WASHINGTON– Alan Korz, the longtime executive director of the Episcopal Center for Children is planning to retire in 2015. He will leave a rich legacy of service, treatment and advocacy for emotionally troubled children.
“We believe in children, their strengths and in what they can be, not in their past inadequacies and failures,” said Korz. “Our goal is to enable each child to return to public school and the community while being able to re-engage with his or her family and have a real opportunity for a successful, emotionally healthy and productive future.”
Under his direction, the Center has designed and developed an individualized day treatment program that provides special education, educational testing, art therapy, family therapy and counseling, individual psychotherapy, music therapy, occupational therapy, outpatient psychiatric diagnostic evaluation, group psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, speech and language therapy and therapeutic recreation all within a therapeutic milieu – an experience of daily living and learning in a place and a culture of acceptance, caring and healing.
Korz began working at the Center in 1962, when he was hired as nighttime counselor for the children. Since its founding in 1894, the Center has served children – first as a convalescent home for sick children, then as an orphanage and since 1959 as a treatment center for emotionally troubled children. In 2000 it moved from a partial residential program to an intensive day program.
Korz was drawn to the Center because he found its approach innovative. When he first arrived, the Center offered a unique residential treatment program. It was not a seven day program that tended to institutionalize its children but one where the children returned to their families every Friday night and came back to the Center on Monday morning.
The Center’s wraparound approach to care worked. “Families were in therapy here at the Center which helped them get better able to handle the children on the weekend. We were sharing what we were doing and we were working as a team – families and staff together – and things got better on both fronts,” said Korz.
Today the Center continues to view family involvement and support as key to treating emotionally troubled children. Social workers call home every day to share with parents and guardians how their children are doing, how they are progressing and what their day was like.
The Center’s commitment to children is unwavering. “It stands out as a beacon to children who are emotionally troubled, forgotten and avoided,” said Korz. “These children have problems that run deep and are not easily resolved; they need something more. They need an intensive, therapeutic, long-term program that meets their individual needs.”
Korz says that building trust is a critical part of the process. “If there is one common thread among our children, it is that they don’t trust and they haven’t been given much opportunity to trust in their short lives,” said Korz. He said that all of the children attending the Center have suffered trauma and loss and their problems have become so overwhelming that they have not been able to stay or succeed in a regular public school setting.
Unless they can learn to trust and are able to feel safe, they simply can’t begin to direct their energies toward change. Creating that environment of trust would not be possible without a committed staff of therapists and teachers, says Korz, who thinks his greatest accomplishment has been in building and orchestrating a caring, dedicated and expert staff.
“What we want to do is provide a safe haven for these youngsters. We have to get them to trust us. They have to see it. They have to feel it. We have to earn it,” said Korz. “They have to see that everything and everyone around them – program and staff – is working in a way that suggests respect for them and creates paths toward trust.”
Essential to this environment is ensuring the highest possible quality, safety and programming standards. The Center has been fully accredited since 1978 – first by the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children and since 1998 by The Joint Commission. As part of the accreditation process the Center has on-site reviews of its compliance with national standards in behavioral health care. The Center was awarded a gold seal of excellence by the Joint Commission in September 2014.
Korz became executive director of the Center in 1973 and has been an advocate for children with special needs throughout his 52-year career. He has served on the Hurt Home Board of Directors, was chair of the Legislative Committee and then the president-elect of the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children as it merged with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA).
He served on the Board of CWLA and continues as a member of its Mental Health Advisory Board. As a member of DCASE, the District of Columbia Association of Special Education, Korz has contributed to newspaper articles, testified on special education and mental health legislation and participated in efforts to improve treatment and special education for troubled children.
The Center recently hired the Ramundo Consulting Group to recruit a new Executive Director. Korz plans to retire in 2015 after the new director transitions into the role.