Social Work alumna Katie Ryan (MSW ’14) has always been interested in helping others, and she’s never been afraid of a challenge.
That’s why when she had the opportunity to help open a Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services (PCHAS) office in New Orleans she jumped at the chance to become the office’s Child and Family Specialist.
Katie received the opportunity, thanks to the previous trauma work she conducted as an undergrad as well as her experiences at her MSW internship at Hynes Charter School.
When Lakeview Presbyterian Church offered to host the new PCHAS office, Katie also got to carry over many of her clients from her internship.
“PCHAS is very interested in keeping strong relationships, so we can keep our families until the youngest child in their family turns 18,” she said. “Kids can be in our care for 18 years, or they can be in our care for a couple of weeks. It all depends on what their family situation is.”
Katie meets with five to nine clients a day from home visits to community visits at schools or at her office, which is a play therapy office. PCHAS offers this child therapy free of charge and also conducts parenting classes through TBRI, an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI is connection.
“We have clients who bring home millions of dollars a year to clients who barely bring home a penny a year,” she said. “We have a total spectrum of services. It’s amazing to see how our parenting classes affect people because everyone is going through something different.”
Katie even has a service dog – named Roux – to help with the therapy sessions.
“Our caseload is anywhere between 12 and 14 families that we go into the homes to help the families,” she said. “For example, I have a homeless mom and eight month old with two children in Philadelphia. We were able to step in and give her the financial assistance she needed to get into an apartment and care for her children. That’s what the child and family program is for. We want to give people a step up.”
PCHAS stepped in to pay the security deposit and a half a month of rent to get her into the apartment. Now, they’re also providing free parenting classes and other assistance for the children.
The New Orleans office, which opened in Feb. 2015, continues to grow despite not receiving a dollar in state or federal funding. In 2015, PCHAS of Texas and Louisiana helped more than 3,457 children and families. The program is funded through grants, such as from the Kellogg Foundation, as well as donors from private individuals to church communities.
“It’s amazing what people give,” Katie said. “Some people only give five dollars a year, and other people give thousands. We’re blessed to have this support.”
Katie, who earned a Certificate in Disaster Mental Health & Trauma Studies along with her MSW, said her TSSW education was key.
“My trauma work at Tulane really helped me understand how crisis management works with these families, not just in the schools but in real life, and how it impacts every day of their day.”
As for the future, Katie is applying for her doctorate in social work in trauma in school shootings.
“A lot of my clients have been affected by gun violence, and I see what an impact it has on their lives,” she said. “I want to be able to help make even more of a difference.”
Published June 13, 2016. Written by Joseph Halm, Tulane PR.