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Billings teen works through past trauma with help from Youth Dynamics

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Posted at 8:47 AM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 10:47:07-04

Anger, sadness, frustration—just a few words Glenn Olson uses to describe the struggle he’s watched his daughter Skyla endure as she’s grown.

"As she turned 14, I think it was a big transition period for her, and with every teenager there’s a crossroads, I think,” said Olson.

Eight years ago, Glenn and his wife Lona took in Skyla and her three siblings through foster care.

Two years later, the two girls and two boys officially became family and now share the Olsons' last name.

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“When we adopted the children," said Glenn, “I was a bit naive that their past wasn't going to affect them. But that past can really be a struggle.”

His now 16-year-old agrees: “I had a lot of anger, and most nights I would get angry and start yelling, making a big deal out of something small.”

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That anger emerged from within, childhood trauma compounded after years of mistreatment.

"I came from a family that would do a lot of drugs and alcohol," said Skyla. “They treated us really bad."

"You never lose pictures of your past,” said Glenn.

So when Skyla started to struggle and became very depressed last spring, the Olsons reached out to Youth Dynamics and their case manager, Rebecca Cosmillo.

Cosmillo, one of about 50 Youth Dynamics case managers supporting children and families across the state, said a lot of the children receiving services come from abuse and neglect.

"I have some young clients,” she said, “and they've gone through more than I can even imagine. It's very sad."

“Ninety-five percent of the kids supported through Youth Dynamics have trauma-induced severe emotional disability,” said CEO, Dennis Sulser.

“When a child has experienced a trauma and it's constantly on their mind, whether they're in school or in the community, they react. And the mind is kind of programmed to do things that aren't normal. And it's not necessarily the child's fault, it's what’s happened behind that,” Sulser explained.

Forty years ago, Youth Dynamics started serving children in therapeutic foster care. At the time, in 1981, there were nine children being served. Now, that number has grown to more than 2,700 kids each year.

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Youth Dynamics is spread across the state. There are 31 different therapeutic group homes and community offices in 19 different Montana cities.

The team of 547 provides more than 6,000 services, including case management, support services, and therapy.

Skyla spent three and a half months on the Youth Dynamics campus in Boulder, Montana. A regimented schedule of class and therapy focused on past trauma and skills to cope and carry on. What she's learned has helped.

“I first let it go for a little bit, and then if it becomes too much I will listen to music or go outside,” Skyla said.

That’s when she picks up a basketball, and dad sometimes joins in.

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Glenn Olson

“She’s got her tools now,” said Glenn “She’s learned how to focus and cope.”

Both daughter and dad agree, there’s no perfect fix.

“They know that there's a different road to take. And they don't have to have that past trauma haunt them." said Glenn. "They can go on and feel better about themselves and not get stuck reviewing some picture over and over in their mind.”

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When asked if she was on the right path, Skyla proudly responded, “Yes, I am.” But she also admitted it’s still likely she’s going to fight with her mom and dad.

Youth Dynamics announced a $3,000,000 fundraising campaign last Friday to hire more case managers and improve the functionality of its group homes.

To learn more about Youth Dynamics, or to donate, go to https://www.youthdynamics.org.