Enquirer Herald

Thompson eyes more community services for York, Fort Mill sites

Mary Jo Powers
Mary Jo Powers

The York and Fort Mill sites of Charlotte-based Thompson Child & Family Focus will continue to expand community services as it seeks to survive in a challenging new era, according to the agency’s CEO.

Thompson’s York Place in York and Thompson Counseling Center in Fort Mill already provide community counseling services, and at some point they may expand into preventive services as well, said Thompson President Mary Jo Powers.

Powers says she’ll deliver a sobering message today at the agency’s annual spring fundraising luncheon, that her agency is evolving to survive, just as it changed in the 1970s when it stopped being an orphanage and started offering psychiatric residential care.

The agency has raised as much as $1 million during the luncheon, to help fill funding gaps in programs that help abused children. But this year’s event at the Westin Charlotte faces the biggest challenge in its history, with a gap that doubled in 2014, from $2 million to $4 million.

“We’re facing a new future,” Powers said. “Because of changing times in managed care reform, we are at a crossroad. We’re not going to change our mission, but we refining our program focus.”

Thompson, a nationally accredited, nonprofit agency with seven locations in North and South Carolina, is intended to change the lives of at-risk children and families through therapy, education and care.

Powers said the agency expects to gradually expand services in South Carolina. She said it recently added a full-time psychiatrist to serve the York and Fort Mill locations.

Because of the limited availability of psychiatrists, Powers said, it also will offer a form of video conferencing at the two York County sites to give patients remote access to psychiatric care.

Powers said the agency is beginning to recruit and train therapeutic foster families at its four South Carolina locations. The two other South Carolina sites are in Gaffney and Greenwood.

In North Carolina, Powers said, the agency works with child development centers to help them improve the quality of services. “We would love to bring that service to South Carolina,” she said.

Family education services that attempt to build strong families and prevent abuse and neglect before it starts are another opportunity for growth in South Carolina, she said.

Powers says the $4 million gap this year reflects a decision by North Carolina to change the way it relies on long-term residential programs for treating abused children. Instead of such children staying in care for nine to 12 months, the state is now pushing for them to be out in 90 to 120 days. For Thompson, that means a cut in funding.

Powers said a consulting firm has been hired to forge a strategy for helping children and families in crisis, and its report is due in August.

“Every few years, you have to change your focus and see where the world is at, and we’re at that crossroad. We’re not going to change our mission, but we may change the way we do business.”

In place of residential psychiatric care, the agency intends to push for more therapeutic support in homes and community settings.

“Residential care is waiting too late to step in,” said Powers. “We need to catch the cycle of abuse earlier, before the children have those lifelong scars.”

The state move is in keeping with a national push to limit the time and decrease the number of children placed in psychiatric residential care facilities like Thompson.

York Place, founded by the Episcopal Church as an orphanage, later expanded to offer services for children who were victims of abuse and neglect. It opened a counseling center for the community several years ago.

Other services at York Place includes school-based mental health services and therapeutic and respite care for children, and helping Medicaid-eligible youths with access to medical, social and educational services.

Thompson, with a budget of $21 million, has a tradition of absorbing costs in cases where it feels a child needs more time in care before leaving, and that also contributed to the latest budget gap, officials said.

Steve Hall, a Thompson volunteer and foster parent, will lead today’s program, which will highlight the the story of a 17-year-old man conquering a history of childhood trauma with the help of intensive clinical treatment.

Hall says he considers the story an example of the miracles that occur regularly at Thompson. He also says he doesn’t see the $4 million funding gap as daunting.

“As a matter of fact, I’m excited to give the people an opportunity to respond,” Hall said. “I truly believe every child can overcome their difficulties. They have that resilience, given time and an opportunity. Some of their stories are pretty rough, but I’m part of a community of people who believes every child should have a chance.”

Powers said Thompson is not moving away from its longtime mission of helping children and families heal. “Last year, our services impacted the lives of over 12,000 children and families,” said Powers. “My dream is to double that impact.”

Mark Price with The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.