By CJ Lovelace, Herald Mail Media
This year has been one of transition for San Mar Children’s Home.
The agency has a new name, a new chief executive and a new direction that involved the closure of its longtime residential services to focus on a new strategy of meeting local families and youths in their homes and communities.
CEO Keith Fanjoy, who took the reigns in April following the retirement of Bruce Anderson, recently sat down with Herald-Mail Media for a wide-ranging interview about the agency’s future plans and goals in Washington County.
Herald-Mail: Bruce Anderson retired in March after 35 years. Talk a little about your experience with San Mar.
Keith Fanjoy: I’ve been an employee of San Mar for about 12 years and I’ve had a variety of roles with the organization, starting out as a caseworker for treatment foster care, then as an admissions director overseeing all of the case management and clinical interviews of all incoming female residents to our group homes, then, ultimately, as the deputy director of the agency about four and a half years ago. I helped to develop a new community-based effort under the San Mar umbrella called San Mar Community of Hope and I’ve been there since the fall of 2015, then, most recently, transitioning into the role of CEO as of April 2.
HM: You mentioned Bester Community of Hope. That’s kind of where the organization is headed now, correct? Can you talk about how the San Mar of old has changed into the San Mar of today?
KF: San Mar’s core values and our priorities have not changed. We still put a tremendous emphasis on children and those children in need. It’s our strategy that’s changed. We have made a strategic decision to move away from residential programming and try to put more energy into wrapping supports around families in their communities, or when a child can’t be safely managed in their home or community with caring and supportive adults. Our three anchor programs at San Mar are, first of all, Bester of Community of Hope. It’s our newest program. We also have a relatively new outpatient mental health center called the Jack E. Barr Center for Wellbeing. Then, at this time, our most mature and acute program which is our treatment foster care program, where we place children who have high intensity needs in caring and supportive families to hopefully stabilize them, meet their needs and help them return to their biological families, if possible.
HM: Are you still operating as San Mar Children’s Home or has the name changed with the different programs?
KF: In the past year, as we closed our residential programs, we changed our name officially to San Mar Family and Community Services to ultimately reflect the areas of focus for our organization that kids are still our top priority, but it’s the way we work with them through their family and their community that we believe is the most effective way to making a difference.
HM: So you have done away with your residential programs now?
KF: Yes. As of July of 2016, we went through a multi-year process ending in July of 2017 where we closed our various residential programs as we began opening more outpatient or community-based programs. So the shift was away from congregate care settings to focus more on meeting people in their environment. A lot of the shift and strategy comes from thinking of the child in the context of their family, in the context of their neighborhood. One of the things in this legacy of care that Bruce Anderson was able to implement at San Mar, there was no question that all the children who lived there had all their needs met. … The challenge ultimately became as the children were transitioning back to their family of origin, what we were as an agency to do more to support maintaining them in a community-based setting? This moral imperative kind of pushed us to seek answers, and as we found options that were creative and innovative, ultimately, it was the impetus for change for the organization.
HM: What’s been the reaction to the changes … from parents, from kids?
KF: Our community-based programming has been very positive overall. And we are very excited about the direction of being able to provide the same level of support to children in the context of their home environment with their whole family, not just one child. For those of us that have been in this work of residential and foster care, serving people earlier is so rewarding because we feel like ultimately the work that we’re doing is preventing people from having to go deeper into these foster care systems. … There is a sense of loss around the end of our residential programs, but as people come to understand how we’ve adapted our focus and are still putting kids front and center around that strategy, they get really excited. I think anytime an organization with such a long, rich history as San Mar goes through a change like this, there is a process to help the public understand what that looks like. The more people who come to understand it and become comfortable with it, they can really see that San Mar as an agency is very similar to what it has always been.
HM: Can you elaborate on the thought process that helped bring this new strategy to life?
KF: As we studied best practices across the country, as we were developing our community of hope model, we started to identify innovative ways to respond to children and families earlier. With that, that pushed our board of directors and senior leadership to make this bold new direction about how to support families earlier in a preventative capacity. … People think of San Mar and they say “the orphanage.” It’s because of our 130-plus-year history serving children in a residential capacity. Most recently, in the past 35 years under Bruce Anderson’s leadership, they would say the girls at San Mar, and those would be adolescent girls who needed residential care between the ages of 12 and 18. And really now today, we’re serving such a wide range of ages, of children and their parents, as well as whole neighborhoods. It’s a much broader approach to making a significant impact in the lives of children.
HM: When you talk about best practices, is one of those reaching children and families earlier to mitigate problems before they get worse down the road?
KF: We’ve just focused on moving up stream a little bit. Again, there will always be some level of need for acute services for children in great need, but we just want to do our part to ultimately contribute to reducing the amount of children that are impacted by systems of care.
HM: Is there a specific criteria for kids or family situations where San Mar gets involved?
KF: Each of our programs has a little bit of a different criteria for services, but for treatment foster care, we receive referrals from state agencies, primarily social services. Those are newborn children all the way up to age 21, boys and girls, who primarily are not able to be safely maintained in their home environment because of some type of abuse, neglect or a problematic family situation. Our goal, as we bring those children into licensed and certified families, is to provide for them and meet their basic needs, but also make sure that these families that they’re living with have a deep understanding of the trauma these kids have gone through so they can respond in an effective way to their behaviors. For the outpatient mental health center, it’s open to the community. We accept referrals. … The primary location for those services are at our Boonsboro campus. However, therapists who are working with a client who may have certain needs of meeting in closer proximity to Hagerstown, we can arrange that kind of service.
HM: In your time with San Mar, have you seen an increase in families in crisis?
KF: I think life is a lot more complicated today than it was even 20 years ago, but I do think that the needs, the stresses that are put on families and the lack of availability of nearby relatives, nearby community supports make it very difficult for families, especially those who are in low-income situations or impoverished communities. As far as an increase in need for mental-health services or those that are being impacted by drugs and those things, I think today we just look at those things a little bit differently. We spend a lot of time as an agency and doing trainings and talking to the public about trauma-informed practices, so that when we see these problematic behaviors from children or adults, it starts with what do we believe and see happening there. The three things we regularly talk about as a staff are to be trauma-informed, strength-based and solution-oriented. To break that down a little bit, being trauma-informed means we’re going to take the time to listen and understand what someone has gone through. Once we do that, we don’t want to spend a whole lot of time focusing on all the things wrong, so we have to be strength-based, which allows us to build momentum from the places where someone has had success. If we’re able to start doing that and motivating those people who are in some level of struggle or crisis, it’s only after those two things have happened that we can start talking about some solutions.
HM: What’s the biggest takeaway for the community about San Mar’s new scope of work?
KF: One of the things we talk about when we talk about individuals moving toward independence, we actually use the term interdependence because none of us have longterm success in life alone. We’re all in this world together, and there’s a certain level of desire for folks to figure it out, but until we take the time to really understand their experience and help them move through something, they’re not going to be able to do it. So as far as San Mar as an agency, I’m really excited about the long-term directions the board of directors and our senior leadership team has committed to. We’re committed to innovation and moving in a strategic direction that allows San Mar to be a 21st century human-services organization. … My hope longterm as we think how to address community needs, especially in the city of Hagerstown and beyond, is thinking how we can partner with others who are doing this work instead of duplicating efforts. … San Mar is alive and well, and we plan on making a major impact on Washington County in the coming years. We’re excited to be able to share our story with the community and look forward to traveling on that journey together.
For more information about San Mar and its programs or how to get involved as a volunteer, foster family or donor, contact the main office at 301-733-9067.