August, 16 2018

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At-Risk Youth - Close to the Heart

Regina Warren watched from inside her first-floor office as a group of young boys - some struggling with addiction, violent behavior patterns and social issues - enjoyed a bike ride around the Covington campus of the Children's Home of Northern Kentucky.

The view is still fresh for Warren, the new chief executive officer of the residential treatment facility, but the boys' playful spirits that hot summer afternoon served as a reminder of why she does what she does.

"These young men can't be home for whatever reason," she said. "They just need a little help, and that's what we're here for, to give them hope and opportunity."

Staff members welcomed Warren, 44, on July 1 as the head of the home, which works with boys ages 7 to 17.

About the Children's Home of Northern Kentucky

The organization offers residential treatment for 36 boys at its Covington location in Devou Park. Another 24 boys are in the program at the home's Maplewood campus outside Burlington.

Helping troubled children is not always an easy task, but it is one that Warren said has been close to her heart since she took her first sociology class in high school.

Warren's Experience

After working 10 years with the Kentucky Department for Social Services, Warren moved to Buckhorn Children and Family Services in Louisville in 1997, a residential treatment center that offers similar services as the children's home. She served as its executive vice president and chief operating officer for more than two years before taking the job in Covington.

Regina Warren - This is where I want to Be

Warren, who lives in La Grange with her 16-year-old daughter, Blair, stepped into the new position confident that her years of experience with children in residential treatment and community service programs had paved the way for success.

"This is where I have always wanted to be, helping those who have no voice," she said.

Warren walked out of the main building and down a pathway leading to a grassy lawn where staff, visitors and residents can take in a view of the Cincinnati skyline.

The serene environment drew her attention away for a moment as she looked out over the Ohio River.

Devou Park's atmosphere surpasses any Warren has worked in before. The calm surroundings help make the campus feel like a home, she said, rather than simply buildings where the children live, play and have therapy daily.

"This whole place is amazing," she said. "The board believes the kids deserve the best. I've never worked at a place this beautiful."

Warren continued walking until she approached one of the white residential cottages. Bike lay just beside the flowerbeds that the boys helped plant earlier in the year.

Inside was a young man who had just graduated from the program and was awaiting the traditional pizza party sendoff.

Warren introduced herself, and as soon as she asked about the home's talent show from the week before, the young men were ready to talk.

"It's important for the kids to see that the leadership care about them," she said. "It boils down to trust. Without that, it's difficult to make progress."

Treating Troubled Teens

Building relationships with the children is important to Warren, she said, but not always easy as her job allows for limited daily interaction. She gets to see them at lunch and dinner and as she walks through campus, but most of her time is spent meeting with community contacts, managing staff and addressing obstacles standing in the way of success.

Drug and sexual abuse, violence and domestic problems finding their way into family homes are creating new challenges for social workers dealing with children.

The Future of the Treatment Center

"We have to get smarter and smarter about our treatment," Warren said. "We have to learn more about all of the things that affect our children so that when they come to us we are prepared to take care of them."

The type of treatment Warren advocates requires more degreed personnel with varied areas of specialty, she said, and that is one change she will implement.

Warren also wants more interaction between the community and the home, something her predecessor, Kathy Stephens, worked at in her 13 years as CEO. Under Stephens' leadership, the home successfully launched the Out-of-Home Diversion pilot program for the state.

Agents visit at-risk families in the community and help them develop plans that will enable their children to remain in their homes.

Another community-based program, the Family Preservation and Reunification Program, works with families who need help creating a home atmosphere in which children can thrive.

"It is so important that if the child is experiencing problems or returning home from a program like this that the family get involved," Warren said, as she walked away from the cottages and back to her office.

Sitting down at her conference table, Warren reiterated that the children's home mission and work provides hope for children - and more generally for society - and she is thrilled to be a part of it.

"Working with children, we are hopefully breaking generations of violence, addiction and struggle," she said. "The job isn't always easy, and sometimes it makes you nervous to think that you are the person each child depends on. But it's worth it, and I'm thrilled to be here pursuing this opportunity."

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