Grafton Started with One Boyce Mother

February 7, 2007

By Betsy Allen
February 7, 2007

Ruth Birch, of Boyce, searched for support services as she struggled with her learning-disabled son. At that time, there were few resources available for children with disabilities. So she took matters into her own hands, starting a school in her home. Eventually, her endeavor grew and expanded into multiple school campuses and group homes.

Today, the Grafton School is a private, psychiatric residential treatment facility, offering services for adults and children in Berryville, Winchester and Richmond. The Berryville campus focuses specifically on treating children, from age 6 to 21, who have challenging behaviors.

“Most, if not all, of these children have had some kind of trauma in their life,” said Shweta Adyanthaya, director of communications for the Berryville facility. “It is manifested in different ways.”

She explained that most of the children in the facility show aggressive behavior, which can be exhibited as aggression toward oneself, othen property.

Most residents are referred by the Department of Social Services, the school system or by a probation officer. Children must have a psychial diagnosis, and they must meet the criteria to be placed in the facility and funded for treatment. Grafton has no private pay clients; all of its clients are paid for through Medicaid or Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) funds.

When a new resident is brought to the school, there is a specific process followed. A psychiatrist meets with the child and his or her family I confirm the initial diagnosis. The assessment team then creates a plan that takes a cognitive approach and may include a variety of therapies individual, family, speech and language, and occupational, among others.

“We come up with a treatment (plan) and set goals to move the child back to his family and community,” Adyanthaya said.

Grafton has a capacity of 88 residents, but the actual number of children living on-site varies. The Berryville facility has more than 300 employees including certified teachers and a host of instructional specialists to address individual students’ needs.

The grounds house a fully accredited grade and high school. The class day runs from 8 a.m. to 2:30 or 3 p.m., depending on planned activities.

Children each get their own room, which they may decorate as they wish. Boys and girls reside in separate areas; there are general spaces – furnished with sofas, chairs, tables and a TV – designed for group activities.

Security continues to be an overriding concern at the Berryville facility. After an incident where two female residents entered the boys’ area Berryville facility last May, increased measures have been taken to ensure the safety of the children. “Kids have to be safe before you can provide adequate treatment,” Adyanthaya said.

A visitor will notice cameras positioned at various locations, employees with walkie-talkies and controlled access through badge-in doors. “When there is an incident with a child,” Adyanthaya explained, “the immediate challenge is to make sure the child is safe.”

The various strategies employees may use are in the child’s individual plan and sometimes involve restraint and seclusion. But she noted that Grafton is trying to move away from these.

Grafton now employs a system she called “revolutionary.” Large cushions, bean bags and pillows are available around the facility. When a child exhibits aggressive behavior, staff members can position them in front of the child. Introduced by a former employee, Grafton now provides this protective equipment at each site, representing what Adyanthaya described as “best practice standards.”

For many residents, the next step after Grafton is a group home sponsored by the school. There are two adult group homes in Clarke County, and many others for children and adults in Winchester and Richmond. The group homes – housing four to six children or adults each help the residents learn to function in the community. They may undergo job training at a vocational center and take part in other activities based on their own needs and abilities.

The ultimate goal to a stay at Grafton is to reintroduce the child to the world outside its walls. “We can be successful here,” Adyanthaya said, “but eventually they have to be successful outside.”