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Danzell back to school with a new attitude

August 7, 2012


When things were hardest, when Danzell wasn’t coming home, when he was breaking all the rules, a D.C. police officer suggested that his mom, Tonja Johnson, just give up.

“Put him in state custody,” the officer said.

In first grade, Danzell had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity and oppositional defiant disorders. At 14, he was out of control, and his mother and her partner were struggling to cope. Both have physical challenges; she is blind, and he has limited sight.

Instead of turning to an out-of-home placement, Danzell and his family were able to participate in the Youth Villages Multisystemic Therapy Program in D.C. The program provides intensive therapy to the child and family in the home at least three times a week, while working in all the systems that might be a part of a child’s problems: school, peer group, community. Danzell’s specialist, Kelly Hanks, was on call 24/7 in case of family emergency – and there were some.

“Danzell was threatening me and Keith, running away, getting suspended from school, stealing,” Johnson said. “I really didn’t think this program would work. None of the other programs had helped me.”

Worst, he was embarrassed by his mother’s disability and disrespectful to her.

Hanks focused on empowering Danzell’s parents, giving them support. “We worked on safety plans and supervision, first,” the specialist said. She helped the family improve their interactions and connected Danzell with prosocial community resources, like the Boys and Girls Club.

“She let us know that it was OK to take control, to set rules and consequences,” Smith said. “Kelly helped us realize that Danzell’s still a kid, and we’re the parents.”

The family intervention specialist went with Johnson to Danzell’s school and got everyone involved in his life on board, pulling in the same direction.

“I told them if they would change, Danzell would change,” Hanks said. “And that’s what happened.”

By the end of last school year, Danzell was doing well, particularly in math. He’s maintained a job this summer and is ready to start a new school year with a new attitude.

“Youth Villages helped us to change the household and the family and now Danzell is doing 100 percent better,” his mother says. “We have good communication and the trust is building. My family couldn’t have done it without the Youth Villages MST program.”

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