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Social worker Amy Cousineau enters The Bradley Center’s dining area and is spotted immediately by a teenage girl sitting on a couch across the room. The girl promptly pushes schoolbooks aside and sits up tall, readying herself to make an important announcement about her behavior.
“Ms. Amy! Ms. Amy! I turned my night around!” the 16-year-old says proudly, twirling a pink highlighter in her hand.
The news makes Cousineau smile. They give each other a high-five, and Cousineau asks her to pick a reward: a walk, a board game or lunch with Cousineau. Despite the chilly weather, the girl chooses a walk with Ms. Amy – a favorite activity since coming to the center three weeks before.
“Creating positive relationships with the kids is a critical part of our jobs. It’s so important in helping effectively treat and support each child,” explains Cousineau, clinical manager of the 16-bed residential program in Cranston, formerly Caritas House.
The Bradley Center provides short-term intensive treatment for boys and girls, ages 12 to 17, who suffer from either mental health issues, substance use or a combination of both. Most of the children arrive at the center after receiving care for emergency behavioral health issues at Bradley Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital or at emergency departments across the state.
The staff’s compassion and expertise – provided within a safe, modern facility – create a haven for children and their families as they face one of the most challenging times of their lives. For some children, a stay at The Bradley Center is their first experience with residential placement. For others, the center can be one in a string of residential placements.
Cousineau has devoted her career to working with children and families in residential settings.
“I can’t envision doing anything else,” says the 41-year-old Fall River native who began her career 16 years ago at a large residential program in Massachusetts. “No one takes this job with the idea of ‘getting something out of it.’ The people who do this work want to give of themselves.”
Cousineau joined the Bradley Hospital staff 15 years ago, working in acute care residential programs before taking on leadership of The Bradley Center in 2017.
The center’s team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, residential care counselors, medical students and interns. Despite the children’s short average length of stay, Cousineau’s goal is for each boy and girl to leave the program with at least one skill to improve their lives.
“It could be a matter of learning how to avoid becoming so agitated, so quickly,” she explains. The ability to better understand and work through negative thoughts stemming from anxiety or depression is a frequent lesson. The center’s staff teach self-soothing skills. This includes helping them put problems or perceived problems into perspective.
Cousineau says, “It’s important to help a child or teen to understand that the problem they are facing right now will get better. It’s not permanent.”
Before attempting to instill such valuable life lessons, professionals like Cousineau must work to build relationships and trust. The process is on display this morning as Cousineau and Jonathan Calixte, a residential care counselor, sits with another teenage girl who was having trouble adjusting to changes in her medication for psychosis. The two adults pretend to struggle with word search exercises the girl was completing. The quiet conversation produces a giggle from the child as well as valuable clues to Cousineau about the child’s mood.
Calixte says The Bradley Center’s care team members learn from each other, adding that Cousineau is a mentor to many staffers.
“She’s awesome with the kids. They don’t want to see her leave at the end of the day,” Calixte observes.
Cousineau says making these connections requires some homework.
“What is the child’s interest? That’s where a conversation can begin. I just had a child yesterday who loves Pokémon. So, today I know a lot more about Pokémon,” she explains. “It might be basketball, football, video games, music. Music is my worst. I have no clue.
“I also try to learn the lingo my kids use. That helps make me really, um, cool with the kids,” she says in a self-deprecating tone.
It’s rare for the center’s staff to learn how things work out for a child once he or she leaves. Cousineau often is encouraged when the child makes his or her own prediction. “Our kids say it all the time: ‘I’m going to come back here and do what you do for kids.’”