Louisville’s Uspiritus Helps Troubled Youth Throughout the State

Multiple childhood traumas create a common thread among facility’s clients

LOUISVILLE The multidisciplinary team at Uspiritus, a Louisville-based comprehensive residential and outpatient treatment program, regularly works with youth who have already suffered six or more traumatic childhood experiences, according to David Finke, PhD.

Finke, a licensed psychologist and vice president of residential services at Uspiritus, urges other medical professionals to take note of the signs of childhood trauma. What he calls “adverse childhood experiences” include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and family members who are incarcerated, mentally ill, and/or abusing substances.

“The research is that adults who had more adverse experiences (as children) are much more likely to have severe health problems and usually have a shorter lifespan,” Finke says.

Finke, who has 20 years’ experience in trauma-related treatment and trauma-informed care, has a PhD in clinical psychology from Michigan State and a post-doctoral fellowship in adolescent services from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to joining Uspiritus, he was the division director and training coordinator of the Jefferson County Internship Consortium in the Child and Adolescent Services Division of Seven Counties Services, Inc. He has also served as a regular consultant and assessor for the Jefferson District Court, Juvenile Division.

How Uspiritus Reduces the Impact of Childhood Trauma

Uspiritus is the result of a 2012 merger between Bellewood Home for Children and Brooklawn Child & Family Services. The organization annually serves over 1,300 Kentucky youth. Uspiritus runs two residential campuses in Jefferson County and can serve up to 160 people between the ages of six and 18. The residential campuses offer two types of beds: Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) beds for the most intensive treatment and Psychiatric Child Care (PCC) beds for less intensive or step-down treatment. The organization also offers therapeutic foster care, intensive in-home services, independent living, and family preservation programs and has locations offering varying degrees of service in Anchorage, Bowling Green, Lexington, and Louisville. The multi-disciplinary team at Uspiritus consists of two part-time psychiatrists, both of whom are board-certified in child and adolescent psychiatry, psychologists, psychological associates, social workers, art therapists, and professional counselors.

Delayed emotional development and poor nutrition are just two of the issues facing the children and teens who come to Uspiritus for help.

Because of the backgrounds of the average Uspiritus resident, Finke and other staff members focus on helping each one become a better functioning person.

“Often times, a lot of our youth have had a history of truancy with schools, so they are already perhaps growing up in an environment where there’s not a lot of exposure to literature, not a lot of reading and nighttime reading. And in addition to that, not attending school on a regular basis … They do not perform as well in school, and therefore get more easily frustrated in school… you can imagine the synergistic effect of poor affective development, (being) unable to manage anger well, and getting frustrated easily in school because you’re behind. In part, you’re behind because you don’t do homework at home, and in part you’re behind because you have missed a lot of school, and then you’re more frustrated and more likely to act out,” Finke says.

“So it’s really across the spectrum, which is why you attempt to engage the kids across all aspects of their lives, because we believe that you really need to treat the whole child to progress them developmentally.”

Educating Troubled Youth and Their Providers

The organization’s Anchorage campus has an elementary school, while the Louisville campus has a middle and high school. Educational services are provided through Jefferson County Public Schools. Staff members working on an Uspiritus campus are specially trained to work with troubled youth.

Most Uspiritus residents come after at least one psychiatric hospitalization, and Medicaid covers about 95 percent of the organization’s residents. The average stay is 90 to 120 days. If it is safe for the child to do so, family reunification is the goal. Otherwise, therapeutic foster care is part of the child’s aftercare plan.

“I think one piece that’s important, and is more sort of a cautionary tale to physicians, is to remember that these are families that are often under-resourced and overwhelmed,” Finke says. “I think, as providers, we are used to making a recommendation or making a treatment intervention and expecting it to be followed. It’s important to be patient and persistent with families like this. Patient, persistent, and understanding.”

I think one piece that’s important, and is more sort of a cautionary tale to physicians, is to remember that these are families that are often under-resourced and overwhelmed.— David Finke, PhD