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Tammy’s Tips: Collaborative Problem Solving, It’s Still Working

Tammy Franges is the resource parent liaison in the Richmond office. As a biological mother of four, adoptive mother of five and a current foster parent for more than 20 years, she shares her stories here in hopes that you can learn from her successes as well as her challenges.

One of my individual priorities at UMFS this year is to train all of our approved families in Collaborative Problem Solving. This is, in part, because it is the behavioral model at UMFS for repetitive, challenging behaviors, but also because I know it works.

Stephen moved in with my ex-husband last August. He comes around frequently, usually at mealtimes, so I am fortunate to be able to continue to work with him and guide him in his young adult life.

One problem I had was that I was receiving notices of Stephen not attending school regularly. When he came over as we were visiting, I would start a Plan B conversation. “So lately I’ve noticed that you haven’t been going to school. What’s up with that?”

Stephen, who by now is quite knowledgeable of Plan B, gave me a different answer every time we spoke. Some of his concerns included: alarm clock problems, car problems, sleeping problems, being sick, not needing to actually attend school (yeah, I didn’t buy that one either). We would work through the brainstorming and come up with a solution yet the behavior continued even though we “solved” the problem in our Plan B conversations.

For those who have taken the class, do you remember what to do if your solution isn’t working?

You have the conversation again. I have been having this conversation with Stephen since this school year started. Finally, I think I’ve found his concern. We spoke a few weeks ago and I again slid into my Plan B with, “I’m still getting calls about you not attending school. What’s going on?”

Now it could be that Stephen simply ran out of excuses and decided to fess up. However, I believe that it’s because he was processing all this time. When you hear his concern, you may agree. Stephen said, “Mom, I know I can pass the English class. But there’s no way I’ll pass the SOL. So what’s the point?”
It would have been so easy to tell him exactly what the point was but my CPS training screamed EMPATHY, so we talked about how hard it must be to pass the class only to not be able to pass the SOL. He said he hated feeling “dumb” and he hated being the one of the oldest ones in his class (he’s 19). He really hated the idea of a modified diploma which would allow him to graduate but would make him feel, “like a retard the rest of his life.”

When I invited him to brainstorm solutions this time, I got a very different response. He said, “I just need to go to the school and talk to them.” I asked him if he wanted me to go with him and he said no. However, several weeks went by and he hadn’t gone to the school. So I talked with him again. He gave me several excuses as to why he hadn’t been able to go and we problem solved each but he still didn’t go.

Finally about two weeks ago I got a text that said, “Mom, will you go with me to school?” Of course, I said yes. We have a meeting scheduled and the school says they have some options.

Sometimes Collaborative Problem Solving works in one Plan B conversation. Other times it takes several, but it works. I’m sure Stephen and I have many Plan B conversations in our future but our relationship and his lagging skills improve every time we have them so bring it on.

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