When Jackie Gonzalez looks in the mirror, she sees a different person than she saw just a year ago. When Gonzalez, who is 16, entered the Bansbach Academy at the Denver Children’s Home, she was a runaway, admittedly nasty and raving. Today, she has grown into a confident and hopeful woman.
“My foster grand-mom says I’m a different person from what I used to be,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is just one of many children who find respite and support at the Denver Children’s Home, a residential facility with a therapy program and school. Most of the students at DCH have been referred there by governmental systems. Unstable home lives, domestic abuse, running away and disruptive behavior are norms for these children, and the home caters to their problems in a way public schools aren’t trained to handle.
“Quite frankly, teachers are not trained to deal with kids with mental health issues,” said director of education Deb Huerta, who worked in the local public school system. “There’s a whole different gamut of interventions that need to happen with these kids and public school cannot cater to that…population.”
Most of the students that receive treatment at DCH have experienced some sort of mental trauma, said development director Shannon Lowe, which is why DCH is the best place for them. The teachers and staff provide what Lowe called “trauma-informed care” for the students, which means they are aware of the effects of trauma on a child’s development and mentality.
“So really what we focus on is helping kids identify what does it feel like to be inside your body and your brain, and how do we get you the tools and knowledge to be able to cope with what’s happening,” said Lowe.
They do so through a variety of programs. Since DCH offers varied services, from less-intense outpatient therapy sessions to full on boarding home and schooling, they can receive treatment based on the level of their needs. The students “graduate” from levels as they improve.
Gonzalez started at the Bansbach Academy in 2009 as a student, but when she ran away from her foster home last year and was arrested, she was put into the residential program.
“I got arrested and got taken to this other place called the Family Crisis Center, and I asked for them to bring me to residential here. … I felt like I had already worked through a lot of things, and a lot of those kids [at the FCC] needed more attention.”
Now, about a year later, she lives with the foster parents she ran away from.
For Gonzalez, who is entering her junior year and plans to attend CSU for forensic science, the experience is priceless. “I never sat down and said, ‘well I need to change.’ It just started happening,” said Gonzalez. “[The teachers and staff] have always said I was a good student here, since the beginning, and they see my potential, and I said what are you talking about? … But now I do see it. … I feel like people trust me a lot, and I trust them.”
DCH, which started as an orphanage in the 1880s, transitioned to its current function in the 1960s. The children, ages 10-18, are sent to the home from various county human service agencies and mental health centers, which have acknowledged the students need some type of support and help outside the realm of what a public school can offer.
In the end, the whole goal is to get the student back into their regular, normal life.
Denver Children’s Home 10th Annual Gala
Thursday, Sept. 22
At the historic Mile High Station Event Center,
2027 W. Colfax Ave. Denver
Dinner, Wine, Hors d’oeuvres, Entertainment
Tickets: $150 per person, or $75 for first-time attendees, gets you sit-down dinner and unlimited drinks.