Less than two years ago, life for Michelle Labrecque was more than 100 percent about her children and managing their complex health and developmental challenges. To say she was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
“[My son] has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit- hyperactivity disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, oppositional defiance disorder as well as specific learning disabilities in math and written expression. [My daughter] has been diagnosed with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.”
Michelle tried intensive in-home therapy from multiple providers, with no improvement and at times, “devastating consequences.”
“At the recommendation of one in-home therapist with a previous provider who saw no other alternative, [my daughter] went into residential treatment at age seven,” she said.
Michelle shared her story in an essay she wrote as part of an application for the Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) Tom Jeffers Endowment Continuing Education Scholarship. YAP partners with child welfare, youth justice and other systems to provide community-based alternatives to out-of-home placement to keep kids with their families. The nonprofit’s late founder established the $1,000 scholarship as one of many tools available to YAP Advocates who help individuals and families manage their challenges, identify their strengths and achieve their goals.
Since she began working with the family’s YAP team more than a year ago, life for Michelle’s family has changed in ways she never imagined. Her daughter, Elizabeth, is at home with intensive therapy that includes calming strategies for when she escalates. YAP also provides her eleven-year-old son with services in the home to meet his needs.
Working with her YAP team, Michelle was also able to identify her own strengths and needs and connect with tools and resources that she needs to grow as a mom and an individual.
“As the parent I have to say that every one of their [YAP’s] therapists do an amazing job not only helping my kids with their behaviors but empowering and encouraging me to be a stronger mom and person."
For Michelle, that means continuing her education.
“From the strength, compassion, and encouragement from everyone I have met through YAP, I have been able to fix my financial aid, apply to Virginia Western Community College, and register and enroll in classes for the Fall 2019 semester. From working with YAP and seeing such an inspiring group of individuals, I have decided to go to school for a bachelor’s in human services. I want to work for YAP so I can help other families the way that YAP has helped ours. I am very passionate about mental health education and services for children. My goal is to help no parent feel the way I felt at one point when I felt the isolation of being a parent of a child with special needs,” she wrote.
“I am taking online classes. I currently do not own a laptop that would work for the classes I am registered to take. Financially, it would be difficult to purchase on with my own money. If I am awarded this scholarship it would allow me to save some of my financial aid for things that may be needed while attending school or if I need to take a class when aid is not being offered,” Michelle explained.
Michelle’s YAP team recently shared some good news. She will receive her scholarship just in time for the Aug. 26 first day of school. It will come in the form of a laptop computer -- one more tool that will set her on her path. At the same time, her YAP team will continue to provide the entire family the support and resources they need individually and as a unit.
“I have to say, while we still have a long way to go before we are a strong family unit, we are better now than we were this time last year.”