Some Things Change While Others Stay the Same

Gary WolskyBy Gary Wolsky, President/CEO
The Village Family Service Center

From time to time, at The Village, we make a conscious effort to look closely at the tens of thousands of interactions we have with clients every year, in an effort to discern the broader trends we are seeing. What is the trajectory related to the problems our society produces? How are we organized to address those problems? What will all of this look like in three to five to 10 years? All of these are important questions that should be incorporated into an organization’s DNA. In this column, I’m going to share some of the trends we see so you can understand the difficult challenges facing families.
Before I share with you the things that have changed, however, I’d like to start with the things that haven’t changed over our 124 years. One thing that hasn’t changed is that people need help. Some groups of people—for instance, those with chronic physical and/or emotional challenges—may need help throughout their lifetime. Far more common, though, are the many people who run into problems where an outside source of support, consultation, or therapeutic intervention is only needed for a short time.
Some other things have not changed since 1891. Dysfunctional parents sometimes produce dysfunctional kids (this certainly is not always the case). Kids do best when they grow up in a stable, healthy, and loving family. The first five years of a child’s life are not just important; they are THE most important years of their life. A segment of our population has financial challenges. And a percentage of the population, generally not less than 10 percent, suffers from addiction problems that need some type of intervention.
What has changed is the severity of these issues. With addiction, it’s the “menu of addictions” that has changed—Internet porn and a variety of new drugs have been added to the list over the years. With finances, the number of people who are financially overextended has increased significantly over the last generation or two as we have become more and more addicted to credit. Most of the people of my parent’s generation, as an example, wouldn’t consider buying something with credit. If they didn’t have the cash, they didn’t buy it.
So what do these broad trends mean to an organization whose job it is to identify what is constant, what is not constant, and translate this into services benefiting the community?
I think it’s fair to say the complexity of the problems we deal with has changed. Many of our kids now have multiple diagnoses. A few decades ago, most kids who came to us with behavioral health symptoms didn’t receive a diagnosis at all. Several factors have come together to change this—the largest is that insurance companies now pay for a higher percentage of therapeutic intervention, and they require a diagnosis before they’ll pay for treatment. This makes sense to me—you can’t treat something effectively unless you identify what you are treating. A corresponding change requires that most of our treatment staff have advanced degrees and licensure to meet the requirements of payer sources. However, it’s interesting to note that program outcomes from 20 or 30 years ago—when licensing issues were nonexistent—were just as successful, in many respects, as they are today; but that’s a story for another time.
Treatment of addiction has also evolved considerably. I can speak to this somewhat personally as my dad died from alcoholism many decades ago. In those days, businesses simply didn’t know what to do with a person who had a chronic alcohol problem (my dad worked on the railroad). Today, businesses have become more sophisticated in dealing with problems of this nature. The Village Business Institute assists businesses across 34 states in matters like this on a daily basis—a huge benefit and advantage both to the individual and the business.
Another area where we’ve made significant progress is our ability to look at mental health issues as “health” issues. For example, and again using addiction as a model, The Village—through its First Step Recovery program—has several staff who actually work at Sanford Hospital for the purpose of helping medical staff diagnose the behavioral aspect of addiction. This has been very successful in going beyond the treatment of failing livers, kidneys, and hearts and getting to the root cause of those medical problems when they’re caused by addiction. We also have staff embedded in other medical clinics to assist in mental health evaluations. All of this represents solid, positive trends to bring better and more effective services to the community.
The Village has a dozen major programs, and 30 to 40 derivative services, each of which has its own “life cycle,” so to speak, and each with its own set of trends. For example, our Financial Resource Center is less than half the size it was a few short years ago. Some of this may be due to the accessibility of financial advice on the Internet, programs such as Dave Ramsey, and other factors, but clearly it’s a part of our profession that is trending downward rapidly. On the other side of the coin, our First Step Recovery program (addiction issues) has increased by over 30 percent, and we expect explosive growth in that program in the years ahead.
Because we have had the responsibility of meeting the challenges of kids and families since 1891, one of the few things we can count on is that change is constant.
On a final note, another constant over our 124 years is you. Our ability to stay on the cutting edge for all these many decades relies on a community representing individuals, families, and businesses that financially support every aspect of what we’re talking about. Quite literally, these services and programs, which produce ongoing and positive impact, couldn’t happen without you. Thank you.
The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of The Village Family Service Center CEO. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization, staff, or boards of directors.

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