The following is from a “State of Child Care” presentation by Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director of Boys Town, at a recent celebration of Boys Town’s 100-year anniversary. They illustrate Boys Town’s ongoing efforts to adapt our mission to meet the ever-changing needs of America’s children and families as we begin our second century of service.
Boys Town’s founder, Father Edward Flanagan, was a genius.
I believe at the heart of that genius was his openness to explore what the real problems were for the kids of his era, his creativity in finding innovative solutions that were far ahead of their time and the drive to advocate for every child in America.
Father Flanagan is my inspiration, and the inspiration of everyone who believes in and carries out Boys Town’s mission as our organization enters its second century of service to America.
Like Father Flanagan, we’ve been listening to America’s kids, the boys and girls who come to Boys Town seeking a fresh start in life, as well as families that are struggling to overcome daunting challenges that threaten their stability and strength.
In my 12 years leading Boys Town, I’ve come to the conclusion that most young people today suffer from three major problems:
- A lack of quality behavioral health treatment options
- Failing schools
- A broken child welfare system
As we celebrate 100 years as a leader in child and family care, here is how Boys Town is addressing these problems with innovative, proven, research-based solutions.
Providing Effective Therapeutic Treatment
America’s children are struggling with substance abuse and other mental and behavioral health issues. About a third of all teens regularly use illegal drugs and about one out of five face mental health and behavioral health challenges. Most youth will not receive the right treatment for their problems because they will be taken to a physician with limited psychological training, who will prescribe medication. The medication will serve as a “chemical restraint,” keeping a child’s behavior under control. But it will not address the underlying reasons for or causes of the child’s disorder. Right now, five times more kids are taking psychotropic drugs than ten years ago. Worse still, we don’t what the side effects of these drugs are doing to the still-developing brains of our young people.
At Boys Town, we are responding by expanding our Outpatient Behavioral Health programs and training a new generation of child psychologists in therapeutic approaches that depend less on medications to bring about positive, lasting changes in children’s behavior. In Omaha, Boys Town has imbedded child psychologists in our pediatric clinics and built new Residential Treatment Centers to help kids with the toughest behavioral problems.
Promoting School Success
Unfortunately, America’s schools are failing our most vulnerable kids. Nearly 10 percent of students in our country attend a failing school. For many minority and poor students, high school graduation rates are under 40 percent.
In Omaha, Boys Town has responded by expanding our services in schools that are located in tough neighborhoods. We are partnering with Omaha South High School, and are working in 500 other schools nationwide to provide services that can improve student attendance and performance.
Reforming the Child Welfare System
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees that American’s child welfare system is broken. The Department has audited every state’s child welfare system five times since 2001 and every state has failed every audit. In its 2008 audit, Nebraska ranked 48th in the nation.
Locally, Boys Town has responded by partnering to create the Nebraska Families Collaborative, which has helped the state improve outcomes for the youth in its system. Nebraska now ranks 34th in the nation in audit results and is continuing to improve every year. The Nebraska Family Collaborative is an approach and a model other states can follow to transform their own failing child welfare systems.
It’s not easy to find solutions to these and other difficult problems that prevent boys and girls from reaching their full potential and preparing themselves for a life as a productive adult. It’s never been easy. But like Father Flanagan, Boys Town is determined to make a difference. Through life-changing services, we provide hope and healing to children and families who would otherwise fall through the cracks and be lost. Every day, we roll up our sleeves and recommit ourselves to the mission Father Flanagan started 100 years ago. With the generous support of people across the country who make room in their hearts for troubled kids, Boys Town IS changing the way America cares for children, families and communities.