Great Lakes Recovery’s new youth home will expand care, continue to help kids

NEGAUNEE – Great Lakes Recovery Centers’ new youth residential home in Negaunee will not only expand the organization’s ability to provide troubled and in many cases traumatized Upper Peninsula kids the help they need, but by doing so will benefit the local community and society at large by working to heal its future citizens.

“We’re one of the few remaining adolescent residential treatment facilities in the state … and we would like to let people know that it’s more important now than ever that kids have access to care and to ways to be able to assist them … for their own health and wellness,” said GLRC executive director Greg Toutant. “And our ability to be able to provide a new location for the program is going to be successful not only to our clients, but also to the community.”

GLRC held a ribbon-cutting Friday for its newly renovated Adolescent Services Center on Malton Road, a facility that can enroll as many as 20 kids at a time, ages 12 to 17, in its comprehensive inpatient substance abuse treatment program.

Toutant said he expects the center will receive its occupancy permit no later than August 1, at which point the current ASC staff at GLRC’s Marquette facility will move to the new location. And because of the bigger digs, they may add a few positions as well.

Having looked for a new location for the youth residential program for the past several years, Toutant said the new space on Malton Road has several advantages.

“It’s certainly a quieter location; it sits on several acres of wooded grounds,” he said. “The building itself has additional space that would allow for it to have separate and customized space for things like our school and for our different programs – we offer around art therapy and our group therapy activities, recreation therapy.”

These curricula GLRC employs with its young residents meet criteria approved by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to qualify them as “evidence-based practices for treatment,” Toutant said, with a special focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Trauma-Informed Care.

“When we look at trauma-informed care, it’s about having an environment that doesn’t add to any triggers relevant to the trauma that they’ve been through,” he said. “A lot of things that we find around care for children is that they’ve had a traumatic experience that has led to them having a lifestyle that’s been maybe more risky, in terms of the use of alcohol and drugs and risk-taking behavior. So trauma has been a part of the majority of the lives of the young people that we see.”

Toutant said that while physical and sexual abuse are probably the most well known, emotional trauma can have an equally powerful impact on a child.

“The emotional trauma that children have gone through has been around issues of neglect and absentee parents and families being exposed to high-risk scenarios themselves,” he said. “So they’ve really been put in some vulnerable situations. So that emotional abuse and neglect and trauma is every bit as powerful as the physical and sexual, at times.”

Toutant said cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to teach kids the relationship between their thoughts, emotions and behaviors and to be more conscious of what they’re thinking and feeling “before they react and respond.”

“We do a lot around teaching and coaching, how to do problem-solving and coping in a much more positive light,” he said.

GLRC’s youth residential program serves between 70 and 80 kids in an average year, as well as offering outpatient treatment through the ASC, and Toutant said that for youth from less advantaged families, the nonprofit has flexible payment plans, a sliding fee scale, accepts a variety of insurances and accepts Medicaid. And he anticipates that the Affordable Care Act will make access to those types of services a little easier.

The ASC also has special programs available for Native Americans, Toutant said, through which GLRC assists kids with connecting to their heritage and developing a cultural identity.

“We provide some materials to them to look at how they go through a treatment process that relates to their heritage and their culture,” he said. “We provide access and mentors for those Native American clientele to stay connected with members of their own tribe, from their own culture. We provide access to Native American-sponsored events. The journaling exercises and some of the counseling that we do often involves some very specific cultural pieces, so … it stays very relevant to their heritage and their experiences.”

One relatively recent practice, started less than 10 years ago, that has had a dramatic impact on the kids is ALS’ art therapy program.

“We found it to be highly successful, because oftentimes kids have a hard time verbalizing what they may have been through, especially the trauma in their life,” Toutant said. “And it’s a way for them to artistically represent what some of those experiences are that they’re trying to deal with and trying to get out. So it’s really a great way to communicate and provide a vehicle for them to express themselves. There’s a great deal of healing that can come from that process.”

Overall, while GLRC doesn’t conduct any research-based follow-up on the success of the youth program, the feedback they’ve gotten from former residents has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We typically do hear back from a lot of our residents that call us to tell us that they’re doing better and that their lives are improving, and they stay in touch with us with letters and phone calls,” Toutant said. “So we get a lot of informal follow-up from clients letting us know that we’ve been able to help them and they’re doing better.”

For more information on GLRC’s Adolescent Services Center or any of its other programs, call 228-9696 or visit www.greatlakesrecovery.org.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.