Bright Idea: The CARE Model Is Looking for Collaborators

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CARE: Children and Residential Experiences

The Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia, SC, has housed at-risk youth since 1895. The home’s long history, and the traditions that go along with it, are a point of pride. But as the organization’s centennial passed, Epworth’s leaders felt they needed a more cohesive approach to working with youth.

“We had an eclectic model,” Executive Director Lee Porter says, “which really means we didn’t have a model at all. We had nothing to tie our practices together and move us forward.”

In other words, the time had come to modernize Epworth’s youth work practices.

The solution came in 2006, when Porter heard Cornell University’s Martha Holden introduce a new model of youth work called Children and Residential Experiences, or CARE. Holden needed volunteers for the pilot program, and Porter jumped on board.

What appealed to him about CARE was that it promised to be a collaborative effort between researchers and practitioners. As Holden and her colleagues guided programs using their database of evidence-based practices, they asked that each program submit their own data to add to the body of knowledge.

Porter’s staff would play a key role in deciding how to use Holden’s model, and in the end, they would have "a common framework that we could do all of our work through."

Six Principles

Like other evidence-based “milieu” treatments, CARE aims to change the culture of organizations so that every employee, from the board to the cleaning staff, contributes to youths’ healing and development.

“If you plant lettuce and it doesn’t grow, you don’t blame the lettuce,” says Holden. “So if you have a child who’s not developing well, look at what’s around them, not at their faults.”

CARE has no manual or guidelines. Rather, it orients services around six core principles assembled from the existing body of research about what makes youth programs successful. The CARE model

  1. focuses on young people’s physical and mental development
  2. involves families whenever possible
  3. aims to build at least one positive, long-term relationship with an adult for each youth
  4. respects all cultures and backgrounds
  5. acknowledges and is sensitive to the trauma youth have experienced
  6. is embodied and practiced by the entire staff, not just front-line youth workers

Programs decide for themselves how they will put each principle into practice. At Epworth, using the principles has led to sea change in the dynamic between youth and staff, Porter says. “Our staff now see themselves as teachers and relationship builders rather than policemen or law enforcers.”

Measuring Progress

Putting CARE in place costs about $90,000 for a three-year process. The fees cover training, travel fees for CARE trainers, intensive one-on-one work with staff supervisors, and daily technical assistance.

Programs don’t just receive training, though. They give back to the model by measuring their effectiveness.

CARE trainers administer surveys of program leaders at the beginning, middle and end of the process. One survey measures organizational culture, things like staff engagement, stress level, and relationships between staff and their supervisors. Two other surveys measure staff competence with the CARE principles and their use of the principles in their daily work with youth.

Another survey asks young people to describe how staff apply the CARE principles and whether they have helped them. Developed by Porter and first used at the Epworth Children’s Home, the survey has since become a regular component of CARE implementation.

That’s the CARE model in a nutshell: programs working with trainers to learn best practices and contribute their own. “It requires you to think and change your mind,” says Porter. “But it also gives you lots of places to go.”

Learn more about CARE.

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