Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Cares? Let's Find Out

From Melanie Goodman:

I had a chance to hear leadership guru Margaret Wheatley in NH last week. It was a shot in the arm, a reminder why we do this work, and there were many take-aways. Given the tough job of providing resources to local communities from afar, which is afterall NEN’s modus operandi, it helped to be reminded that an assets approach to community work fights the impulse to create more rules and regulations, look for the perfect leader, and rely on outside experts (even though this last one contradicts NEN to some extent). Instead, the assets approach assumes:

· We have what we need
· Leaders are already here
· Every situation is workable
· Most people want to help others
· We have triumphed in much worse circumstances
· We can be fearless and bold; indeed we already have been

I also am a big fan of saying it straight, and resonated to many of these quotes Wheatley shared during her presentation:

“To get help, find the issue that people care about.” (vs. naming your issue and finding people to work it).

“To change the conversation, change who is in the conversation.” (I feel like we all get stuck here A LOT.)

“Don’t ask what’s wrong; ask what’s possible and who cares?” (In truth, I think we’re afraid to ask this question because maybe no one does care about the thing(s) we care about.)

“We don’t have an accountability problem; we have a caring problem.” (If we ‘care’ we’ll automatically be accountable? Really? Hmmm.)

But my personal favorite was:

“You can’t hate the person whose story you know.” I’m attempting to teach this very thing to my highly judgmental 12-year-old. No small feat.

So I went ahead and bought Wheatley’s new book, Finding Our Way. I may make it NEN’s next Virtual Book Group pick. Any joiners? I’m expecting to hear from all you Wheatley fans out there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heads Up: Income-Based Repayment Could Make a Serious Difference for Low-Paid Direct-Service Staff

A few weeks ago we ran an item in Into Practice, our e-newletter, about Income-Based Repayment, a new and much-needed strategy to make paying back student loans more affordable. I can't figure out why more people aren't excited about this. Could it be that they don't know about it?

From the IBR website:

Income-Based Repayment (IBR) is a new payment option for federal student loans. It can help borrowers keep their loan payments affordable with payment caps based on their income and family size. For most eligible borrowers, IBR loan payments will be less than 10 percent of their income - and even smaller for borrowers with low earnings. IBR will also forgive remaining debt, if any, after 25 years of qualifying payments.

There are also public-service loan forgiveness programs for which social service workers may be eligible after 10 years of payments and employment. Low-earning workers, social workers ... ring any bells?

The most important thing is that anyone can try to improve the terms of his or her loan, no matter when they borrowed. So IRB is highly relevant to direct-service workers, for instance, many of whom say they would stay in the field if not for student loans.

The IRB website has comprehensive information about repayment options, the loan forgiveness option including a repayment calculator, and links to webinars for more information. Link:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Piece Disappears

Last week, in our regular e-newsletter, we published a short essay about the closing of OdysseyNH, a residential substance-abuse treatment center for adolescents in Hampton, NH. Here's what we said:

It was with sadness and and a sense of foreboding that we noted, here in New Hampshire, the death of OdysseyNH, an agency providing residential care to troubled adolescents. Odyssey House (later renamed OdysseyNH) opened its doors in 1970, and I first got to know it when I went to work as a local newspaper reporter here in the early '80s. Yet I'd never been inside til last October, when I was preparing a study on the condition of the children's mental health workforce in New Hampshire. It looked a lot like every agency. Maybe a little busier, more chaotic and noisy, but then, the agency's recovery school -- the only one in the state -- had just let out for the day, and vans were crowding the driveway. Some of the kids were headed off to a game somewhere, and shifts were changing. There was lots of laughing and high-fiving.

Things weren't particularly good at the agency -- I knew that -- but then, they weren't good anywhere. Censuses were down at residential programs throughout the state. I sat down with a program director and he told me the agency hadn't anticipated how rapidly funding for residential treatment would deteriorate. Odyssey was expert in treating youth with substance abuse and delinquency issues, and that's all they wanted to do; changing direction in some big and fundamental way clearly seemed almost impossible to them. I asked where the youth were going who used to be referred to Odyssey. The director shrugged and said he had no idea. This seemed incredible to me. He had to know, I thought. Surely, I suggested to him, a clear policy had been articulated at the state level on this transition away from residential treatment; a plan had been laid out and goals had been established. That way, agencies like Odyssey -- the ones who knew the most about troubled youth and what they needed -- would know what to expect and how to adjust. But my question must have struck him as naive, because he just looked at me and smiled.

I came back a couple of weeks later to interview nine front-line staffers. A veteran worker complained about low pay and high turnover, and said he was pushing for change. Younger workers told me they loved the kids but had to work second jobs to make ends meet. Lots of them were going back for advanced degrees; they liked the work, but the pay was killing them. Wht they really needed was a higher-level job, they figured. One staffer who had just finished her master's degree asked if there was anywhere in the state she could work where her student loans would be forgiven; anywhere at all, because she'd be willing to move there. I promised her I'd try to find out.

But despite the obvious stress they were under, the workers at Odyssey were pretty much like the workers at every other agency I spoke to: clear-eyed yet hopeful about their clients, and full of that spirit of jokey camaraderie so common among youthworkers. I liked them, and respected for them doing such a tough job. As we know, the marginalization of residential treatment is a big, complicated story -- one ultimately about economics and philosophy. Outcomes for youth will be similarly complicated. Right now, though, I'm pausing for this one, simple story. Goodbye, Odyssey.

A number of people responded to this article, thanking us for calling attention to the stresses that the field - and particularly residential services - are under. But we have two follow-up questions for our readers:1. In your community, where are the youth who are no longer being referred to your programs actually going? Are they simly being stepped down to a less intensive of care, and if so, what's happening to them there? 2. Given the current climate in the field, where are you seeing INCREASED demand for front-line staff, and where are you seeing DECREASED demand?