On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin

by JOHN L. BROWN, FRSH, ACSW, AGFA

Founder of Browndale Director, Browndale Wisconsin

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The concept of community treatment is well advanced in the state of Wisconsin, particularly in the Department of Health and Social Services, in the Governor's office, in the Winnebago Chil­dren's Home and other organiza­tions that are already veterans in dealing with the problems of community treatment.

Of all of these, perhaps the most remarkable and diverse are those services developed by Don Schmitt, Chief of Direct Services, Division One, demonstrating that government agencies can be innovative and can provide lead­ership if they are headed by men of vision and valour, and if they don't make too many mistakes.

The reaction against com­munity services for children seems most strongly vested in the Association of Wisconsin Child Care Institutions and certain of its historically prestigious mem­bers; although some officials of that organization are not finding it easy to carry the role of oppo­sition because more and more members are re-examining their historical roles and reappraising community treatment models.

Another group who are less well organized but certainly more entrenched, are the zoning officials of local towns and counties and their licensing coun­terparts. Under the guise of enforcing regulations and pro­tecting the well-being of the community, a great deal of hard core prejudice and hate towards children, towards children with problems, towards children with problems who are black, is evi­dent.

A third group, and one that I know much better than the others, is made up of profes­sional people who find the concept of community treatment unsettling mainly, I think, be­cause it requires them to re-evaluate their roles and calls into review their policies and prac­tices of the last several decades. Professionalism and elitism have reached epidemic proportions in most populated areas of North America. However, since most of us in the professions selected our work in order to fulfil and com­plete ourselves, we can anticipate that the traditional, professional approach will be followed in community treatment the same as it is in all other areas: that is, first, a vigorous defence of the status quo against the new in­truder in which sibling rivalry, immodest immaturity and paren­tal rebellion will dominate the dialogue; secondly, when the professional self has been ade­quately served, community treat­ment will be studied and analyzed and found to have deep historic roots in the evolution of each profession; thirdly, the assertion that community treat­ment was started in the heart of America's dairyland, the state of Wisconsin, by "none other than ourselves" and that "everyone else is trying to horn in on a good idea that only we had the foresight to understand and pro- tect in its infancy and early de­velopment". Then, community treatment will become the fad and will be endowed with jargon and other professional dressings.

Into such a scene came Browndale International in the fall of 1971 with a lot of guts but not much sense; with myself bearing the standard of therapeu­tic family homes and community treatment, held high and proud­ly, although not without fear. Since November to the present time we have gotten to know our colleagues in the community treatment field (though not to trust them completely yet) and a good enough sprinkling of the "expeditionary forces" and "scouting parties" of the other groups mentioned above to know that this is not the time to stop to count casualties or to give first aid to our wounds.

While we have experienced an irrational and inappropriate response from many agencies and individuals in Wisconsin, we will not let that color the positive experiences nor detract from the open and free people we have met and dealt with in the busi­ness community, in the zoning offices in Dane County and Barren County, the many social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, the children and their parents, the neighbors and community people, and the politicians, who—while some of them have had questions and concerns—have nevertheless remained fair and open. It is my

impression that the community at large is more ready for com­munity treatment than the pro­fessional people and the petty officials in zoning and licensing jobs.

Of course, being a commun­ity   based   program   which   at- tempts to free the creative talents of the children and staff alike, we have had our own share of mistakes and blunders. Even so, we have been able to demon­strate once again the appropriate­ness of removing children from hospitals and locked institutions and placing them in small family like homes in the community. If we, as professionals in child wel­fare organizations and zoning and licensing administrators, can keep our focus on the needs of children, new ways of doing our work more effectively and humanely will surely follow. impression that the community at large is more ready for com­munity treatment than the pro­fessional people and the petty officials in zoning and licensing jobs.

Of course, being a commun­ity   based   program   which   at- tempts to free the creative talents of the children and staff alike, we have had our own share of mistakes and blunders. Even so, we have been able to demon­strate once again the appropriate­ness of removing children from hospitals and locked institutions and placing them in small family like homes in the community. If we, as professionals in child wel­fare organizations and zoning and licensing administrators, can keep our focus on the needs of children, new ways of doing our work more effectively and humanely will surely follow.