Family Advocates Give Back to Astor

Article by Lisa Flynn, Family Advocate, Astor Services for Children & Families

Lisa Flynn, a Family Advocate at Astor Services for Children & Families, recounts her experiences as both the caregiver of a child helped by Astor and her subsequent employment at Astor as a Family Advocate, where she can now help others as she and her family were helped before.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy name is Lisa.  I have custody of my grandson, Freddy, who is now 12 years old.  Freddy began showing problems with anger, depression, low frustration tolerance and violent outbursts at a very young age.  My daughter, Freddy’s mom, had him as an unwed teenager.  She had no idea of how to care for Freddy’s “special needs”, nor did she have the time he needed, as she worked full time and went to school at night.  At that time, she was also in a new relationship and had another child.

Problems Begin Early

Freddy began kindergarten.  On the third day of school he was suspended for slapping a teacher across the face.  It was at that point that my husband and I agreed to take Freddy and try to help him.  At age five, Freddy moved in with us.  He began therapy and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and ADHD.

Thus began the series of medication experimentation.  He was tried on 21 different medications by the time he was nine.  We also received the gamut of services – first special education, then RCPC (Rockland County Children’s Psychiatric Center – which had a mental health special education class), followed by ICC (Intensive Case Management) through the Office of Mental Health.  At age 6, Freddy was hospitalized for the first time.  In total he has had four psychiatric hospitalizations. Upon leaving the hospital, we were given Waiver Services, which are the highest form of services available before residential.  None of them helped very much.

A Depth of Pain, Guilt, Failure and Hopelessness

“My experiences
at Astor as
both a client
and an employee
have been life

In August 2010, just before his 9th birthday, Freddy was admitted to Astor Services for Children & Families, formally known as the Astor Home for Children and Families, in Rhinebeck.  We had no idea what to expect, but the violence had escalated to a dangerous point and we had nowhere else to turn.”

There are no words to explain the depth of pain, guilt, failure and hopelessness you feel when you have to leave your child with a building full of strangers.  I would stare into his bedroom each day and just cry.  How did this happen?  Was he ever going to get better?  Would he ever come home?

Learning a Different Way of Looking at Things

Come to find out, the staff at Astor were totally amazing.  I never felt like they “blamed” us for Freddy’s condition.  We were encouraged to attend and participate in his treatment meetings, as well as family therapy.  Astor also offered parents a course called Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI).  My husband and I learned new skills to deal with Freddy.  It was eye opening for us to learn all the things we were taught in TCI to avoid — were all the things we were currently doing!  It was such a different way of looking at things.

I felt supported throughout Freddy’s 22 month stay at Astor.  If I had an issue with Freddy while he was on a home visit, all I had to do was call his unit and one of the child care workers would speak to him and get him to calm down.  The psychiatrist was so caring and explained all the medication options and side effects to us.  We never felt that we were in the dark.

Family Advocates: a Lifeline

We were also assigned a Family Advocate.  I had no idea what that was, but I soon found out.  Our Family Advocate was a lifeline.  She had been through the same things we were going through.  While the clinical and child care staff worked with Freddy helping him build coping skills, the Family Advocate worked with us.

In June 2012, Freddy was discharged from Astor.  While I cannot honestly say things have been all peaches and cream, I can say that the skills we learned at Astor have helped us to weather many a storm.  In March 2012, a couple of months before Freddy was discharged, a position for a Family Advocate at Astor opened up.  I applied and got the job.  Now I get to work with struggling families and help them, the way I had been helped.  My experiences at Astor as both a client and an employee have been life changing.