ANCHOR to begin 'Seven Challenges' in February

ANCHOR to begin 'Seven Challenges' in February
The crowd listens to Ricky Walker at the January announcement of the Seven Challenges program at New College Institute.

January 30, 2017

 In fiscal 2016, the ANCHOR Commission group home housed 26 young males in Martinsville. An estimated 75 percent of them had issues related to the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Marijuana is the primary drug used beside alcohol, but “you name it, we’ve had it,” including meth and at least one case of a positive test for opiate use, according to Ricky Walker, director of operations for the ANCHOR Commission for the past year.

It is a huge problem, acknowledged Walker, who is retired from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.

It also is the reason that ANCHOR has adopted The Seven Challenges group and individual counseling program, which targets substance abuse among adolescents. The Seven Challenges program seeks to motivate young people to make their own decisions, commit to them and successfully implement them, Walker said.

Hopefully, that decision will be to turn away from alcohol or drug abuse and to address related mental health problems.

Implementing ‘Seven Challenges’

ANCHOR hopes to begin The Seven Challenges in February, starting with one group of a maximum of eight males and females, primarily ages 13-17, with substance abuse issues. If there is enough demand, a second group will be added, and a Patrick County group is possible, said Walker and Kevin Ratliff, resident in counseling at ANCHOR.

This will be the first Seven Challenges program in this area, and it is being made possible in part through a $10,000 PUP! (Pick Up the Pace) grant from The Harvest Foundation.

The program differs from many others in that The Seven Challenges does not insist on participants’ abstinence from alcohol and other substance abuse, said Ratliff. Instead, it is designed to motivate youths to make decisions and commitments to change and then guide them toward successfully implementing those changes, he said.

“Seven Challenges respects the autonomy of individuals and their right to make their own decisions. Seven Challenges counselors are problem-solving partners helping youth to think about their options, giving them more options and supporting them in learning new ways to meet their needs,” Ratliff said. “When they have taken the time to do these things, youth may choose — of their own accord — to change their own drug use behavior.”

With The Seven Challenges, “ANCHOR expects to effect a reduction of juvenile substance abuse and recidivism, co-occurring mental health problems and juvenile detention rates for substance-related violations,” the PUP! grant application states.

Walker said the ultimate goal is for participants to choose to reduce or quit substance abuse. “I think the reason it’s so successful is that it empowers the individual to make changes,” he said. “Until they make the decision to change,” nothing will happen.

“The reality is that with kids, success is measured in degrees,” he said. “If you’ve got a kid using multiple substances and doing it every day, if you can get him to do it one or two days a week, that’s a success. Using one substance makes a difference.”

The program also has been particularly effective with adolescents, Ratliff said.

“Most adults in treatment had made the decision to quit” drug or alcohol abuse, Walker said. “Adolescents may not realize they have a problem.”

The program is geared toward meeting youths “where they are” on substance abuse, realizing that when young people come into drug counseling, they usually are in the early stages of change, unprepared and often resistant to making a sincere decision to quit, the PUP! grant application states.

Ratliff and the four trained Seven Challenges counselors aim to avert power struggles and insincere commitments to change by striving for honesty and engagement with the youths, the application adds.

Potential participants are being referred by the 21st District Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and/or probation officers, Walker said. Participants are not limited to youth in the ANCHOR system.

The group will start with two-hour group counseling sessions once a week. The sessions will help youth pay attention to what is happening in their lives, including what is going well and what is not, and honestly discuss their issues, listen to feedback, solve problems, make decisions and learn skills, and participate in structured activities.

The Seven Challenges that guide the program are:

  1. We decided to open up and talk honestly about ourselves and alcohol and other drugs.
  2. We looked at what we like about alcohol and other drugs and why we were using them.
  3. We looked at our use of alcohol and other drugs to see if it has caused harm or could cause harm.
  4. We looked at our responsibility and the responsibility of others for our problems.
  5. We thought about where we seemed to be headed, where we wanted to go and what we wanted to accomplish.
  6. We made thoughtful decisions about our lives and about our use of alcohol and other drugs.
  7. We followed through on our decisions about our lives and drug use. If we saw problems, we went back to earlier challenges and mastered them.”


Bringing ‘Seven Challenges’ to ANCHOR

The program was developed by Dr. Robert Schwebel of Tucson, Ariz. It is listed on the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, which mirrors the state’s emphasis on evidence-based programs, Walker said.

Compared with other substance abuse treatment programs, Seven Challenges has ranked among the highest in addressing co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, thoughts of suicide and experiences of victimization, according to the PUP! grant application.

ANCHOR had successfully used the YES (Youth Empowering Solutions) counseling program from 2007 to 2015, Walker said, calling YES a broad-spectrum approach.

When Walker joined ANCHOR a year ago, its board asked him to restore the YES program. But when Ratliff came on board in July, he was familiar with The Seven Challenges program and suggested it to ANCHOR, according to Walker.

Walker also said he spoke with agencies in New York and Illinois that use The Seven Challenges program, and he noted that North Carolina and New York State have adopted it into their state programs for adolescents and young adults.

ANCHOR chose the program because of its emphasis on respect for the individual and its foundation in counseling principles, Ratliff said.

Also, Walker said, “we needed a more directed approach for substance abuse.”

Participants’ success will be measured by their work — at keeping their journals, attendance and other factors, Ratliff and Walker said. They will not undergo drug testing, they added.

Youths will be discharged from the group when they meet those objective and subjective measures, Ratliff said. In some cases that could take 3-4 months; in others it could require six months, he said.

If a youth does not do the work or complete the program, there are no consequences from ANCHOR, although there could be from the referring agency, Walker and Ratliff said. If a youth has problems with The Seven Challenges group rules, such as respecting confidentiality, he or she could be removed from the group and given individual counseling instead.

The $10,000 PUP! grant from The Harvest Foundation is being used for licensing fees and bringing The Seven Challenges staff here for training.

“If we had not gotten that money we were planning to go forward, but it would have been a much more difficult task and we wouldn’t reach as many clients,” he said.

Also, a building at ANCHOR’s location at 313 E. Market St., Martinsville, is being remodeled for ANCHOR programs, including The Seven Challenges, with the help of labor from the Martinsville sheriff’s inmates as well as ANCHOR staff.

Once the program is operating, ANCHOR expects it will be self-supporting through fees paid by the 21st District Court Service Unit, Children’s Services Act funds and other sources, the grant application states.

As the program develops and grows, ANCHOR also anticipates extending the service to youth not involved in the juvenile court system through potential referrals by the local school systems, social services and other mental health providers in the area, according to the application.

“… To our knowledge, there is no other substance abuse treatment program specifically for adolescents in our region,” the application adds.

A Seven Challenges LLC trainer conducted the initial 18 hours of training for the program’s local counselors and staff Jan. 4-6. Ratliff will attend further training in Tucson to become a Seven Challenges leader. 

Seven Challenges also will provide quarterly support calls to help ANCHOR staff and conduct annual site support/fidelity visits to provide further training, answer questions, observe a Seven Challenges session and help ANCHOR implement the program. Ratliff also can train additional ANCHOR staff/counselors as the local program grows.

ANCHOR, a nonprofit organization, was created in 1972 to help troubled youth and keep them in the community, close to their families and support systems. In addition to its group home, ANCHOR provides GPS and outreach services that assisted about 45 youth in 2016.


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