For more than 20 years, Hillcrest’s Brookside Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) has successfully treated hundreds of the most acute psychiatrically and behaviorally challenged children in the region.
The ITU is known by hospitals, school districts and child protective agencies as a placement of last hope – a place that will not give up on a student that has had multiple failures in foster care or other residential schools. Most of the ITU students endured repeated psychiatric hospitalizations before finding the one program that could break that debilitating cycle.
This year we are eager to meet a new challenge – the transition to an all-female population. Eight year’s ago, when we moved to our current Brookside site in Great Barrington, we served mostly males. That has slowly changed over the years as we built a reputation of success in treating girls with serious behaviors. These young ladies are faced with extremely difficult problems placing them at high risk, as evidenced by the closure of many programs in the state and region that had served girls. Hillcrest’s success with females has resulted in great demand for our services.
In January of this year we sent notification to our parents, guardians and referral agencies that our few remaining boys will be transitioned gradually to our Highpoint campus or other appropriate community placements through this summer. It is our goal to be an all-female campus going into the 2016-2017 school year.
Our success with girls has been due to a consistent regimen of counseling, skills training, empowerment, education, and enriched activity programs. Programs like Girl’s Circle, a group format that helps girls learn to value themselves and work together toward common goals, help our students. Our group therapy is based on DBT – a skills-based approach that teaches girls specific skills in areas such as emotional regulation and anger management. Our classrooms have very small groupings that are conducive to one-on-one engagement whenever necessary.
We believe that active girls are less likely to be overwhelmed by anxiety or memories of past trauma. We continue to build on our outdoor activities including high-ropes courses, canoeing, skiing and fitness challenges. We believe that exposure to art and culture helps our girls experience possibilities beyond their personal experiences. Our students participate in art projects, poetry cafes, talent shows and have even attended Broadway shows as an incentive for safe behavior.
A recent graduate, Melissa (pictured left) stated “my art projects keep me positively focused, so I don’t dwell on the things that drag me down”. As a parting gift to the campus she finished a mural featuring the letters HEF – standing for the Hillcrest Educational Foundation. We have proudly hung the painting in our school lobby, where it joins photo collages and art projects from all our students.