Not the Same Wolverine

Wolverine Human Services has always been on the cutting edge of providing effective services for the children of Michigan and now the country.  That’s a pretty bold statement to make, but the truth is, since 1987, Wolverine has grown faster, with the most diverse programs to meet the needs of kids and with the most up to date methods of treatment.

In 1988, when I first began my career with Wolverine, the only programs operating at the time were St. Jude’s Home for Boys, Wolverine Shelter and Community Based Programs.  Wolverine had won the bid for a “work and learn” program, issued by the state of Michigan.  It was the first of its kind and Wolverine was successful in the bidding process.  By 1995, there were three Wolverine work and learn programs growing from the initial 50 beds up to 216 contracted beds with the state.  The model that Wolverine put together was successful in that over 95% of the youth who entered the six months residential model transitioned into aftercare, where Wolverine supervised their re-entry into the community for another six months.  Unfortunately, due to political and bureaucratic issues, the state decided not to have centralized aftercare contracts and Wolverine was forced to modify the work and learn center programs into a more traditional residential model.

The Victors Center program, which focuses on the needs of cognitively impaired young men was another program that Wolverine successfully opened in 1988.  At the time, no other agency in Michigan was willing to take a chance on working with this difficult population, but Wolverine stepped up to the plate, and thirty years later, Victors Center is still helping this difficult population to be successful.

So, how did Wolverine grow from these few programs into the diverse agency which now has more than sixteen unique programs?  We did it by taking very calculated risks and looking at the results of surveys sent to our referring agencies.  Each year, prior to our Annual Strategic Planning meetings, WHS sent satisfaction surveys to each of our referring workers.  In the survey, we asked about service gaps in their communities now, what programs would they like to see Wolverine provide, and what we were doing right as well as wrong.  Needless to say, the responses elicited some very lively discussions at our meetings!!  But as a direct result of those surveys, Vassar House, our successful program for young women was borne; Phoenix, our non-secure Sexual Offender Treatment program was borne; Foundations and Passages, our behavioral health treatment programs was borne, as well as many others.

Ten years ago, Wolverine identified the need for effective substance abuse treatment and became part of the trend toward building community collaborations and partnerships.  WHS began a partnership with GrowthWorks, Inc., from Plymouth to provide intensive substance abuse services for both male and female adolescents.  This partnership continues to be a successful program and also contracts with Detroit/Wayne Mental Health Authority to provide services for their clients as well.

Probably the largest gamble that Wolverine undertook, (aside from building Vassar House without any type of contract), was the expansion of Wolverine Secure Treatment Center from 80 to 100 beds.  At the time of the expansion, populations were peaking in residential programs throughout the state, but by the time the new beds opened up, populations were beginning to drop.  Wolverine looked at the potential problem and started to think about inventive ways to fill the new beds; which led to the creation of the Endeavor program for Young Women.  At the time, secure residential beds for females in Michigan were provided mainly by the State of Michigan in their training school facilities.  Wolverine was asked by referring workers if they could provide these services.  Wolverine petitioned the state to modify the contract which was approved to allow ten female clients into the facility.  The population kept growing as workers saw the successes with the clients.  Today, Endeavor has a maximum population of forty and remains full virtually every day.

In late 2011, Wolverine dove head-first into researching evidence based treatment practices to meet the needs of youth experiencing trauma and diagnosed with mental health disorders.  Key staff, Derrick McCree, Senior Vice President of Residential Programs and Katrina Brock, Director of Clinical and Quality Services went to Philadelphia and attended a training at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Through their training, and subsequent meetings with Beck officials, a proposal was developed to begin a pilot project to become the first residential agency to integrate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy into a residential treatment setting with fidelity and integrity.  The concept was to ensure that all staff (from youth care to therapist and managers) are CBT competent in core skill to create a true CBT embedded residential program.  This first of its kind!  This was the inception of a 5-year collaboration of Wolverine, Beck and Indiana University.  Recently Kaiser-Wilhelm Research foundation has become involved. The project was undertaken in three phases.  The steps were to assess, tailor and engage in planned implementation (outcomes based) with all staff.  This spans from staff orientation training, competency testing, developing 6 Core Skills, and everything about how therapy is conducted with clients and families.  This has been a labor of love for those involved who have seen the tremendous reductions in physical management, lowered recidivism and improved mental health of our clients.  We are currently in year four of the five year plan, with looking at ways to sustain the programming for the future.  Wolverine believes that this will become the model program for the industry.  WHS just learned the exciting news that the project will be a focus at the 2017 Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapists in San Diego, CA with world-renowned Judith Beck, PhD, as discussant about the project.

As the changes occur, Wolverine continues to evolve with needs of our clients, referring agencies and the country.  In the last three years, Wolverine started working with clients from two other states, providing substance abuse treatment for Native American clients funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Services and is looking nationally to help any youth and family in need.  Wolverine has also been looking outside of its “comfort zone”.  With the ideas of fresh new talent coming into the agency, Wolverine has expanded its community based services to include Michigan Counseling Centers, outpatient clinics attached to our Community Based Services offices throughout Southeast Michigan; expanding Foster Care and Adoptions; and looking to increase specialized treatment services for clients in the LGBTQ community as well as more services with clients with acute mental health issues.

It’s not the same Wolverine that I came to work for back in 1988—- it’s a better Wolverine.  And stay tuned as Wolverine continues to expand, modify and continue to be the one true leader in “Helping Children to be Victors”.