Marcy Ireland was in a crisis. Her son James, eight, was out of control. Prone to extreme mood shifts and aggression, he would lash out at his family verbally and physically.
“When something upset him, he couldn’t control his emotions,” remembers Ireland. “If there was a knife on the table, he would use it. He would throw rocks at my other children and say he was going to kill them. If we were driving on the freeway, he’d try to jump out of the car.”
Ireland was devastated because she knew that underneath the destructive behavior was a sweet, beautiful boy. Yet, at the same time, James was terrorizing her and her husband and their other children, ages 6, 8, and 14.
Ireland was wrestling with a do-or-die choice: “Do we try to save our other three other kids or do we let the whole ship sink down with James?”
Ultimately, she decided there had to be a way to save all of them.
She began researching residential treatment centers in the Los Angeles area that might benefit James and discovered Hillsides. While Hillsides mainly serves children in the foster care system, its intensive therapeutic program based on a caring routine of therapy and behavior modification appealed to her.
“We went out to visit, and I cried all the way,” she says. “But as soon as I got there, I relaxed. The place was so amazing and peaceful, and when I heard how the program was run, I knew this was the place for James.”
The Hillsides staff assessed James and decided, along with Ireland, that James would best be served if they aimed for a two-year stay. She enrolled him in the residential program and Hillsides therapeutic school, Hillsides Education Center, which shares the Pasadena campus with residential services.
Now, with the two years up, Ireland says it was the best decision she ever made.
“My whole family was being destroyed, and Hillsides put us back together.”
At Hillsides, James learned coping skills for when his emotions got out of control, such as removing himself from the stimuli that was causing stress and talking about his feelings instead of acting them out. The family was also provided therapy, through which James’ siblings were able to work through their feelings toward James and Ireland was able to retool her parenting style.
“In desperation I got to the point where it was easier to keep the peace by giving into every one of James’ meltdowns,” she says. “Hillsides taught me to be strict in a healthy way that was best for James and the entire family. I’m a better parent now not just for James but for all my kids.”
James also blossomed as a student through the individual attention he received at Hillsides Education Center, where classrooms have a ratio of three to four staff per 12 students. In addition, he excelled at sports at Hillsides, leaving behind a history of bad sportsmanship to emerge a star on the school basketball team.
James, now 10, will soon be returning home. Hillsides therapists will continue to visit the family for follow up “wrap around” services to ensure that James and the family stay on track.
As for Ireland, looking back over these past two years, she is filled with only one emotion: gratitude.
“It was so hard to make this choice, but I thank God we did,” she says. “James is going to do something special with his life, and I credit this to Hillsides.”
Hillsides, founded in 1913, is a premier provider of child welfare services serving more than 6,200 children, youth, and families throughout Los Angeles County. The Residential Treatment Services and Hillsides Education Center are two of the agency’s core programs. For more information on Hillsides, please visit www.hillsides.org.