AWOL's at San Pablo

from Ed Ford (921021:0945)

Jim Graves is a good friend of mine, a former student of mine and a
present member of our PCT monthly discussion group. Everyone in the
group works in tough social environments, such as sexual abuse homes,
mental facilities, corrections and probations, acting out kids in
schools, the homeless, groups, etc. We discuss how PCT can be applied
in the various situations in which the members find themselves. Jim is
head of staff training and development and supervisor of counseling at
San Pablo, a residential treatment center for male juveniles 12 through
17. They get most their referrals from the state and courts. I had
him read Bill's answer to David (somehow I missed your original message
David) and he had some interesting remarks.

First, my own thoughts. What we try to do in our PCT group is THINK as
control theorists when looking at how to better apply PCT to our
individual situations. You'll notice in his remarks that he perceives
both his staff and the juvenile residents as living control systems and
he creates and continually changes his methods based on the
effectiveness of his ideas. Another benefit of thinking as a control
theorist is that it frees you up from much of the behvioral
modification and manipulation that goes on in the residential treatment
culture. The important issue here is that Jim not only considers the
various hierarchy of reference signals (values and beliefs, priorities,
standards, criteria and choices) when interviewing and working with the
residents, but he also considers their perceptual systems. Obviously
he can't control their perceptions. However, he tries to create an
environment that would most appeal (influence, if you will) to the
resident's reference signals which in turn would directly relate to how
strong the juvenile's signals are to improve his life. I think this is
part of the genius of what Jim (and others at the center) have done.
The more appealing the environment (read loving, accepting, but not
weakness), the more the juvenile will be working against what he wants,
namely love, acceptance, consistent and fairly enforced standards (read
structured environment), respect, something he never experienced at
home. Most of all, he will be with a staff that is not only caring,
but a staff who actually believes he can make it, again something he
has never experienced. Jim's thoughts are as follows:

AWOL's usually occur with new residents who have not agreed with or
established standards compatible with the center other than not wanting
to be in placement and having the perceptions that they don't have any
problems to work on.

It is very important for staff to have common standards or expectations
of the residents (read have their own perceptions and reference signals
aligned) so that the residents cannot create a split within and among
the staff. Both staff and resident expectations need to be realistic
and achievable. If expectations are too high, then the residents are
discouraged and give up.

San Pablo has reduced AWOL's by beginning to establish a relationship
with the prospective resident during the pre-admission interview by
using basic Control Theory counseling steps that Ed Ford teaches. The
first initial interview is to find out if there is within the
prospective resident a willingness (read reference signal) to get a
commitment to at least try treatment. San Pablo rarely admits a youth
without a commitment. It just doesn't make sense to admit someone who
is going to be disruptive to the program. You can't force a
commitment. Some who refuse to make a commitment ultimately return
because the alternative of returning to a juvenile detention center or
a crazy family is worse. But a commitment is critical. We have
reduced our AWOL's by 80% (of those who did make commitments) just by
involving as many of the staff and successful residents during the pre-
admission interview. This establishes relationships with people the
youth can relate to once he is admitted to the program. This kind
environment gives the youth the needed perception that a commitment
will be in his best interest.

During the interview, the youth is given a tour of the facility and the
program is explained by a resident juvenile who is doing well in the
program. Following admission the staff and resident who interviewed
and gave the tour to the new admission, make every effort to make the
new resident welcome. Thus, at this very critical time, there is a
concerted effort on the part of every one, staff and successful
residents, to continue to build on the new relationships begun prior to
the admission.

Thus it is important for staff to have their systems concepts,
principles, and programs, including their priorities, in line with each
other and with the agency. However, without an initial access to the
youth's value system, and a commitment to try, and a perception of the
staff by the prospective resident as a caring group of people and a
perception of some residents as "making" it, there is a high risk of
AWOL. Somehow, the belief on the part of the new arrival has to
develop that "I can make it here" and it has to develop early on.

There are two problems inherent in residential treatment in today's
system. First, kids often come to San Pablo medicated. When kids are
taken off medication, many placement agencies perceive that it is time
to discharge the youth because there is no longer any "medical
necessity." Or, when a youth, full of drugs, stabilizes, many see this
as meaning it is time to discharge the youth. Either way, the youth's
control system, especially his systems concepts, principles, and
program levels, HAVE NOT BEEN ACCESSED in any way. All that has been
achieved is drugging up the youth. Second, many placing agencies will
discharge kids from treatment just when improvement is beginning. This
is a shame because at this point most kids are in a state of
reorganization dealing with their higher levels and are beginning to
sense the possibility of success and the staff as a vehicle to that

Residential treatment requires a long period of time (12 - 24 months)
in order for the emotionally and behaviorally disturbed youth to truly
reorganize their systems with any degree of success. When discharged
too early, they revert to earlier ways of resolving conflict since they
haven't built the self-confidence in the successful ways they are
trying to build. The success of any program begins with building
trusting relationships. Without that, nothing else will work. Then,
with a commitment to the program, begins the long, slow process toward
evaluating and committing to resolving the many conflicts within the
youth's values and beliefs, priorities, standards, and various options
or choices open to him. For the youth to have any success, he must
ultimate believe that the staff has confidence in his ability to
succeed. A respect has to develop for each other as a living control
system that has it's own internal goals and desires. Before discharge,
the resident has to build the strong and confident belief that he can
resolve his problems and live a happy and productive life.

10209 N. 56th St., Scottsdale, Arizona 85253 Ph.602 991-4861