In a tender moment of palpable relief — a moment she’d been so obviously anticipating — a little sister clutched her big brother in such a way that everyone in the UMFS Dining Hall was thrust into silence.
The tears streaming down her cheeks spoke volumes, and the powerful and succinct narrative that followed amplified a truly extraordinary scene. “I’m so proud of you,” she said with conviction while looking her brother squarely in the eyes.
She then turned to a captive audience of staff, students, and families and stated with powerful certainty: “UMFS has helped my brother so much.”
There are no shortage of emotions during Commencement ceremonies, in which residents at the UMFS Child & Family Healing Center (CFHC) in Richmond celebrate the completion of their months-long residential treatment. Four times a year, UMFS leadership, staff, volunteers, and families join together to recognize the incredible resiliency of youth who have overcome sometimes unimaginable obstacles.
NOT THE CHILD’S FAULT
To understand the challenges facing young people living at the CFHC, you must first understand trauma. “Many of the youth we serve in residential have been traumatized and through no fault of their own,” said Program Director Sheena Lyle.
Trauma occurs when a person experiences an event or circumstances that are physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening. The effects can be long-lasting and have adverse impacts on a person’s development, functioning and well-being. A child might become traumatized as a result of physical or sexual abuse, sudden loss of a loved one, or placement in the foster care system.
But not all residents at CFHC have experienced trauma. Sometimes children have difficulties managing behavioral, emotional, or mental health challenges, and their families simply run out of resources. “If a kid is having a hard time and a family goes to the end of their rope, it’s not their fault they don’t know anymore,” said Cottage Manager Tavis Foushee. “Sometimes families are very educated and have healthy outlets but simply tap out on their own skills.”
(Pictured: CFHC Program Director Sheena Lyle and Cottage Manager Tavis Foushee)
Sheena said CFHC is uniquely qualified to help youth conquer these types of challenges. “If they’ve been unable to stabilize their behavior through services in the community, like in-home care or with a case manager,” Sheena said, “CFHC is a place they can come that’s therapeutic and structured.”
CFHC is a 24-hour unlocked, Level-C psychiatric residential facility serving youth across Virginia ages 11 to 17 at time of admission. Youth may stay until they’re 19. A typical residency lasts between six and 12 months. CFHC staff includes youth counselors, cottage managers, therapists, and nurses. These dedicated employees provide round-the-clock safety, security, and stability to 40 CFHC residents living in six cottages.
“We want youth to have a team of people surrounding them,” Sheena said. “A huge part for us is showing them we really care about them, and they aren’t just a number or another caseload.”
This is part one of a three-part series that takes an up-close look at the UMFS Child & Family Healing Center in Richmond.