Re-Entry House offers help to disturbed teens

April 16, 1995|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

The thing Michael likes best about his bedroom at Re-Entry House in Ellicott City is the windows.

"It's cool -- you finally get a window you can open," said the 14-year-old who has spent much of his life in institutions for emotionally disturbed youngsters. "In institutions, they either bolt the windows or lock them or glue them shut."

Michael is one of six boys at the therapeutic group home for severely mentally ill teen-age boys who suffer from such problems as severe depression, mood swings or suicidal episodes.

Re-Entry House is among eight facilities in Maryland that provide a place for mentally ill children from Maryland who have been brought back from out-of-state psychiatric centers at the state's initiative.

Since the state effort began in 1991, the number of children receiving treatment outside Maryland has dropped about 33 percent from 545 to 367.

Those brought back for in-state treatment include Michael and two other boys at Re-Entry House, which is located on the grounds of Taylor Manor Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital.

There's an economic factor at work. State officials say that the money spent to treat those youngsters out of state -- $13 million in the past two years alone -- now can go to Maryland institutions.

More important, therapists can work with mentally ill children and their families in their own communities. "The whole goal of the program is to return kids home," said Susan Daddio, director and case manager of Re-Entry House.

Opened last year, Re-Entry House is run by a private nonprofit Ellicott City group called Maryland Alternative Care Inc., which later this month expects to open another six-bed therapeutic group home for teen-age boys across the street from Taylor Manor Hospital.

The programs serve boys ages 13 to 17 who need intensive therapy but not hospitalization. Most of the teens stay for three to nine months as they learn to interact with others and function in the outside world.

That gradual acclimation to the outside world is "very important, because these kids go back home," said Susan Kleinberg, director of the Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families. "They need to learn the skills you need to survive."

Unlike traditional mental institutions, Re-Entry House looks like a typical single-family home. A list of chores and a weekly dinner menu hang from refrigerator magnets in the kitchen. Residents can play basketball outside or Nintendo inside.

They follow a strict schedule that governs household chores, therapy sessions, meal times and leisure activities.

To strengthen their social skills, the boys share chores such as cleaning the kitchen, taking out the trash and cleaning the yard.

They also venture out to shop for groceries, dine at local restaurants and even camp and hike during the summer.

"The guys get to go out in the community so they can interact with other people by themselves," said LaBone Workman, a senior counselor who coordinates the boys' daily activities. "They see different types of people. That's our whole goal -- to introduce them to a less restrictive environment."

The 10 members of the staff -- made up of counselors, social workers, nurses and doctors -- also form close relationships with the boys.

Mr. Workman, an avid hiker, helped organize an overnight camping trip to Frederick last August and often takes the boys on walks in Patapsco State Park.

Each day, some of the boys attend public school until 2:30 p.m. For those with special education needs, middle and high school classes are offered on the grounds.

In addition to their individual and family therapy sessions, the boys can participate in a group to learn about such health problems as the potential side effects of prescription medications they take.

The program is expensive -- $158 a day, paid by such state agencies as the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Social Services.

But its benefits are readily apparent to Michael, who is a ward of the state and suffers from severe emotional problems.

"I used to be aggressive," said Michael, who regularly broke his eyeglasses during fits of rage. Now, through counseling and medication, he has learned to control his explosive temperament, retreating to his room until he calms down.

Program officials also have noticed improvement in his behavior since he arrived at the group home.

"He's able to call a time-out for himself," Mr. Workman said. After regaining control of his emotions, "he's able to go on with the rest of the day."

Michael also has made gains in his personal life.

Several months ago, he contacted his 11-year-old brother, who is autistic and lives in Connecticut, as well as his grandparents in New York and Florida. His mother died of cancer four years ago and his father lives in Texas and has not seen him for years.

Michael is doing so well, in fact, that he's in the process of leaving the group home for a foster care home.

An avid board game player who enjoys Monopoly, Clue and Life, Michael already has a profession in mind: He wants to sell toys.

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