Sunday, October 04, 2009

Visit to CA LO

This past week I visited a remarkable place. It is called the Change Academy, Lake of the Ozarks, ( and is in Missouri. CA LO is a residential treatment school formed on attachment principles. It was born two years ago from the dreams and convictions of its founder, Ken Huey, and its Clinical Director Landon Kirk. Both were working in more traditional treatment settings and felt that while good work was going on, the treatment methods did not fit their understanding of attachment and healing. So they determined to open an attachment based treatment center located in the middle of the country.

CA LO treats approximately thirty five teenagers, divided evenly between boys and girls. The youth come from all areas of the country, even Alaska. CA LO employs many creative ways to engage the families in treatment. CA LO does not use levels, points, or traditional rewards and punishments. Instead, they have developed a treatment model that describes the tasks the children must complete in order to have a life worth living, and they train staff in the empathetic responses necessary to help the children grow through these tasks. When a student does something particularly harmful, he or she is assigned a chore done with a staff, which provides reconnection with an adult and making amends to the community.

A unique feature of CA LO is their canine program. They have around 25 Golden Retriever dogs, from puppies through adults. The dogs are assigned to individual children ho provide all their care. The dogs go every where with the kids, except to meals- to school, to recreation, one free time. Youths can complete an entire process including references, a home study, etc and be approved to adopt a dog. Then they take that dog home with them when they leave! Many places have some form of pet therapy, but this is the first time I have ever seen pets so thoroughly integrated into a treatment process. The learning and love the children gain from this process is obvious.

CA LO’s model has four components: Trust of Care, Trust of Control, Trust of Self, and Interdependence. Trust of Care teaches children that that the caregivers around them will take care of their physical needs. Food, shelter, health, wellness, and hygiene will be provided by trusted adults. Trust of Control involves believing that the adults in your life can be trusted to help and guide you. Youth who are successfully humble and vulnerable enough to accept Trust of Control allow the adults and peers in their life to teach them life lessons. When youth accept Trust of Control it provides opportunity for adults and peers to provide emotional dysregulation, coaching, guidance, and physical and emotional closeness. Trust of Self occurs when a youth moves towards independently practicing and implementing what has been modeled and taught. In Trust of Self the youth moves from doing the right thing because s/he is "supposed to" or because it has worked a few times in the past, to an inner change and commitment to live life differently. Interdependence is the ultimate goal for a youth, which means learning to live life with interdependence or the ability to maintain healthy, reciprocal relationships. Interdependence defines a successful student transition from a false and selfish independence, to experiencing the value and joy of interdependence and mutual relationships. Clearly, interdependence is neither independence nor dependence but is connected living. It is a person understanding that his/her actions affect others. Instead of just taking, the youth is now also giving. (The previous paragraph was adapted from the CA LO web site.) The youth do not move up and down between these tasks such as phases. It is understood that we all have to move around and re-work parts of each over and over again.

CA LO also includes a school with many imaginative programs, and a Therapeutic Recreation department that utilizes an indoor ropes course as well as many waterfront activities. The staff at CA LO is warm and caring. They have their struggles like everyone else. However, it is very exciting to see a program that is founded on the principles I believe in.
I particularly recommend their blog, which can be found at:

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