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WOOSTER -- For nearly 50 years, the pastoral campus of the Christian Children's Home of Ohio has served as a refuge for children in need of the kind of therapeutic care and treatment they can't get at home.
Sitting on a former 175-acre farm, the faith-based agency offers residential services, clinical counseling and support for children 6 to 18, most of whom who have undergone abuse, neglect and trauma.
CCHO also offers Encourage, a private foster and adoption service, and Encompass, which has clinical counseling sites at 14 locations throughout Northeast Ohio, including Jackson Township and Sebring.
Executive Director Kevin Hewitt said the hope is that in helping abused and neglected children to heal, it will help their future spouses and children, and "soon, you're helping the entire community."
CCHO was founded by a small group of Christian men who saw a need for residential services for children who can't remain at home.
"I can't imagine their surprise at how many people have been helped," Hewitt said.
Children are referred to CCHO through children's services agencies, the family courts and parental placement. They have served children from 64 of Ohio's 88 counties, Hewitt said. The average length of stay is about 10 months.
A newly added service, Hewitt said, is TRAC, or Trauma Resolution and Connection Program.
"By the time a child is referred to our residential services, there's been a trauma history," he said. "The child at that point can't function in the family, or they need more structure."
The campus features four residential age-appropriate "cottages," which has the capacity for 36 children. There is a waiting list.
"That makes me sad," Hewitt said, noting that they've seen an increase in referrals because of the opiate crisis.
Hewitt said CCHO supports Ohio House Bill 50, which would provide more support services to young adults after they "age out" of foster care at 18.
"It's a safety net for kids," he said. "They have every right to emancipate themselves, but even if you helped them last year, once they turn 18, there's nothing you can do for them."
On campus, the children's days are consumed by school and therapy, but there also are ample opportunities for recreation, regular field trips and weekly visits to town.
"I get real excited when our kids do normal stuff," Hewitt said. "Some of them have been social-worked to death."
By law, children's residential centers are required to offer a minimum of one hour of instruction, five days a week. But Hewitt said CCHO residents undertake a full school day, provided by Summit Academy, a charter school system. Summit Academy teachers come to the campus.
"Many are behind their peers," Hewitt said, adding that Summit Academy designs individual learning plans.
The arrangement has come under criticism from public school districts, which are responsible for educating the children living in their districts. The public districts are upset because while they're held responsible for children being educated, the money designated to educate them gets diverted to charter schools.
Peggy Smith began her 24-year career at CCHO as a foster-care intern. Today she is CCHO's director of residential services.
Smith said many of the children who come to CCHO wrestle with anger, and attachment and trust disorders.
"That can show itself in a lot of different ways," she said.
Smith said it's why each cottage has a therapist and two case managers. Each child undergoes two hours of daily personal therapy and four hours of daily group therapy.
In the cottages, every child has his or her own room. Residents share a common kitchen and laundry areas and TV room. Residents can earn allowances through a chore system, Smith said.
Network of support
The campus, she said, is designed so that every child is under observation "24-7."
There also are plans to install "sensory rooms" in the cottages for when residents feel overwhelmed or need a timeout," Smith said.
Smith said a few children brought to CCHO have emotional problems that are so severe they don't stay because they require a different kind of residential service, Smith said.
"Some kids just don't feel safe enough to stay," she said.
CCHO's annual budget is $8.5 million, with 50 percent coming from Medicaid, 30 percent from private insurance, and 20 percent through private donations.
Increasingly, behavioral health care for children is being provided through managed care, Hewitt noted.
CCHO also is supported by a network of about 250 churches also offers support and donations. Recently, 1,000 people attended a fundraiser barbecue held on the campus.
Future plans include a cafeteria and a gymnasium.
"We're the best-kept secret in Northeast Ohio," said Joe Franz, CCHO's director of communications. "We impact so many children. The staff is an amazing group of people. They love kids and the love serving the Lord to make an impact over generations."
Earlier this year, Franz and co-worker Jamey Codding co-wrote a book, "Father's Day Miracle," donating the proceeds to CCHO. For information visit http://www.fathersdaymiracle.com.
Smith credits CCHO's leadership for its support of the staff, and its advocacy of training and development.
Hewitt said CCHO is unapologetically Christian, but no one is required to attend religious services.
"We are Christian, we're going to stay Christian," he said. "But we believe that the principles of honesty and integrity transcend religion. We don't want (residents) to just survive; we want them to thrive. We want kids to consider themselves the next generation of leaders."
For more information, visit www.ccho.org