Meet Bradley (an alias to uphold privacy). Bradley is one of hundreds of Montana youth who have benefitted from AWARE’s services. He came to AWARE’s youth residential and school-based services due to past trauma in his foster home. Bradley had the opportunity to thrive while in an AWARE youth home, where he overcame adversity and made drastic improvements because of the services and support provided by AWARE employees. In his years with AWARE, he made great strides in improving his ability to cope with change and manage his feelings. Additionally, he taught himself new skills including learning to speak in different languages. Bradley successfully graduated high school and has since successfully transitioned from AWARE’s youth services to independent adult living (Pictured: Art by a student who attends the Center for Excellence).
Bradley is not alone. Currently, 65 Montana youth call an AWARE group residence “home.” While living in an AWARE residence, children are provided home cooked meals, a stable residence, psychiatry, and mental health therapy to support them in their development and ability to live independent lives.
AWARE, a statewide nonprofit organization that offers quality community-based support for people with mental health and/or developmental disabilities, has been helping Montanans live independent lives since 1976. AWARE takes an innovative approach to care and serves under the guidance of its Unconditional Care Principles. As a Montana-founded and based organization, AWARE works hard to ensure all Montanans who need assistance are offered not only the opportunity to stay and live in Montana, but also live, play and work in the community of their choosing.
While there are success stories, there are also frustrating realities. Without availability of services from AWARE and several other Montana-based organizations, Montanans are then sent to out-of-state facilities; this not only costs Montana taxpayers more, but there is evidence of over sedation, improper medication management, and additional trauma experienced by our citizens while out-of-state with limited ability of Montana agencies to regulate and monitor proper care.
The fact is, there are hundreds of Montana youth placed in out-of-state facilities due to the lack of in-state resources. The resulting financial and emotional long-term cost to Montana is incalculable but substantial. Montana-based organizations can provide better care to our youth all while saving state funds.
Currently, AWARE has three youth residences located in Missoula, Anaconda and Billings that are ready for Montana youth in need of a therapeutic group home placement. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of staff, AWARE is unable to open these homes.
The lack of workforce can partly be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the real issue is that payments for services are simply inadequate for AWARE to offer competitive wages that will attract and sustain a viable workforce. This is a historic issue that is only exacerbated by the pandemic.
AWARE is hopeful that Montana will recognize the need for “legacy building” in the form of investing in our children by investing in our workforce. Ways to do this include funding competitive reimbursement rates to in-state behavioral health and developmental disability providers, incentives for post-secondary education opportunities, and adequate funding for housing assistance and group home room and board for clients.
AWARE takes innovative approaches to workforce development. AWARE is investing resources to attract new employees and to support current employees in their professional development toward the highest quality of care for Montanans. Currently, new hires with AWARE receive $1,000 sign-on bonus, and current employees are offered annual raises and the opportunity for tuition advancement to further their education. The bottom line is that more support is needed from the state in the form of funding.
The unprecedented billions of dollars that Montana received from the American Recovery Act (ARPA) provides a unique opportunity to make a tremendous investment into Montana’s behavioral health infrastructure. It is time to help more Montanans have success stories. It is time to invest in people like Bradley and the people who served him. Our children deserve it. Our workers deserve it.
AWARE also offers early childhood and family services through Head Start/Early Head Start.
To learn more about the services AWARE provides or to apply for a job on the AWARE team, please visit www.Aware-inc.org.