The Importance of Hope

Day Treatment Supports Entire Families

Day Treatment counselors like Erik Gerrits (pictured above) build on the strengths of each child in the program.
John celebrated his high school graduation in June 2017 with dozens of family members and friends at an open-house style gathering in a local park. From the outside, it might be hard to imagine that at one time the vibrant 18-year-old was a fifth grader whose mental health symptoms resulted in daily, explosive outbursts in class.
“It was all the time,” says his mother, Jennifer, who helped John enter Wilder’s Day Treatment Program after his symptoms grew. Jennifer, a longtime childcare provider, had recognized the signs of autism in her son early in life and made sure John was enrolled in special education services and private services starting at age 2. The mental health symptoms that John began experiencing in mid-elementary school, however, had exhausted the family.
Wilder Day Treatment became a place where John could develop skills to help him regulate his emotions, and the whole family could receive support. “He gained a tremendous amount of coping skills,” says Jennifer, “and I received the outside help I needed.”
That focus on supporting both children and their families is an integral part of the Day Treatment healing process. “We work hard to make sure parents and families feel like they can support their child through this process,” says Heather McMoore, the program’s clinical manager. “In Day Treatment fostering hope in parents is one of the critical parts of the mental health treatment." 

Learning to Trust Again

Day Treatment is the most intensive mental health program for children that Wilder offers. Children work with counselors and staff in a group setting three hours a day, five days a week while continuing to attend their regular schools and live at home.
Children in the program may have experienced trauma that taught them to remain in a “fight or flight” mindset much of the time, which makes it difficult for them to maintain healthy relationships. “These aren’t ‘bad’ kids,” McMoore says. “They have been through a lot at a young age, and their bodies have learned to enter survival mode to survive. Our job is to help their bodies and minds learn how to trust again.”
​In the view of parents, the program succeeds. A 2015 program evaluation by Wilder Research invited parents and caregivers of 18 children who had received Day Treatment services that year to share their experiences with the program. The evaluation found that among the 13 caregivers who responded:
  • All were satisfied with the services their child received
  • The majority were more hopeful and confident in their own and their child’s ability to handle challenges
  • Ninety-three percent reported improvement in their child’s ability to handle life



"We Had the Same Goal"

For parents, the support and hope they receive from Day Treatment can be a lifeline during a difficult time. Ingrid, a Saint Paul parent whose daughter Rose went to Day Treatment, says that staff treated her as a partner. “They never talked down to me,” she says. “We had the same goal, and we treated each other that way.”
Rose, who was adopted at 3 and has complex mental health diagnoses, made progress in Day Treatment. Ingrid says Rose’s symptoms later worsened because her daughter is unable to respond to therapy. Despite her daughter’s continued challenges, Ingrid says that Day Treatment is the program that she uses to measure other treatment options for her children – and the place she recommends to others.
“There’s a teamwork experience that I haven’t found anywhere else,” Ingrid says.

Building Skills for Life

Jennifer says John was initially opposed to Day Treatment, but that he loved staff within a short time and embraced the program. For example, he used a binder with pages that helped him identify and deal with his emotions. On family days, John’s younger brother came to the program and learned about John’s experience over dinner, craft projects and games. Jennifer believes John also benefited from seeing how other children in the program coped with their behavioral struggles.
John had made progress and was on track to leave when Jennifer received a life-changing diagnosis: ovarian cancer. A Day Treatment staff member came to the family’s home to help her tell her children. “I just can’t say enough about how supportive they were,” Jennifer says.
While Jennifer received treatment, John faced increased struggles with his mental health. Eventually, he gained enough skills and stability to leave the program. “When he graduated from (Day Treatment), were things perfect? No,” Jennifer says. “But he would not have been close to where he was at with dealing with his emotions if he had not had the daily therapy.”
John and his family continued to build skills after completing Day Treatment. By the time he graduated from high school, he had had just two disciplinary incidents during four years of high school.
“He learned,” says Jennifer. “He knows what’s appropriate and what he needs to do to be successful.”
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

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