Coreen Schoep on Building a World for Every Ability
Coreen Schoep is looking for heroes – people that can change lives for the better, even alter the course of an entire family for decades. She's seeking caregivers with passion and patience, those with a bit of fortitude and the determination to make a difference. Maybe she's looking for you?
Starting from a single home office in Moorhead in 1999, Solutions Behavioral Healthcare Professionals (Solutions) was founded on a model of person-centered services – something uncommon for its time. Over the years, the company spread west and east along the interstates, with locations in seven different Minnesota and North Dakota cities, including two clinics in Fergus Falls.
Schoep joined in 2008 as a paid intern while completing her master's degree in social work, but she never left. She watched the company expand, finding more unserved and underserved needs and filling them. Five years ago—now a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW), she was appointed manager of the company's pair of Alexandria clinics. This summer, her charge grew to the two Fergus Falls locations as well.
Cause and Effect
Solutions' largest local clinic is the Autism Innovation in Motion (AIM) facility on East Fir Avenue. There the team works in conjunction with a State-sponsored medical benefit program using an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) method of therapy and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder or similar developmental challenges. Therapy focuses on analyzing undesirable behaviors to understand what causes them and what consequences might instead reinforce positive or at least more-desirable behaviors.
Through repetition and perseverance, the company's teams are able to nurture healthy habits, foster communication, and create an individualized plan tailored to each client's needs.
"We want all of our kids to have [a] meaningful quality of life. For every kid that's going to look different," Schoep says. "There's a lot of need out there, and there's really not a lot of support around individuals with special needs."
And that need is rising, according to the CDC, whose numbers reported a 1 in 150 rate of childhood autism spectrum disorders in the year 2000 that has more than tripled to 1 in 44 as of 2018. They estimate that 17 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 are diagnosed with a developmental disability, to include autism.
Schoep says a steady stream of client referrals—based in part on the company's reputation—has built a waiting list that can include dozens of children and families. The company is eager to support these families, who might otherwise wait years for an opening, but in Fergus Falls there's another problem: Finding people willing to help.
Who and How
"Because I'm short staffed, kids that should be here 30, 40 hours a week are not getting their full treatment, and that's a concern for us," Schoep says. "It's really difficult to choose who can and cannot be here."
All of the clients at the Solutions AIM clinic work one-on-one with Registered Behavioral Technicians (RBTs). With staff short, Schoep has coordinated with the Alexandria Solutions facilities to commute team members from an hour away to cover the gap, but she says the Fergus location would be ready to put another 6 technicians to work with the right applicants.
Salary scales with experience and education, but entry-level behavioral interventionists are often high school graduates with a passion for the field and perhaps the first year underway in a relevant associate's degree program. On the upper end, graduate students or experienced caregivers can earn wages competitive or above what's typical for the region – in addition to a Monday thru Friday, 8-4 schedule that's uncommon in the healthcare field and a considerable benefits package to boot.
"It's challenging some days," Schoep acknowledges, saying the position isn't right for everyone, but it's "super rewarding too," she adds.
The Solutions mission is about finding needs and providing solutions. Schoep hopes to see the Fergus clinics continue to grow as they have over the last decade, and part of that will include navigating the current need for caregivers.
Schoep believes there's great opportunity to do more in support of the special needs community in Fergus Falls. Her work includes advocacy and outreach, which at times means educating and motivating business owners to look for simple accommodations that can make a significant impact – like printed or braille menus for the deaf, communication impaired, and the blind.
At a larger scale, she encourages hosting events like open swimming, tumbling, or sensory-friendly films that welcome attendance (or even provide free admission) for the special needs community. She says any positive experience can go a long way toward creating a sense of acceptance.
There's plenty to be done at the individual level, too. A smile, a wave, even listening with patience can represent kindness and respect. If your neighbor, friend, or family member is a caregiver, check in on them, Schoep says; ask where you might help run errands or provide daycare to allow a night out for the grown-ups.
Above all else, at whatever scale you're willing to help, Schoep offers this universal advice:
"Just be kind – isn't that the motto?"
- R.C. Drews for Greater Fergus Falls
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