Jonaya admits there was a time she allowed her temper to determine her actions. But she’s learned so much now.

“If I find myself getting mad or upset, I now know to walk away and go to my bedroom to sit alone and breathe through the moment,” said the 14-year-old.

That small tactic has made a big difference for the teen, who received care at St. Vincent’s Villa, a comprehensive residential treatment program for children ages 5 to 14 whose mental and emotional health needs have not responded to community-based interventions and services.

Jonaya arrived at St. Vincent’s Villa with a reputation of threatening violence and being physical. She quickly became one of the most challenging children at the center. But for more than a year, she’s sustained her ability to cope with her feelings and moderate her actions.

The staff, said St. Vincent’s Villa Program Director Patrice Flagle, focused on a strength-based, trauma-focused model of care, including intense family involvement. It included creative interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, art, music, bike riding, sensory-related strategies, psychiatric medication and behavioral interventions to help Jonaya learn how to self-regulate her emotions.

“We are so pleased to know we were able to help her reach this point in her journey,” Flagle said, “but we must commend the family for their commitment as Jonaya continues to thrive in the home for the past year in the midst of this pandemic.”

Working together in residential care

Jonaya lived at St. Vincent’s Villa for over a year before returning home to the women she calls her “aunts,” Jalene and Shirlene Chase. The sisters are fostering Jonaya and her two older sisters. The Chases also serve as co-guardians of the siblings, along with the state of Maryland.

Child Protective Services initially placed the siblings in the Chase family home for 30 days, as part of respite care – designed to give parents a break in intense times of caregiving. The Chases, who are trained in behavioral health and trauma-informed care, noticed Jonaya was exhibiting symptoms and knew they had to commit to being the safe, loving, family environment and home the girls needed to heal. They tried therapy. Then they started looking for residential care.

“It was the hardest decision we had to make, but we prayed on it and knew she would be better for it,” said Jalene Chase. “Despite her violent episodes, breaking items around the house, we saw Jonaya being more valuable than anything we owned in our home.”

Not alone

Jonaya and the Chases underwent a personalized treatment plan to address their specific therapeutic needs, including intensive solo and family therapy. During her residential stay, Jonaya was able to see her aunts and sisters often.

“The family presence was a constant reminder for Jonaya to know she was not in this battle alone, and she had the support of everyone while at St. Vincent’s Villa,” said Flagle. “It was clear we were all working together. It makes a huge difference for the children to know we have hope in them and nobody is giving up on them.”

“There were times I was sad and missed my family, but I’m thankful for St. Vincent’s Villa because I’m much more calm now,” said Jonaya. “I’m happy my aunts really, really care because without them I would probably still be upset a lot.”

That 30-day stay was six years ago. Jonaya and her sisters still live with the Chase sisters, stably and with better ways to cope.