Daniel is a place where kids with the worst problems imaginable can get help and it’s been that way since its humble beginnings in 1884. In those days, Jacksonville, Florida was a much smaller place of just 10,000 residents. Still, the town had children in desperate need of help, so a group of church ladies opened the Orphanage and Home for the Friendless in a small rented cottage.
Then, in 1888 disaster struck. Yellow fever swept through the town, leaving many children orphaned and alone. Prominent Jacksonville lawyer and religious leader Col. James Jaquelin Daniel, worked tirelessly to help care for the sick and the orphaned, eventually succumbing to yellow fever, himself.
It was in his honor that the Daniel Memorial Association was founded. Through the years, the Daniel Memorial Orphanage adapted to fill the needs of children at risk, constantly expanding and evolving. Today known simply as “Daniel,” children at risk are still receiving the help there that they can’t get anywhere else, including children with serious mental health issues; children who have been on the wrong side of the law; and children whose parents have not provided the emotional or physical support they need.
Kars4Kids is about helping children grow up to be emotionally strong, healthy, and independent, with the skills they need for independent living. So is Daniel. And that is why Daniel became the recipient of a Kars4Kids small grant. There’s a mission both organizations share: helping and mentoring kids.
It was the mission of Col. James Jaquelin Daniel in 1884 and it’s the mission of Daniel and of Kars4Kids today. Kars4Kids is proud to play a small role in helping Daniel help nearly 2,000 children and their families in Florida. We spoke with Ann Kelley, Director of Special Projects for Daniel, to find out more about this good work.
Kars4Kids: It sounds as though Daniel takes in the worst cases: the kids everyone else has given up on. What is the main thing you aim to give these children, in the short time they are with you?
Ann Kelley: The primary objective for our service model is to facilitate the development of the long-term resilience necessary to thrive along with their peers, in spite of mental health disabilities and other adversities associated with trauma experienced in their young lives. To this end, the agency aims to equip each young person with customized coping strategies so that they are able to make positive, productive decisions in all facets of their day-to-day lives.
Kars4Kids: How do you keep less aggressive children safe from the more aggressive children living in your residential facilities? Is this an issue?
Ann Kelley: The intake process for children participating in the on-site residential treatment program is comprehensive, including assessment of risk for aggressive or other detrimental behaviors. It is important to note that most children that meet the qualifications for residential services have exhibited aggressive behaviors to some extent. Safety for all youth begins with a low staff to client ratio (1:4). There is also a recommended 1:12 ratio for nursing staff to which we adhere. The staff psychiatrist is present during daytime business hours and an additional psychiatrist is on-call for all other hours.
For cases at higher risk of harming, a special safety plan is developed by the treatment team. For the most severe cases, an additional staff member is assigned to provide one-on-one, arms-length supervision of the child. Each employee working directly with youth is trained in best practices for preventing occurrences that could lead to overstimulation and subsequent aggressiveness; de-escalating negative behavior during aggressive episodes; and finally, safe restraint of a child who has become a danger to himself or others. Each incidence that involves aggressive behavior is documented and reviewed by the respective supervisors, staff nurse, and program director to ensure that each case involves the most appropriate response.
Kars4Kids: In terms of your delinquency intervention services, what would you say is the recidivism rate for kids referred to your program? What sort of work do you do with these children? What life skills are they taught?
Ann Kelley: The Daniel Memorial Behavior Management Program (BMP) provides individual therapy for teenagers who have entered the Florida Juvenile Justice system. Therapy is provided on-site at the home of the child to alleviate all barriers to access to services. The life skill component includes a thorough assessment of participant knowledge in each life facet, including health, hygiene, education, finance/banking/saving, transportation, employability skills, and community service (volunteer opportunities as learning and networking experiences). The results are utilized for treatment planning and counseling. Life skills instruction is “laced” throughout the service period to include referral to community resources. The average success rate as defined by youth who do not reoffend during the one year period following completion of the program averages 75% over a five year period.
Kars4Kids: How many youths are in Daniel’s Independent Living program? Does Daniel help these children attain their emancipation from their parents/provide legal services? So often children who reach the age of 18 find themselves without resources and support: they’ve outgrown them all. Did your Independent Living program grow out of an awareness of this problem? Do you stay in touch with “graduates” of this program?
The Project Prepare Independent Living Program is currently serving 37 youth and young adults. Annually, this number will reach in excess of 60. The agency staff helps youth with the emancipation process through Legal Aid. This is rare, however, because the process is lengthy. Most clients will reach their 18 birthdays before the court process can be completed. For this reason, emancipation is not critical for this population. They can safely reside at the agency-owned apartment complex, work, attend school, and learn life skills without this legal designation.
Project Prepare indeed grew out of the need to address the problem of estrangement between parents and teens transitioning to adulthood. Common themes included parents with substance abuse and mental health problems and parents that could not accept the gender identity or sexual orientation changes of their children.
While in the program, each participant is assigned a case manager and a therapist to help her begin to learn to fully integrate into the community and to develop a network of positive, productive adults that care about them and their respective futures. We are fortunate to have many graduates come back year after year to ask what they can do to give back. Many are doing very well and will always remember the “leg up” during their darkest moments!
Kars4Kids: Do you have children who keep returning to Daniel for services? Are there children you try to keep a little longer, to keep them safe from abusive situations? Can you give some examples?
Ann Kelley: A returning child is an aberration although children do move regularly through our continuum of programs. For example, a child may exit the residential program but enter the community-based mental health program for treatment while living at home and attending their respective neighborhood school. The reason for this is that on-going treatment is critical for the most serious disabilities such as bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic syndrome disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and numerous other personality disorders. For these cases, there are no “quick fixes” but rather on-going development of strategies that help to mitigate symptoms such as anti-social behavior.
Kars4Kids: Are any of Col. Daniel’s descendants or relatives still involved with Daniel?
Ann Kelley: Yes, Col. Daniel’s granddaughters, sisters Jackie Cook and Eleanor Colledge. Ms. Cook is a long-time trustee as was her late husband, Glyn Cook. The Glyn Cook Scholarship Fund was established in Mr. Cook’s honor. Ms. Cook’s daughter, Emily and her husband, local sportscaster Cole Pepper, organize a community fundraiser to benefit the fund each year. Funds are distributed each year to participants in Project Prepare, the agency program for homeless teens and young adults.
Kars4Kids: Tell me about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. What is it? What does it address?
Ann Kelley: EMDR is a highly effective, evidence-based, best practice to treat trauma. The technique uses bilateral stimulation to evoke trauma memories, to re-frame “beliefs” about the trauma and to minimize the detrimental reactions to thoughts of the specific traumatic event. At Daniel, the therapy is used as a supplement treatment for youth when presenting trauma reactions are severe or when the more traditional cognitive behavioral therapy modality does not result in anticipated improvement.
Kars4Kids: The world mostly hears about foster care gone wrong. Tell us about foster care gone right. How do you ensure that the children you refer to foster homes are going to safe places? What controls are in place?
Ann Kelley: Daniel offers foster care placement only through our family-based therapeutic program. Our program is largest in Florida, with 60 licensed homes. Each adult member of a therapeutic foster home completes twice the training hours (60) of a traditional foster parent. State statute details very specific and stringent guidelines for certification compliance within each home. The licensing process includes evaluation of parent knowledge, parenting practice, a history of lawful behavior, and the safety of the home. All requirements are designed to ensure that each child receives the highest level of safe, nurturing, trauma-informed, family-centered care. In addition to annual re-licensure, each home is visited by a staff therapist either once or twice weekly, depending on the severity of the child’s presenting symptoms.The therapist child ratio of 1:5 and a 24-hour/7 day emergency contact ensure that each parent is afforded immediate professional clinical support to address all issues that potentially may result in safety concerns.
Kars4Kids: How old does one have to be to apply to become a mentor? How do you match up mentors and children?
Ann Kelley: Being a mentor is a rewarding, challenging, unforgettable experience! Getting started is easy. Just a phone call or email directed to the agency volunteer coordinator begins the process. A face-to-face interview is then scheduled to orient the volunteer to Daniel and our many programs and to allow the potential volunteer to describe their life experiences, interests and activities, and motivation for mentoring. Volunteers complete the volunteer application and affidavit of good moral character following the meeting. The Mentor Interest Survey is also completed to allow the applicant to elaborate on the age, race, nationality, and gender of the child that they would like to begin a relationship. The survey includes input for hobbies and interests as well. The next step is completion of the Mentor Training through the Jacksonville Children’s Commission. The 1.5 hour mentoring workshop includes a Level 2 background screen as required by Florida statute for persons working with children. Simultaneously, the coordinator contacts references provided by the volunteer applicant.
Following the interview, background clearance and verification of reference input, the volunteer mentor is ready to be matched with a child. Matches with children are not random! Program staff submit detailed information for each eligible child, including their strengths, greatest needs, interests, and specifically how they feel a mentor will be an asset to the child’s treatment plan. Mentor/mentees are then matched according to their own similar interests, experiences, gender, race, nationality, etc. During the initial child/mentor meeting, the respective youth worker is included to make the introduction smoother for the child/family. Mentors commit to work with their mentee for at least 1 year, 4-6 hours a month. The success of the relationship is monitored by the volunteer coordinator each month.
Kars4Kids: It seems like there isn’t anything Daniel Memorial Inc. (Daniel House) doesn’t do for children, whether it is as a full-time residency for children with behavioral problems, finding them foster or adoptive homes, teaching them life skills, or even rehabilitating kids out of juvenile detention facilities. What do you imagine the founder of Daniel, Col. James Jaquelin Daniel, would think and say, if he could see how his little project has evolved?
Ann Kelley: There is no doubt that he would be very pleased and proud that the organization named in his honor has continued to be a leading provider of critical social services for children and families. Col. Daniel had dedicated his entire life to various social causes before succumbing to yellow fever. He was a part of a very active Rotary Club that served a lead role in implementing strategic plans to address the social issues of the time.