For many children, being in the custody of the Department of Human Services means bouncing from one placement to the next. They start in one home and when they reach a certain age they ‘age out’ and are sent to a new home. Being moved around like this adds a sense of confusion and hopelessness to children who have already been the victims of abuse and neglect.
This is the reality which Tom Ward sought to change when he founded White Fields with his son, Trent, in 2000. The White Fields campus, situated a few miles northeast of Piedmont, was built over the next few years and they accepted their first child in 2006. When creating White Fields, the idea was simple—build a place for boys in the custody of DHS that they would not have to leave.
“Once they get here, they can stay until they become adults,” Mautra Jones, Director of Development, said. “We prepare them for adulthood and when they leave they have a forever family.”
The way White Fields prepares the boys for adulthood is by offering a unique system of care, unlike anything else in the nation. There are five levels of care a child at White Fields has the opportunity to experience the success of which can be measured in any number of ways. But perhaps the best evidence came in May, when White Fields celebrated an important milestone. The boys home had its first child graduate from high school.
Tyran Oates, who has been with White Fields since they first opened, graduated from Deer Creek High School. In the fall, Oates will attend Anderson University in Indiana to study entrepreneurship.
“When he leaves, he’ll still have his room in the foster home,” Mautra Jones said. “He’ll still have his family.”
According to Andrew Schlecht, Education Coordinator for White Fields, most of the boys attend Deer Creek Public Schools. However, there are about four boys on campus who are not ready to go to public school. Instead, they attend the education center on campus.
“Because of their situation, some of these kids can be as much as four grade levels behind,” Sclecht said. “In public school they would be lost and confused. They need the one on one attention.”
That is what makes White Fields so special. It is all about providing the child with the attention they need, not holding them to unrealistic standards. Which is why the program is structured the way it is.
Upon entering the care of White Fields, the first step in a child’s road too recovery is the D+ level of care. At this stage, the boys receive 24 hour attention as well as five hours of therapy a week. The purpose of this stage is to acclimate the children with structure and stability in order to ease them into a more normal environment.
This is the most crucial aspect of the program at White Fields because it establishes a trust that many children lack when they first arrive. As such, children only move on to the next level of care when they are deemed ready. Depending on the child’s background and the extent of their abuse, this can be as little as one year and as much as three years or more.
After the D+ level, the children move on to the C level, which implements a more family and home like setting. Two house parents watch over the boys and the boys attend public school. They also participate in sports and other activities.
From there, the boys move up to the specialized community homes and foster homes that are located on campus. Here they get the experience of living with families while maintaining the stability of residing on campus.
White Fields is truly a one of a kind treatment center for abused and neglected boys but hopefully, given its success, that will not remain the case for long.