I spent the week of May 12 -16 with the staff and residents at Sandhill Child Development Center in Los Lunas New Mexico. “Sandhill Child Development Center is a residential program for children ages 5 to 13 at admission, who are experiencing significant difficulties functioning in their current home, school or community due to an inability to regulate their emotional states. By repairing a child’s trust in care and adult guidance, Sandhill gives the child the tools necessary to proceed with a healthy and bright future. Sandhill Child Development Center emphasizes a relationally-based clinical approach that is grounded in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) developed by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and The ChildTrauma Academy.” www.sandhillcenter.org Sandhill takes children from all over the United States.
As one of the ChildTrauma Academy’s initial partner certification sites there was no question about visiting Sandhill. Having been at the implementation of neurodevelopmentally informed interventions in their residential treatment for some time now, I wanted to see for myself where they were up to and what discoveries they had made.
Sandhill have two homes located on two different sites a short drive from each other in Los Lunas, New Mexico. The home pictured above and it’s surrounding property align the Rio Grande River and both homes look out onto majestic mountain ranges. Spending time with Sandhill you can’t help but feel relaxed and like you’ve known these people all your life. The Zimmerman Family who run the service, exemplify nothing short of authenticity in relationships and with that as their template their recruitment of staff seems to follow suit. It is clear from Management to Direct Child Care staff that relationships are the core of the healing approach at Sandhill. Wrap that up with all the staff having a thorough grounding in neurodevelopment theory and you have a program applying all sorts of playful, rhythmic, sensory and somatic interventions with the children staying there.
- Individual weekly therapy for the child
- Family therapy – both face to face during visits and via Skype sessions
- Parent training sessions
- Modelling sessions/co-parenting on site
- Animal Assisted Interventions – Horses, cats, dogs, chickens and peacocks. Including day to day care of animals, as well as play and working with the animals therapeutically.
- Nutrition – provision of a “brain friendly” diet which strives to use many organic and whole foods.
- Exercise and recreation – including sports, team building, martial arts and other exercise based activities.
- Service Learning via voluntary interaction in the community – litter/trash clean up on roads & volunteering at the local animal shelter.
- Wilderness Adventure Therapy.
- Daily education program through Del Rio Academy whereby the students are closely monitored from skilled and attuned education staff and given “brain breaks” when needed to help re regulate. This involves taking the children out of the classroom in small groups and having them engage in exercise such as running laps, bilateral stimulation exercises, walking and talking and much more.
All of this provided on site or as part of the one program!
Sandhill has capacity for up to 30 children and adolescents at any given time and their average length of stay is around 18 months. While the lists of interventions is broad, it is by no means all of what they do and one of the lovely observations I made was in fact the individual consideration given to each child’s sensory or regulatory need in the moment and matching all sorts of movement, sensory, mindful, relaxation and/or exercise based regulatory activity to them.
As I left Sandhill I reflected to their staff, that you know a program is doing a good job when the clients come up and tell you about themselves, why they are there and what they have learnt and how thankful they are for the experience at Sandhill. Even more so when this happens in a house full of preadolescent and adolescent boys!