Berkshire Farm Feedback

The article “To Hell and Back” [May] described how the venerated residential care program Berkshire Farm Center fell from its standing as a program of recognized high-quality to one of abuse and scandal. The question seemed to be: How could that happen to a high-quality program? A more appropriate question would be: Why would it not be expected to fall from that status?

The number of factors that tend to reduce quality in group care is almost endless. Children who come into group care generally bring behavior or emotional problems that can make caring for them unpleasant. Sometimes, staff who simply should never be hired slip by. Changes in administrators or programs can have unexpected consequences.

These are only a few of many factors that tend to undermine quality. What needs to be done? There are three overriding considerations.

First, don’t be naive. Assume that terrible things will happen unless certain protections are operating.

Second, accept the fact that a variety of considerations and protections are needed, without relying only on those that seem obvious.

Third, constantly work to keep the program “open” to people outside. This has far more to do with attitude than security or isolation.

Jake Terpstra

Grand Rapids, Mich.

Retired child welfare specialist,

U.S Children’s Bureau.


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