Michigan Case Study 5: Vista Maria for Girls, Dearborn Heights, Michigan

20654 West Warren Avenue
Dearborn Heights, MI 48127
(313) 271-3050

Under the sponsorship of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Vista Maria (located in Dearborn Heights) is a private, not-for-profit, multi-service agency which provides treatment, education, and care to teenage girls with emotional and behavioral problems resulting from abuse and neglect. Diane Bostic Robinson, executive director of Vista Maria, sums up the basic principle of the institution by quoting Saint Mary Euphrasia, foundress of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd: "One person is worth more than a whole world."

The largest of Vista Maria’s ten programs, Vista’s Intensive Treatment for Adolescents (VITA) utilizes a 110-bed residential facility and provides treatment and care to adolescent girls who have been referred by the Michigan Family Independence Agency, county courts, or the Department of Mental Health because of delinquency or other high-risk behaviors. In addition to treating its girls for their psychological and behavioral problems, Vista Maria operates the Clara B. Ford School. "The ‘typical’ Vista Maria client has had numerous educational placements prior to Vista Maria." The statistics for girls enrolled in the 1994-95 school year tell the story:

2 Placements 13 girls

3 placements 20 girls

4 placements 15 girls

5 placements 24 girls

6 placements 15 girls

7 placements 8 girls

9 placements 6 girls

10 placements 4 girls

11 placements 3 girls

12 placements 2 girls

13 placements 4 girls

17 placements 1 girl

18 placements 1 girl

"Shanti," aged seventeen, is a case in point. Abandoned by her father and mistreated by her chemically dependent mother, the state removed Shanti from her home and placed her in a number of settings, including a psychiatric care ward, before she finally got a referral to Vista Maria. Now enrolled in the Living Independently Vista Style (LIVS) program, Shanti credits Vista Maria with turning her life around by creating a stable and caring environment. "I’m a hard working person and I know that to get anywhere in life, you have to work. The Vista Maria staff care about me and that’s a nice feeling. It makes you want to work even harder." Shanti is currently looking for financial assistance to pursue a pre-med course at Wayne State and works forty hours a week in a Dearborn restaurant. Another Vista Maria student, "Jerelle," says that the Vista Maria staff "listened to me and helped me talk about things that had hurt me. . . . Vista Maria can help you—if you want help. But you have to want it and you have to work at it."

Other Vista Maria programs are the VISION Program, combining a four-month residential stay with long-term community reintegration and aftercare services for abused, neglected and delinquent young women and their families in Southeastern Michigan; the Youth Employment Skills (YES) Program, a twelve-week program that prepares girls for the job-market through classroom instruction and assistance with job-searches; and the Pathways Program, a personal confidence program that pairs at-risk young women with volunteer mentors from the community.

Undoubtedly, the Christian—more generally the religious—milieu which Vista Maria can explicitly foster is of great value in helping girls and young women make the transition from abuse and delinquency to self-confidence and responsibility. This is an advantage which private-sector institutions will continue to have over their public-sector counterparts.

Vista Maria programs are funded by a combination of government sources and private donations. Many if not most residents receive deferral of per diem costs through eligibility for state funds and charitable support. Vista Maria’s use of funds is extremely efficient due to administrative streamlining. Thus, while 79 percent of fees come from government sources, fully 87 percent of the budget goes into its program services.