The Murphy-Harpst team includes over 150 professionals who work diligently to improve the lives and nurture the healing process of children in our care. A combination of therapy (equine therapy, art therapy, and more) and the personal care and mentorship of our staff allows children to learn to cope with the circumstances and trauma that brought them to Murphy-Harpst and move forward toward a future full of hope and possibility.
In Residential Care, children are given their own safe, secure, comfortable room and everything they need—often for the first time in their lives. After evaluations, they’re set up with a Human Services Professional and Individualized Education Program.
When they arrive at Murphy-Harpst, most children are carrying all that they own in one trash bag. But in Residential Care, our staff evaluates the clothes they have and supplements what they need as they grow. All of their meals are accounted for and most children attend school on campus at York Academy.
Most days, children are simply going to class and getting adjusted to a stable environment. Every morning, there’s an expectation that they’re going to wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, and go to school. Many children have never had that structure in place. But at Murphy-Harpst, our children are taught that they deserve a stable environment to learn, grow, and heal.
Kids often come to Murphy-Harpst because they have significant behavioral or mental health issues that require therapeutic intervention before they can live in another setting. Through Residential Care, children are given a sense of normalcy and access to the therapeutic benefits they need to successfully enter the community in the future.
At Murphy-Harpst, it takes a village to help and heal the children in our care. Our team members are highly trained, experienced, and passionate about breaking the cycle of tragedy. We employ current research in child psychology and proven best practices to develop and implement proven effective, trauma-informed services and programs.
Transitional Living Program
Since 2017, the Transitional Living Program has helped young adults who have outgrown group homes or residential treatment or who come from unsafe family situations to learn life skills before living independently.
Such as one 17-year-old who secured a job working at a restaurant in Cedartown and, after a rough start, began to take pride in his job and dream of becoming a manager in the future. He told his mentor, “I used to think the only life for me would be on the streets. Since getting my job at the restaurant, I realize that I can be more than that.”
And Taylor, who became the first young adult in the Transitional Living Program to enroll and live on campus at a college in Fall 2018.
Each young adult is placed on an educational or vocational track with the supervision of a therapist. They still have Murphy-Harpst support and services while learning life skills such as cooking, budgeting, time management, and how to open a bank account or apply for an apartment.
When Amanda came to Murphy-Harpst, she felt scared and alone. She had been trafficked and suffered from severe physical and emotional trauma. Through our therapies and services, Amanda was introduced to loving adults and soon desired to obtain her GED. She secured an off-campus job and moved into our Transitional Living Program, where she continued to gain the skills she needed to live a successful, independent life.
Our team has helped provide safe, caring, stable homes for Georgia’s most vulnerable children since 2003. We provide an exceptional level of support for foster families and children, including our 24/7 helpline, direct access to our Director of Foster Care, and other resources they need to be successful.
Going to live with a new family can be a traumatic time for children, so we also place emphasis on keeping sibling groups together. In 2019, we facilitated 26 reunifications and adoptions and we were able to place 18 sibling groups in foster homes together. The number of children placed with our agency has more than doubled since 2017.
Foster Care provides loving and secure homes to children, allowing them to thrive and heal. Our foster families undergo significant training above and beyond state requirements and our team provides extensive training, support, and resources to help each foster family and child feel safe. Partners, such as one generous donor who gave Nutcracker tickets for several foster families, come alongside Murphy-Harpst to support and encourage families and children.
Murphy-Harpst is the only residential program in Georgia with an on-site equine program. It was spearheaded in 1984 by Annie Shields, who loved using Icelandic Ponies for the program, as an alternative therapy option to aid in accomplishing children’s treatment goals.
Equine assisted psychotherapy is a therapeutic approach that utilizes horses as a tool to enhance behavioral, relational, emotional, and spiritual growth. A licensed mental health professional and equine specialist work together to incorporate the horses in regular therapy sessions using the EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) model. We also maintain Natural Lifemanship standards and core values.
The nine horses in the program, which are primarily donated by supporters or rescued, serve children through individual and group therapy sessions, riding lessons, and equine assisted learning sessions that teach life skills, horse care, and personal development. The rescued horses, with their similar histories of neglect or abuse, tend to hold a special place in the kids’ hearts.
Outside of individualized and group therapy sessions, our Equine Therapy program is also an opportunity for experiential equine science within our school system, a worksite for vocation programs, and a chance for children to learn a new leisure activity. The horses provide a relaxed, therapeutic atmosphere and a creative alternative to traditional therapy for the many children who shine under a different approach.
Our motto is “play with a purpose.” Recreation Therapy is a results-proven component of comprehensive mental health treatment that promotes healthy living, skill development, and physical activity as important parts of a child’s overall health.
From art and athletics to dancing and swimming, Recreation Therapy teaches constructive emotional expression, appropriate social interaction, positive body image, and much more. Children at Murphy-Harpst have access to a variety of activities and clubs, including creative writing and our new intramural basketball team.
For Maddie, it was a set of paintbrushes that changed her outlook. She came from a home riddled with substance abuse and neglect and lacked confidence and self-control. But at her first Art Club meeting, she worked on a watercolor painting and expressed that she missed her artist brother. The students all chimed in with stories and encouraged each other’s strengths. By the end of the session, Maddie felt hopeful and excited about her art and her new community. Art therapy allowed Maddie to see her talent, her worth, and the care of her peers and mentors at Murphy-Harpst.
Every child at Murphy-Harpst participates in some type of group therapy, if not multiple forms. Our recreation clubs, which can range from skateboarding groups to creative writing, include therapeutic lessons that encourage children to engage with buried feelings and hidden talents.
The Recreation Department expanded in 2019 to welcome new team members, including Rebel the Dog, Noodle the Ball Python, ducks, chickens, and a family of hermit crabs.
The animals are great teachers and a comforting presence for the kids. They help teach lessons on caregiving and self-care, responsibility (such as taking care of a duck that trusts and needs you), and confidence (gained while holding a snake for the first time through your fears). Children ask to have Rebel as a companion in difficult therapy sessions or to help calm their nerves before Department of Juvenile Justice reviews.
Animals have always been an integral part of the Murphy-Harpst story, from the dairy that supplied milk to residents and was sold to provide proceeds for the home in the 1950s to the current team of animal “therapists” that now includes 7 different species. Since our Equine Therapy Program launched in 1984, our Animal-Assisted Therapy program has continued to evolve to serve the therapeutic needs of children in our care.
Trust-Based Relational Intervention
Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is an evidence-based, trauma-informed model that was designed to facilitate healing for children who come from “hard places” such as abuse, neglect, and multiple placements. It has three components: physical safety and security of the child, connecting with the child, and helping them correct fear-based behaviors that may be stopping them from moving forward.
Using TBRI, our team encourages children to trust us and themselves, build therapeutic relationships with staff, and strengthen relationships with foster parents, peers, and others.
“You cannot correct until you connect.”
DR. KARYN PURVIS
TBRI is a valuable tool that helps our team teach kids to trust us and trust themselves. It guides children in building therapeutic relationships with our staff and learning to understand that someone closely caring for you is a good thing.
Partners & Affiliations
6 licensed therapists
4 registered nurses
157 full- and part-time staff
There’s a variety of education and training represented on our team, including bachelors, masters, doctorate degrees in business, counseling, and psychology, and certifications in various counseling approaches from substance abuse to equine therapy. Everyone on our staff who work with the children undergoes CPR, First Aid, Crisis Intervention, and other trauma-informed training as well as additional state-required training in order to best serve the children in our care.