A 2012 incident was both one of the worst things, and one of the best things, that happened to one Iowa family.
Caroline Kauffman, then in middle school, had begun exhibiting a pattern of aggressive behavior, and, in September 2012, attacked her mother, Linda, with a pencil. For the first time, Linda called the police.
“The hardest thing that I ever had to do was to call the police,” Linda said. “Looking back, it was the best thing I ever did. It got her the help she needed. It got us where we are today.”
Paired with similar incidences at school, the decision was made for Caroline to go to one of Four Oaks' psychiatric medical institutes. She spent a little over 8 months in the facility. After leaving, she started at one of Four Oaks' newest Therapeutic Classrooms in her home town.
In the Four Oaks Therapeutic Classroom, students like Caroline receive individualized and intensive social, behavioral and academic support and education. Four Oaks staff members are Trauma-Informed, allowing them to approach challenges through a different lens.
“In the Therapeutic Classroom, when any student has a behavior, we don’t focus on the behavior. We focus on what happened to the student - what happened to them, what is leading to this and how can we repair it?” said Mike Qureshi, Program Manager for the School-Based Programming in Mid-Iowa. “In a Therapeutic Classroom, we utilize components of Narrative Therapy where we externalize a behavior so we can address it in a non-confrontational manner. It’s a very different way of relating to and talking to students.”
Eventually, after succeeding in the Four Oaks Therapeutic Classroom, Caroline transitioned to the Four Oaks Alternative Classroom for a less-intensive but still supportive environment.
“I made a lot of good friends with the staff over at the school,” Caroline said. “They made a difference in my education. It prepared me and helped with my trust issues.”
Caroline attended the Four Oaks classrooms from 8th grade through 10th grade with success. For her junior and senior year of high school, she was able to transition to a mainstream classroom with the support of Four Oaks staff. She is on track to graduate in May.
“I think it was an eye opening experience for her to realize not only what could happen if she kept going down that road, that it could get worse as far as incarceration, but she has also learned how to better regulate her outbursts,” Linda said. “She’s been able to kind of see them coming and know what she needs to do to calm herself down. Four Oaks was a big part of that learning process.”
Although her plans for her future are currently undecided, Caroline enjoys spending time with her dogs and horses, and participates in horse therapy. She credits Four Oaks programming and staff with helping her get to where she is today.
“Just know that it’s not for troubled kids,” Caroline said. “It’s for people who have had a hard time in their past.”
They are appreciative of the role Four Oaks has played in their success story, Linda said.
“Thank you to all the staff who has helped her along and helped myself and her father, my husband. Without them, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “Everybody has played a huge part and we are forever grateful.”
The day everything “went completely south” for Sue Ellen’s family is a day she’ll never forget. But after two years of extensive hard work, they went from “chaos” to what Sue Ellen describes now as “enjoyment and respect, and just having a family again.”
Before Sue Ellen’s son, Carson, came to stay with us at Four Oaks, everything made him angry. He thought coming to Four Oaks was going to be horrible. But by the end, he admits he thought it was “a nice place with nice people.” For Carson, his favorite part is how much he changed during the time he stayed with Four Oaks.
Carson, Sue Ellen and the rest of their family are now part of the TotalChild Program. Even though Carson is stable now, he and his family have a team that works directly with them as a universal resource working to constantly help Carson and his sister, Oliva, become successful adults. One part of this team is Carson’s behavioral health worker—Kim–who he warmly calls “Kardashian.” He meets with Kim every other week, and they also have monthly family meetings. Olivia is proud of the changes she sees in herself and in her brother. She says they get along much more easily now, and that they both feel a lot better about themselves. Today, the charm and resilience of these siblings is immensely apparent.
Sue Ellen sees the difference in her children as well and wants other families to know what it’s like for Four Oaks to become a part of your family’s life. “It is the start of a new beginning. You think life is never going to get better. You think it will never improve. Once you become part of Four Oaks—whether it is placement in one of Four Oaks homes or working with TotalChild—you have support, you have answers to all your questions, you learn so much about what might be causing your children to feel the way they do. Embrace it. Take advantage of everything Four Oaks offers: every class, every group meeting. The more involved you are with it, the better the results you will have.”
“It is the start of a new beginning. You think life is never going to get better. You think it will never improve. Once you become part of Four Oaks—whether it is placement in one of Four Oaks’ homes or working with TotalChild—you have support, you have answers to all your questions, you learn so much about what might be causing your children to feel the way they do. Embrace it. Take advantage of everything Four Oaks offers. Every class. Every group meeting. The more involved you are with it, the better the results are that you have.”
– Sue Ellen, mother