Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Gretchen and her husband, a police officer, wanted to move to a different area of the country after getting married. Gretchen favored Tennessee, which she fell in love with while earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the couple settled on Nashville. Gretchen had already worked a counseling job similar to the family counselor role, and she was hired by Youth Villages before she and her husband relocated to Nashville. Click through the slide show to see what a day as a family counselor looks like for Gretchen and what she loves about her job and the children and families she works with.
9 a.m. Arriving in the office. Gretchen usually starts her day at her desk, completing paperwork on the computer – mostly progress reports on the families she helps – and making phone calls to check in with her families before heading out for family sessions. As an intensive in-home counselor, she also has the chance to work some from home, such as coming up with a schedule for the day or the week, calling her families, school officials, etc. For Gretchen, the flexible work schedule is a big plus.
10:30 a.m. On the way to the first session. As a family counselor, Gretchen spends much of the day on the road. She generally works with four or five families at a time, and she meets each of them a minimum of three times a week for counseling. Meetings take place in the families’ homes, at the children’s schools, at the parents’ workplaces or other locations convenient to the families. Gretchen now is on her way to meet Mandy, a 7-year-old girl who had become increasingly aggressive and disrespectful toward her mother, and was doing poorly in school. Mandy was placed into foster care for a while and was referred to Youth Villages so that the mother and daughter could be successfully reunified. Gretchen is meeting Mandy at her school and also is meeting with Mandy’s teacher to get an update on how the girl is doing in school.
11:00 a.m. At school with Mandy. Gretchen and Mandy sit down at a desk to talk. They chat about Mandy’s day, how she is feeling and how school was. It's important for Gretchen to build a close relationship with Mandy and the important adults involved in her life. Mandy has come to enjoy Gretchen's visits, the extra attention she is getting and the help with homework and other school-related tasks. Like all children, Mandy wants to succeed in school and rebuild the relationship with her mother. The road to success is filled with setbacks but also with small, daily successes noticeable in changed behavior, decreased aggression and better grades in school.
11:20 a.m. Going over homework. Mandy shows Gretchen the homework assignment she is trying to complete – a writing exercise about her mother. Gretchen talks to Mandy about the assignment and what she will write about her mother.
11:35 a.m. Engaging Mandy with her teacher. Gretchen and Mandy’s teacher both make sure Mandy understands the homework assignment. Over time, Gretchen has built a close relationship with Mandy’s teacher. One of the crucial roles of a Youth Villages family counselor is to engage parents, teachers, other family members and adults involved in the child’s life in the treatment approach, so that everyone enforces the same behavioral goals with a previously agreed-upon set of rewards and consequences. The consistency and structure is key in helping Mandy settle into a new routine with more appropriate behaviors.
11:50 a.m. Private talk with teacher. Mandy’s teacher has seen a tremendous change in Mandy’s behavior since Gretchen has become involved with Mandy and her mother. Mandy now does well in class, participates appropriately and is making progress academically. Gretchen and Mandy’s teacher continue to meet regularly to discuss Mandy’s behaviors and to come up with strategies to reward her positive behavior. Mandy is excited about earning points for good behavior, so that her star advances to a new planet in the wall-art solar system that runs along the classroom walls just below the ceiling.
12:05 p.m. Choosing new goals. Gretchen and Mandy come up with Mandy’s behavioral goals for the week, and Mandy writes them down herself on a sheet of paper. Mandy feels good when she accomplishes her goals, and her mother rewards her for following the rules and attaining her personal goals. The session with Mandy is over, and Gretchen says good-bye to Mandy and her teacher. Then, she is off to her car and heads back to the office. Paperwork is waiting, and she has to talk with a colleague about a case that has become unexpectedly complicated. A grandmother who had agreed to become the guardian of her grandson has fallen ill and was placed in the hospital. Gretchen and her co-worker will have to find a respite home for the child.
1:00 p.m. Back in the office. Gretchen heads over to a colleague’s desk to discuss the case with her. Teamwork is important at Youth Villages. Family counselors work in teams of four led by a supervisor. Team counselors support each other with their cases, devising interventions together and bouncing ideas off each other to find the most appropriate behavior interventions. Counselors are informed about their colleagues’ cases and fill in for each other if the primary counselor cannot make it to a scheduled family session.
1:30 p.m. Checking in with clients. After making arrangements with the respite family, Gretchen is back at her desk making a phone call to check in with the next client she is going to see, a teenage girl referred to Youth Villages by juvenile court for substance abuse. Because many of the families helped by Youth Villages have busy lives, Gretchen always calls a client’s family before heading out to meet them in case there is a change in schedule. But the arranged meeting is taking place as planned, and Gretchen heads out of the office for her next session. Because she builds her schedule around the lives of the families she helps, her schedule changes from day to day. Unless there is an emergency – counselors are available to their families 24 hours a day by phone and are on call from time to time – Gretchen’s workday typically ends between 6 and 7 p.m.
2:30 p.m. Making a home visit. Gretchen is greeted at the door by the grandmother of her teenage client, Abbie. Thanks to Gretchen’s help and Abbie’s family’s increased supervision of Abbie, the girl’s life is turning around. She is no longer failing in school, and she is communicating better with her father and grandmother, her primary caretakers. Abbie, her younger siblings, their father and grandmother all live together in the same home. Gretchen works with each of them on household rules, finding appropriate rewards and consequences to enforce new rules and helps with communication between family members.
2:45 p.m. Checking on a teenager. Gretchen and Abbie’s grandmother talk about Abbie’s weekend, her behaviors and her doctors’ appointments. Abbie and her father are supposed to be at the house for the session, but on their way home, a driver hit their car, causing a minor accident. Although Abbie and her father made a phone call to assure both the grandmother and Gretchen that they are completely fine, they went to the hospital to double check on Abbie, who is several months pregnant. As expected, the teenager and her father are fine, and Gretchen and the grandmother continue the session.
Building relationships with the entire family. Gretchen has become intimately involved with the lives of the families she helps, and she is a welcome and trusted guest at Abbie’s family’s house. Abbie’s little brother enjoys joking around with Gretchen and shows off his reading skills. All of Abbie's family members are important in helping the family live together successfully. Gretchen tries to make sure to involve even the little ones in sessions to make sure the entire family is doing well.
3:30 p.m. Rearranging the schedule. After the session, Gretchen sits in her car to make another phone call to arrange her final session for the day. Because she builds her schedule around the lives of the families she helps, her schedule changes from day to day, and often, it changes unexpectedly from one hour to the next.
4:00 p.m. Licensure session. The last session she had scheduled for the day gets canceled. The mother and child she was going to visit are returning late from another appointment, and they reschedule for the next day. Gretchen returns to the office for some paperwork before her last meeting of the day, a licensure supervision meeting. Gretchen is currently working on her social worker license. Youth Villages pays for licensure, and counselors may complete the number of required supervised hours while on the job. From there, Gretchen is free to go home. Her days do not always end this early. Because her schedule is flexible, sometimes, her workdays start later and end later, other days, they start earlier and end later. Gretchen also enjoys the chance to work from home and sometimes completes all of her paperwork at home before going into the office. Tonight, she is free to enjoy herself, provided she does not get an emergency phone call from one of her families.