Dr. John VanDenBerg, one of the co-founders in 1985 of the Wraparound Process, had retired from working with children and families around the world with severe mental and emotional problems. He was not expecting any awards as he shifted to volunteer work based in Colorado.
Imagine his surprise when he received the congratulatory news that the National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health was honoring him with the Karl W. Dennis Unconditional Care Award at its annual conference in Washington, D.C. this past November.
"I was thrilled. I never expected it. It was a nice ending to the 'on the road, being out there' part of my career," VanDenBerg said. "My career has been in working with the whole family, and supporting the whole family. That's what Wraparound is."
The federation gives this award to the person it feels has exemplified unconditional care toward children and families with severe emotional problems and mental illness. Karl W. Dennis, now retired, was a leading child advocate in the field.
"This model, although not currently used in Delta County, is used in Montrose, Gunnison, El Paso, Chaffee and many other Colorado counties," VanDenBerg said. "Over half a million families in the U.S. alone [use the Wraparound Process]. From the late 80s, the model has gone worldwide and during my career I was privileged to train it in all 50 states and all provinces of Canada and other countries."
VanDenBerg retired in September from all the national boards he served on and lives in Paonia with his wife. He is happy now to work in his own county and nearby counties volunteering his time. He does continue to mentor one faith-based international Wraparound organization. He also supports the National Wraparound Initiative.
After traveling all over North America and the world bringing the Wraparound Process to professionals and community members, his heart is now to work close to home.
"Everything comes back to local. So that's where I am going to focus my energies over the next few years," he said.
"As a community you ask the question, 'What does this child and family need to have a better life?' It might involve therapy, but often it doesn't. Often these kids have had therapist after therapist. But what the family may need is intensive support from people in the community.
"We say in the field they need voice and choice. They need to have a voice and active choices. What we do is provide support for the families and help them to re-engage with their kids, if they've had trouble in that area. Or if they are strong active parents, sometimes these parents need a break," he said. "Often you have two parents out of work. A Wraparound team can help parents get work. That can be the most therapeutic thing you can do for a family. I think the core of Wraparound is 'whatever it takes for this kid and family' — that's really where unconditional care comes from."
Recently, VanDenBerg worked with families in Montrose. "When you look at what they needed to have better lives, it was all over the map. It was lots of different things, very complex needs, but they still need to learn to say what they need, and how those needs are going to be met. They need to make choices."
Although the program is not currently in Delta County, he says the good news is that there is some good leadership in the area which will hopefully advance the techniques found successful in the Wraparound approach.
"I'm pretty encouraged overall with Colorado right now. As a state we've really made some progress in improving services for kids and families," he said.
"Poverty is a real issue. You just have to drive the county to see that. I am working on this book about the poverty that occurred in the 1930s. That's one of my retirement projects with one of my cousins. [We're} working on the time period between 1930 to 1955 and what happened in the [North Fork Valley]. We went from extreme poverty to doing fairly well. But, it's gone backwards. I can see it in the communities."
He continued, "There really is some good data and research that says that overall children and families have more problems than before. The challenges — particularly for children who are living in poverty, living in the margins of society — we know that what is happening to them is really tied to, as one researcher has said, they don't have adults around them who necessarily have time for them or have their best interests at heart. Those two things are really critical — just having time for a child and having their best interests at heart. All too many of our kids that end up in trouble don't have those two things in their lives," VanDenBerg said.
Why are parents not able to fulfill those two basic needs?
"For one thing we have a greatly widening poverty gap and people are living on the edge and too stressed at times to be good parents."
He noted our ancestors who lived in poverty nevertheless had a culture of really prioritizing their kids.
"I think we've lost some of that over the last several decades in our country. We've lost ground in that area. We see it in rising rates of kids who are abused. Kids who are coming into child welfare, the parent scandals that have been in the Denver Post, for example, are really indicative of what's going on there.
"But at the same time, we've had some counties and states that have really reacted in a positive way to the changes that have gone on. Juvenile justice, for example, in Colorado really changed their tactics in how they approached kids and families where the kids are in trouble with the law. All of a sudden we have better outcomes. We're seeing nationally in that field a more positive change from a 'let's lock these bad kids up' framework to 'let's support these kids and families' so the kids learn not to commit crimes. Colorado is doing an excellent job with that right now in juvenile justice," VanDenBerg said.
About his Paonia roots, he shared, "My grandpa came here in 1907. My parents left the area after World War II because there just weren't any jobs. I was raised in the Napa Valley, but we vacationed here. This was always Nirvana. My parents moved back here just after I left home. We actually live in a house above Pitkin Mesa that my dad built."
His parents have passed away. VanDenBerg and his wife bought the family home from his parents' estate.
"We're pretty lucky to live here. It's like my dream. My wife's and my dreams have come true."blog comments powered by Disqus