the safety, health and well-being of children as the first and most important priority. 

The children are counting on all of us.

Thank you,

Lee E. Grogg

 

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Message of Thanks from Ryther CEO Karen Brady

Karen Brady, MSW/MBA

Karen Brady, MSW/MBA

Annually, Ryther welcomes the summer with a Juneteenth celebration on the final day of school. An outdoor bar-b-que lunch, songs from the Total Experience Gospel Choir, along with games and activities speak to the possibilities of the summer that lies ahead. While most children welcome their summer vacation with happy hearts and anticipation, for many of the children in our Cottage Program at Ryther, summer can bring very different feelings and images. For them, unstructured and oftentimes unsupervised days at home bring an uneasy feeling and some sad memories. Their summer break meant more stress on their family, greater possibilities of missed meals when school breakfasts and lunches weren’t available, and more time at home where violence and addiction may have made each day unpredictable and frightening. The sunshine merely deepened the darkness of the strife they faced at home.

In the Cottage Program, staff work with each child to face those fears and memories and begin to heal. Using therapeutic interventions designed specifically for traumatized children in a warm, safe, and nurturing environment, they help each child begin to step away from the dread and hurt, and begin to find hope and develop small expectations that things can get better. One of the best things we witness at Ryther campus is a child in discovering the small joys that summer brings – blue skies, water play on hot days, picnic meals outside and time to be a child.

We could not help these children move away from their pain to find those simple joys without you. Your dedication and support allows us to provide the individualized and evidenced supported treatment that helps bring a sense of renewal, hope and positive expectation to the children at Ryther.

Thank you for bringing summer, and all the good that comes with it, to the children at Ryther.

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Message from Lee Grogg, CEO

Earlier this year I was, like many members of the Ryther family, engaged in correspondence with various governmental officials about reimbursement rate justice for Ryther. In one exchange I was responding to assertions by some officials that a rate adjustment was not warranted for a variety of bogus reasons. I was informed by one official that I was “taking this too personally”. Since I know a brush off when I see one, I did not make any further attempts to persuade this individual of the error of his thinking.

It has occurred to me that the core of our problem with the Washington’s government is the sentiment that budgetary problems that adversely affect the well-being of seriously disturbed, abused and neglected children should not be taken personally. Never mind that not getting the care and services these children receive have demonstrable negative personal consequences, I was essentially admonished to disregard their short and long term futures because they created difficult political situations for some involved officials.

I do want to make one thing very clear, not a single elected Representative or Senator of any party has voiced such a calloused and ill-informed attitude when presented with the facts about the state of reimbursement to providers of services (Ryther and other providers are reimbursed at the same level that existed in 2004).

I have come to the conclusion that in the face of such indifference I must continue to take my duty personally and seriously. Anything short of that dismisses and devalues the lives of these children who, for the most part, have been treated shabbily by the State.

I hope that others will become as personally committed to effectively meeting the needs of these children.

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Our job is to heal mentally ill, not hurt them.

The plight of seriously mentally ill people has been much in the news lately. Unfortunately most of the coverage has been sensationalized in way that spawns more fear and prejudice than information.  Typically the discussion alludes to floridly psychotic people (usually not senior citizens) who become violently assaultive. This creates the impression that people with psychoses are, as a rule, dangerous. Anyone who works in the field who promotes this notion is irresponsible.

You might ask how is this discussion relevant to Ryther as we deal with children? First, the term child covers a wide range of ages. For Ryther it has come to mean kids from two years old to 24. To be sure only a fraction of these children are over 18.  That being said, it is not uncommon for people who develop schizophrenia to experience their first psychotic break in the years from 18 to their mid-twenties and there are those adolescents who experience drug induced psychotic episodes. Ryther does in fact serve these kids.

After forty years in the mental health field, with about 30 of those years heavily involved with seriously and persistently mentally ill people (schizophrenics) I can tell you from first-hand experience that the vast majority of these people are more afraid of you than you can imagine.  Visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as many delusional systems are terrifying and horrible beyond comprehension. Using force indiscriminately to subdue such people is itself dangerous to all concerned. Whether they’re 15 or 24 people afflicted with psychoses need help and are not dangerous. Our job is to heal them and keep everyone safe; not to make things worse.

– Lee E. Grogg

Executive Director/CEO

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Which is which?

Frequently we are told by someone or agency that the child they send to us has a behavioral health problem not a mental health problem. Usually those persons have something to gain or avoid when they say these things. For instance, wishing to avoid clinical or financial responsibility for the child being referred.

The problem with their position is that if the usually very difficult behaviors we see have no underlying causes they  are more or less intentional and the responsibility of the child or parents.  This harkens back to the bad old days when way too many mental health professionals used to identify “schizophrenic” mothers.

We at Ryther believe that very difficult behaviors typically have reasons other than individual choice, especially among pre-adolescents. We also believe that while teenagers can choose to take drugs we also know their brains are not sufficiently developed to reliably assess risks and regulate behaviors. We also believe there are also underlying emotional reasons that often drive the choice.

In any case, we believe that changing very difficult behaviors (which is the only kind we see at Ryther) most often requires professional mental health intervention if there is to be any hope of being successful.

Children seldom choose to lose control and become violent for the fun of it, just like I have never seen a child that chooses to wet the bed or soil himself or herself who isn’t otherwise disturbed or traumatized in some way. Indeed, we think that Father Flannigan had it about right when he said “there is no such thing as a bad boy (…girl)”.

It has been suggested by some State officials that they do not have to pay us for having psychiatrists on staff or for maintaining a richer staff to child ratio than is strictly required by law, because we are dealing with behavioral problems, not mental health problems. They make this claim even as they send us children with a plan to send them on to a State Hospital.

In the end, if you believe that behavioral problems have no mental health origins, especially in children between the ages of six and fourteen, then it seems to me you are recommending a corrections response to these children.

I think they still call this blaming the victim.

Lee Grogg, CEO

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No Celebration Necessary

This morning the local news is reporting that the State Senate passed a budget bill and sent it to the Governor for signature in the wee hours of the morning. For organizations like Ryther that serve the State’s Child Welfare System, this news may come as some relief in that catastrophic cuts were not made to relevant funding sources within the government, but this is not a time for self-congratulatory backslapping. The Children’s Administration’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Services prorams still pays less than two-thirds the cost of care for kids at Ryther. Ryther loses $115 per day per child on kids referred from DSHS. Since 2009, Western Washington has seen its residential bed capacity shrink by 72 beds as a result of grossly inadequate reimbursement. The State has already used residential care at a much lower rate than nearly every other State. It is very hard to avoid inflammatory rhetoric when discussing this subject. Ryther is hanging on for now, but this situation cannot go on forever. Any celebration over a new budget that does not address some needed tax reforms should be modest.

Lee Grogg, MSW, MBA

Executive Director / CEO

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What the Research Really Says

The other day I happened across a broadcast of a presentation by Dee Wilson, one of the field’s best minds. During the Q&A, an audience member asked the question as to why would the system continue to place children in foster care when the research shows that kids coming out of foster care fare so much worse later on than those kids who stayed at home. Mr. Wilson answered very carefully and diplomatically by pointing out that almost by definition, the kids who do get sent to foster care typically have more serious problems than those who stay in their homes. Consequently, these children would likely have more problems and maybe worse problems if they were kept in an unsafe home. The audience member asking the question was guilty of the common mistake  of drawing a conclusion about apples and oranges possibly to justify a conviction held previously.

It has become popular to criticize out-of-home placement as unhelpful or destructive despite the overwhelming evidence that Foster Parents provide a necessary, important and valuable service to the children and community. Foster Parents are inadequately compensated, supported and unappreciated by the system as a whole. From what I have seen, this is especially true in the State of Washington.

It would be helpful if State elected and appointed officials would listen more carefully to Mr. Wilson than to their own prejudices.

Lee Grogg, MSW, MBA

Executive Director / CEO

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Children and Guns

Thoughts on Policy Development and Child Development

In the news recently there has been a spate of sensational headlines involving children with firearms with some of those stories having tragic endings (see here and here). While I suppose it’s possible (though far fetched) for someone to argue that children have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, what is indisputable is they should not be allowed to carry firearms to school. When they do, someone is inevitably injured or killed. This concept is not a particularly controversial topic for discussion. Most people would agree that we should not allow first graders to carry guns. At the same time, in the face of compelling scientific evidence about adolescent brain development, we in Washington have a policy that allows thirteen-year-olds to make decisions about their mental health treatment, including Chemical Dependency treatment.

Given that we know that adolescent brains are not capable of making decisions that carry this kind of risk, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could justify it. While I object to this policy as a provider of care, my principle objection is that it too often paralyzes parents.

One rationale that I have often heard is that many times, parents use confinement in treatment facilities to bully and incarcerate argumentative youth. Indeed, I have seen such things happen. At the same time I have seen people driving on the highway clearly intoxicated, but I don’t conclude that we should not stop and arrest such people.

The fact is, we are the adults and are supposed to know better. I find it interesting that in the Child Welfare field, there are ardent advocates that believe that the children’s parents always know better. If that is true, maybe we ought to give all parents the same presumption of competence in all things relating to their children. In fact, we do most of the time, so it makes the State’s policy about children having the adult competence to accept or reject mental health or addiction treatment all the more curious. To allow a cocaine-addicted sixteen-year-old to check out of treatment  is the same as allowing the nine-year-old to carry a 9mm pistol in his or her backpack. Look for deadly outcomes from such a policy.

Contributed by Lee E. Grogg, Ryther’s Executive Director/CEO

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Adverse Childhood Experiences and our Health: What’s the Connection?

Considerations during American Heart Health Month

Heart Health Month
Consider your heart during American Heart Health Month.

Ever since the dawn of the modern age of psychology, there has been a debate about how we become the adults we are. The short-hand description of this debate was “Nature or Nurture”. Are we born

with innate traits that make some people criminals and other people humanitarians? Interestingly, as the science and technology of brain research and genetics has advanced, some have thought these advancements would help clarify or settle the argument. While newer science has clarified some issues, the best that can be said is that we are who and what we are as a result of both nature and nurture.

Whatever else we have learned, we know that one’s adult health status is very strongly affected by the experiences one has as a child. This is something to consider especially in February which is American Heart Health Month. The pioneering research of Dr. V. J. Felitti and Dr. R. F. Anda has given us ample evidence that if you experience a number of traumatic and highly stressful events in childhood, your entire health status will definitely be affected. We are, of course, referring to Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Perhaps one of the more surprising things this study funded by Kaiser Permanente revealed was that Adverse Childhood Experiences were not all that uncommon. It has been estimated that as much as 25% of the adult population has had some of these experiences which include absent parents, alcohol or drug abuse by a parent, violence, some manner of neglect and emotional abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse. People who have enough of these experiences are likely to develop high risk and unhealthy coping mechanisms including smoking, over eating, drug and alcohol abuse and lack of exercise. Hence, morbid obesity, addiction, depression and even Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease occur with much greater frequency with these people. Those who advocate hands-off methods to struggling families should know that not only will the specific families and their children be victims, but we will all pay a higher price for health and mental health care as well as for the criminal justice system.

To learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), visit www.acestudy.org.

– Lee E. Grogg

Ryther’s CEO/Executive Director

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Across the Board Cuts

Cutting a budget whether you are a family, a business or a government is never easy. I know because I have had to do it on two of these categories. Some think making a flat percentage cut across the board some how makes not making decisions both easy, fair and right. It may be easy but it is neither fair or right. It assumes you have no values driven principles or priorities. It suggests that you don’t want to do the work or take responsibility for the results.

Presently the Washington legislature is considering a budget with a 20% across the board to DSHS’ Children’s Administration service called Behavioral Rehabilitation Services (BRS). This pays for care of the State’s most damaged and vulnerable children, like the children at Ryther. Not serving these children will not mean they magically get better or that they won’t be just as costly immediately as a result. However, they do represent a small percentage of the total number of children in care so I suppose one could suggest that no one will notice or care. These children do not scare people on street corners, they don’t vote and they have very few people who will speak for them.

Any government that suggests that the needs of these children are somehow less important than the needs of others is abrogating its responsibility. BRS has been severely cut and reduced over the years. A 20% will gut the program and abandon a lot of children and it will not save money in the either the near term or long term.

Please help us at Ryther speak up for these kids. Let your legislators and the Governor know that seldom is the easy way the best way by calling, emailing or writing a letter. Find your legislators here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx.

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