Art Therapy at the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center

By Shazia Siddiqi, MA, ATR, LLPC

Art Therapist at Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center

According to the report, Criminal Neglect: Substance Abuse Juvenile Justice and the Children Left Behind, up to 75% of incarcerated youth have mental health problems.  Macomb County's Juvenile Justice Center emphasizes mental health treatment as a key component to their programming. This includes Art Therapy, which all residents in both detention and treatment programs participate in. 

Art Therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance well-being.  Art therapists are professionals accredited by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) with Master’s Degrees or Specializations in Art Therapy. Research confirms that artistic self-expression helps troubled youth in conflict resolution, regulating feelings, and improving self-esteem.

Art Therapy allows residents with disruptive behavior a safe and healthy outlet to express, explore, and understand their emotions. A picture can say more than a thousand words.  This program has helped residents express feelings they are unable to through verbal expression or through talk therapy alone.

“Normally I don’t like therapy and I’m not a good artist, but being here is really helping me open myself up,” a female resident states.  “I can show my true feelings on paper by just drawing.”  Artistic expression gives residents emotional relief and peace. A male resident states, “If I’m upset it makes me feel better because I get it all out instead of blowing up. It helps me see why I’m mad because I start to think about it.”

The Art Therapy program also helps residents identify and explore values, goals, strengths, and skills important to their future success.  “It gives us a chance to see where we are now and where we want to go,” says another resident.  A staff member states, “I’ve seen it bring out a creative side in them they usually do not have a chance to express, or may not even know they had.  The feelings residents are able to come in touch with allows them different paths to move past obstacles.”

In the studio, residents practice skills needed to overcome problems; this is especially true when residents feel they’ve messed up.  Instead of giving them new paper, I ask them to keep working.  When residents stop giving up in the Art Therapy studio, it can encourage them to not give up so easily in life.

The result of the Art Therapy program is that residents reduce behavioral problems and become better adjusted to society. “It helped me think about how I fought with my family a lot.  I saw how bad that actually was and how it affected my relationship with them when I drew it.  That helped me think of better ways to handle situations,” states a male resident. 

After a session focused on empathy, a resident made a statement about the improvement of group dynamics in his unit, “People aren’t as upset with each other because we saw how everyone really feels.  The art made it easier to see that I’m not the only one with issues.  It helped me stop thinking only about myself.”  A staff member states, “Often we see conflict from residents who are too quick to speak and not willing to listen.  In Art Therapy, they slow down and “see” thoughts and feelings being communicated, which helps them relate to each other and understand their own selves.  This has an obvious effect on the way they interact.”

Professionals and residents agree that Art Therapy has had a positive influence at the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center. There are some emotions that no words can express.

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The Children's Village Foundation, Making a Difference in Oakland County

by Jody Overall, MSW
Manager at Oakland County Children's Village

The Children’s Village Foundation has been fundraising and developing interactive activities for our kids for 27 years. Their commitment and dedication to Children’s Village is longstanding and invaluable. Most notable is the extensive fundraising they do year round to provide funding for special programming, campus improvements, and activities. They have sponsored the Rapture Respect program and Lost Voices, both unique programs that generated invaluable growth experiences for our kids. Twenty years ago they created and began to sponsor our well known and well attended annual funfest. Again this year the Foundation will sponsor one of the best barbeques ever served and provide a day filled with games and team challenges that are a rewarding change from the daily routine. During Funfest kids get to be kids and play for a day with their staff and family members. Getting back to treatment goals and behavioral changes necessary to progress through their programs and return home seems a little less daunting after spending a day having fun with court workers, judges and referees. Most telling of the Foundation Board Members dedication, however, are the program activities they develop and participate in with our kids. This is time and energy they take from their busy lives to provide enrichment experiences that are fun and well-remembered.
The Children’s Village Foundation consists primarily of hard working compassionate people from the community who learn about Children’s Village and want to become involved. Their involvement quickly takes the form of program enhancements and activity development which have a direct impact on the work needing to be done by our youthful population. On several occasions, Children’s Village employees,  who  have had a significant impact on our mission and purpose for years, come back after retiring and dedicate their time and energy from the perspective of a Foundation Board Member.
Although some members have changed over the years, many have remained involved for years and years. Perhaps it is hard to let go of such an excellent initiative with priceless returns. While our kids are learning a better way at Children’s Village it is nice to know these grown-ups just don’t quit.
When a child thinks you care, they will care what you think”