External team of experts declare SCC program a national model

Various snapshots of members of the Special Commitment Center’s community programs team.

An Inspection of Care team declared the Special Commitment Center’s community programs to be a national model during a visit in August.

The SCC’s community programs radically changed two years ago when Senate Bill 5163 directed the facility to lead discharge planning for their residents from total confinement to less restrictive alternatives in the community, something that defense attorneys previously accomplished. This is the second year that the IOC — an external team of experts on civilly committed sex offenders — separately evaluated the community program.

“I think about where we started, and the vision we had for this program, and the teamwork and the vision that everyone had, and the constant, positive can-do — it feels so validating. They’ve worked so hard,” said SCC Chief Executive Officer Keith Devos.

Deputy CEO Candice Yi, who previously led the community programs, echoed that sentiment.

“I think it’s something we’re all very proud of, because every single person really has stepped up to the plate. We are always approaching with the angle of how we can improve residents’ opportunities, treatment and transition planning,” Yi said.

Best practices behind the program

While the community program’s team mission drastically changed over the last two years, the team itself grew as well from three staff members managing 60 residents in the community to nearly 50 staff members now managing 80 residents on average.

“From the historical perspective, working in the community, sometimes solo and sometimes with one or two other people, this vision of what community could be was nearly impossible to get there, and then in the last two years, that dream has come true,” said Julia Crabbe, one of SCC’s community programs administrators. “Being able to see what was the thoughts of so many people actually happening is truly amazing, and so is seeing the hope in residents’ eyes now.”

That hope is for the possibility of a pathway out of the Total Confinement Facility, where all SCC residents are assigned when they are civilly committed to the program. Before the shifts over the last several years in focus on treatment, risk management, rehabilitation and developing additional community placements for residents (or less restrictive alternatives to total confinement), substantially fewer residents transitioned to LRAs.

“What I value is installation of hope within residents, and I think that the social workers here have absolutely done that,” said Kellie Mulkey, an SCC social work manager.

One of the best practices the IOC pointed out was SCC’s improved treatment program, said Jonathan Sherry, SCC’s director of discharge planning. The SCC team strives for a more clinical focus overall, Sherry said.

In addition, Devos pointed out that the IOC team could not find any improvements for nurses in the community and was able to see in action the teamwork of community residential rehabilitative counselors, social workers and nurses visiting residents in the community and rapidly connecting them with resources.

The community program team reflected on what they believe their own best practices to be. For Sherry, these include hiring good people and trusting them to do the work, and establishing accountability at all levels.

“The ultimate goal is to provide rehabilitation treatment for our residents in order to keep communities safe, and I don’t think we can separate out the two… By having the structure that we do, we can hold housing providers accountable, we can hold treatment providers accountable, we can hold ourselves accountable, but most importantly, we hold the resident accountable. We actually have more programmatic oversight and more involvement in residents, way more in community than we ever had before, and that allows us to hold the residents accountable to the treatment program they are responsible for completing,” said Sherry. “We just have the tools to do that with more insight and more resources than has ever been allotted before.”

Ellen Brown, an SCC social work manager, pointed out the importance of increased resources when taking on an ambitious new endeavor.

“What stood out to me is the resources that we have. We don’t just have social workers, but we have nurses, we have community RCs, and the external stakeholders as well who are a part of our team, but specifically just the community resources of those three disciplines is pretty impressive,” said Brown.

In addition to building up its staff, the community program has been purposely building systems that are supportable in the long term.

“Almost every single team I’ve worked with in my career has been new, and I have not found one that has had such sustainable practices. They’ve built a solid program around very sustainable, long-term resources,” said Madison Swanson, a management analyst at SCC.

The focus on data that Swanson brings to the team is another best practice that Yi mentioned, as the community program team uses data to provide a fuller analysis of how it can improve. She also emphasized the importance of allowing team members to make mistakes as they tested new initiatives and the importance of truly functioning as an interdisciplinary team.

“It’s one thing to talk about interdisciplinary sort of teamwork and comprehensive continuity of care; we actually live it out in our day-to-day practice, and I think that is something that has really garnered the respect and appreciation from others who actually see the work that we do,” Yi said.

In fact, teamwork was another positive finding from the IOC visit.

“They noted how comfortable people are with each other, how well we work together, and how well we communicate,” Devos said.

A peek at what’s next

The community program’s LRAs include both community LRAs and secure community transition facilities — one in Pierce County and another in King County. Both SCTFs strive to make their facilities more of a home environment “because for the time being, this is (a resident’s) home,” said King County SCTF Manager Jeff Cutshaw. “The IOC was truly impressed by the better environment of care here.”

One of the IOC’s recommendations for the community programs includes having more of the LRA residents seek jobs in the community, said Cutshaw.

“Actually having jobs not just inside the facility — and they all have jobs here — but actually having them actively go out in the community to teach those life skills, to have more responsibility such as getting up every day at a certain time, having an income, and paying bills on time,” he said.

Cutshaw also plans to increase programming opportunities within the facility such as life skills, group activities, GED study prep, extended access to educational opportunities, and healthy lifestyle classes.

The community program also plans to continue to refine contracts and discharge plans, work toward becoming a trauma-informed program, and gain accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, said Devos.

A team with shared grit

Perhaps what makes the community program stand out the most is the universal sense of teamwork.

“We are a perseverant bunch; we’re multidimensional. I’m most proud that we are being recognized for the outstanding work that’s being done … and in a very short period of time, two years in the making. We have been able to accomplish so much … we had a lot of external challenges, and we overcame them not by working against one another but by working with one another. I’m just super proud of that shared grit,” Yi said.

“It’s a family; we all support each other and try to help each other … if anyone of us needs anything, it’s a phone call away and nobody hesitates, nobody grumbles. We are all here to help each other succeed,” said Cutshaw.

Devos noted that the team contributing to earning accolades as a national leader really is inclusive of the whole SCC program — including the support of clinical, medical and security teams.

As for how SCC leadership helped to foster such a strong team, Devos has a few thoughts on that.

“We play to people’s strengths. We trust people; we empower people. We’ve flattened the organization. I think you won’t find titles running around; you’ll see them in our signature block but that’s it. And I think everyone has finally found their voice at the table, and knows that their voice matters. I think the team genuinely just cares about each other,” he said.

As for how well the SCC community program fares in IOC visits, Devos has big plans for the next visit.

“Like I told the folks last year, if you think we accomplished a lot last year, just wait until next year. Wait until you see what we accomplish in the next 12 months — it’ll just blow your mind.”

(By Suzie Ovel)

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