LIMA — Layoffs and stay-at-home orders. Social distancing, school cancellations and e-learning. Any one of those can throw the dynamics of a family out of whack. Some families are better equipped to handle the changes than are others.
For families in Allen, Auglaize, Hardin and Putnam counties who do experience extraordinary trauma and crisis situations in their homes and are in need of a helping hand, there is a program available with experts who are eager to help.
The Mobile Response and Stabilization Services team operated by Coleman Professional Service consists of a staff of licensed clinicians that are few in number but long on understanding and compassion.
Lisa Ashafa, Coleman’s director of peer and specialty services, oversees a team of four staffers, all of whom have been on the other side of social trauma at one point in their lives. The team provides mobile behavioral health services to individuals in the home or at other locations, with a focus on children struggling with a “family-defined crisis.”
“Our team members have been there,” Ashafa said. “They’ve had their own personal struggles in the past, and that really helps level the playing field” when meeting with families who are experiencing difficulties in their day-to-day lives.
Those pitfalls, said staff member Sara Hollar, can run the gamut from something as seemingly mundane as getting a child to eat their vegetables or go to bed at a reasonable hour to more severe and dysfunctional situations — many of which are poverty-based.
“Most of the families we see are from outside referrals,” said Ashafa, “be it from juvenile court, probation, Children Services or just friends. We reach out to the family, but it all has to be voluntary on their part. They have to be willing to allow us into their homes or to meet at some off-site location. Once team members make contact, we try to figure out what the issues are and we start to develop a plan.”
Hollar said the program does not focus on mental health issues. Team members often are simply called on to referee a situation.
“Communication is often the biggest barrier we see. Often times family members just need a negotiator. Once someone feels like they’ve been heard and validated, they feel normalized,” Hollar said. “They start thinking, ‘Maybe we’re not that screwed up after all.’”
Ashafa said when children act out, it’s often the result of a family dysfunction.
“There’s a lack of something in the home,” she said. “It’s our job to find out what the underlying issues are. What we see is that poverty and sexual trauma are the most frequent issues. Poverty is a huge one.”
Team member Jan Mulcahy said each family is different. Once a family plan is developed and its implementation is underway, an exit strategy will be enacted to connect families with other support systems and agencies throughout the community.
“Families define their own crises, and families usually decide when it’s over,” Mulcahy said.
In the year the Mobile Response Team pilot program has been in operation, 95 families have been served in one way or another. Ashafa said the need existed long before COVID-19 arrived and will remain long after the virus has subsided. It is her hope that families in need will reach out to the mobile response team.
“There is no handbook to being a good parent. We’re kind of helping people write their own handbooks,” Ashafa said.