Climbers and psychologists, Hal Corny and Beverly Keith, were sitting atop a cliff at the end of a climb. They were at the end of a satisfying day of climbing together, when their conversation flowed toward their work and onto the topic of how to help children in foster care. Those working in the field understand that children in foster care have more trauma to overcome than most children. They have often been neglected and/or abused by their biological parents to such an extent that they must be removed from their parents’ care. There are limited options for these children. They are either sent to live in a traditional foster home or sent to live with a “kinship foster parent” (a relative, close friend, or someone with a close relationship with the child). Neither transition is easy. The only therapy typically supplied for these children is through the Medicaid system, which virtually has a revolving door of therapists – where a child may have several therapists in succession with none ever getting to really know the child enough to effect change in their mental health. With no one to trust, their emotional problems, school problems, and social skills impairment increase, and a sad fact is that 50% of children who age-out of foster care (never return home) become homeless or end up in jail.
Hal and Beverly started brainstorming how they might make a difference in this hard-to-treat group. When they researched to see what might be available to help these children, they found an organization named A Home Within (AHW) – a network of volunteer therapists who agree to take a child (or adult), who is (or was) in foster care, into their practices without any payment – in other words, “free therapy”. AHW therapists provide ongoing, uninterrupted care for as long as the child or adult needs it. What a great find this was! Once they connected with AHW, Hal and Beverly reached out to the Ulster County Department of Social Services (DSS) to see if they would refer children in foster care to AHW therapists. The then Deputy Commissioner, Barbara Sorkin, agreed to give it a try. Over a decade later, Barbara now wishes that every child could have an AHW therapist. DSS supervisors Carly Larkin, Deborah Barra, and Laura Walzer, all have described A Home Within therapists as “experienced”, “creative”, and “reliable”. When an AHW therapist becomes available, they are eager to assign a case to them. One might ask, “Who qualifies to receive AHW-provided therapy?” The answer is that any adult or child who has spent even one day in foster care qualifies for therapy with A Home Within.
The Hudson Valley chapter of A Home Within has nine therapists: Susan Astor, Rose Oceana, Gabriella Portas, Meg Riebesell, Neil Rindlaub, Liz Rogers, Julie Rose, Ingrid Schirrholz, and Nina Tantillo. Unfortunately, there are approximately 118 children in foster homes or in kinship care in Ulster County, which is beyond the local chapter’s capacity to provide services for all of them. More volunteer therapists are needed. Are you a young therapist living in Gardiner? If so, joining A Home Within network can be a great way to develop as a therapist and mature into a private practice. Perhaps you are a retired therapist; AHW is also a wonderful way to use your skills, within a rich collegial environment, without the hassle of running a business. As an added bonus for AHW volunteer therapists, there is a regular, peer-consultation group in which volunteers share the joys and struggles that they experience in their work with clients for mutual support and benefit. Tim Rodier, a consultation group leader and former AHW therapist, has this to say about the experience: “I joined as someone who was interested to learn. It turned out to be more than that… It helped me, hands down, to be a better therapist.”