By Nora Mounce
Since Wild Souls Ranch was established in 2012, the organization’s mission has always been to support youth experiencing adversity through equine-therapy and trauma-informed care. Often, such hardships come with periods of homelessness or housing insecurity, as children - with or without their families - transition from a relative’s homes to state-operated facilities or other temporary housing. While Wild Soul’s social workers firmly believe in the therapeutic benefit of counseling, one-on-one sessions are often ineffective when the root of the problem - what’s going on at home - is never addressed in person. Comparing traditional approaches in social work to Western medicine, individual therapy is almost like a band-aid trying to cover a wound that cuts across the entire family. While therapy might help a child gain control of their emotions and address past trauma, every youth - especially foster youth - have a complex network of caretakers, relatives, and family members in their daily lives. What if Wild Souls could provide holistic therapy and positive interventions for the child’s entire world?
In order to implement a more holistic and effective approach to social work, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) developed the Wraparound program in 1997. The CDSS writes that, “Wraparound shifts focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach.” Seeing a lapse in effectiveness in traditional, Western approaches to individual therapy, Wraparound was designed to provide services that are individually and culturally appropriate for each client, while striving to create stability and achieve positive goals.
In Humboldt County, children and family service providers began integrating Wraparound services into established agencies in our community in 2016. In addition to the holistic perspective that accounts for a child’s entire scope of influence, Wraparound also strives to eliminate barriers to service that are common to bureaucratic processes. The CDSS writes, “Wraparound can reduce the risk of out-of-home placement and recidivism by bringing individuals, agencies, and the community together as a decision-making team with the central focus on meeting the needs of the child and family.”
In 2017, Wild Souls initiated the Wraparound Program at the ranch with two families, but in 2019, WSR will continue partnering with Humboldt County providers to expand Wraparound services for youth adopted from foster care. Wild Souls Executive Director Savanah McCarty firmly believes in the holistic approach of “Wrap,” explaining how it “wraps around” families in crisis with positive interactions and therapy. Much like Wild Souls current approach, each client and their family or support network will be treated uniquely based on their specific needs and challenges.
Jennifer “Scully” Powell, a former psychology lecturer at Humboldt State, works as Independent Mental Health Clinician and provides Wrap services to various agencies in Humboldt County. Along with Kim Kowalsky, Powell will lead Wraparound at Wild Souls.
“I’m going to be working with families who have adopted children through the foster care system who are struggling,” explains Powell. She adds that by the time a client is referred to Wrap, the family is often in crisis and need a higher level of support. Scully starts by collecting an in-depth social and emotional background for each client, so that any service provider interacting with the client can access their developmental history - much like a mental health medical record. In order to collect this information, Scully conducts assessments with primary care physician, teachers, behaviorists, parents, and caregivers - anyone who has interacted with the child.
“I’m so excited about this program, because I think it’s going to be so amazing,” says Powell. She and Kowalsky have been working together for over a decade and both approach mental health care and social work from a developmental and neuroscience perspective.
“When aversive experiences happen in neurodevelopment (in utero to 4 years old), there’s a strong chance of developmental issues. We have to get kids regulated before we can begin expecting behavior change,” explains Powell. By “regulated,” Powell means that children have to reach a point developmentally before talk therapy is even an option. Due to trauma and a lack of healthy neural development, many Wrap clients need support to calm their nervous system and access the cerebral cortex. Powell explains this is where equine-therapy comes in - the calming energy of horses provides a powerful tool for the Wrap philosophy.
As Wild Souls Ranch continues to expand their ability to provide therapeutic services for Humboldt County foster and adopted youth, collaborations with providers like Scully Powell and Wraparound are a welcome partnership. “Wild Souls Ranch is building a therapeutic web around these children and their families,” says Powell. “Everybody counts and everybody matters - it’s a team effort.”
If you know a child adopted from a foster care program who is currently experiencing challenges, please contact Wild Souls Ranch to inquire about services and support.