I've been meaning to set up D&D social skills groups within the community mental health agency I work at for some time. The agency focuses on high need children and their families within the Pierce County region, and uses a wraparound framework to help them avoid hospitalization, foster care placement, and similar outcomes that separate families and create financial stress. I believe strongly that many of these kids could benefit from D&D groups, as many of them do not have friends, and do not know how to build friendships. I feel that a D&D group would serve this need, while also offering targeted interventions for things like perspective taking, impulse control, and teamwork, while also being accessible to them, given that many of these kids would not fare well in a regular D&D group due to their significant mental health needs. Furthermore, group work would ultimately save the agency money, as we could serve 6 kids at a time, rather than doing our usual one on one work.
The proposal was denied, primarily because the agency does not support group coding. A simple, but very entrenched fact meant that my goal of running D&D groups within this agency, for this population that has no access to this, was shot down.
But then they countered with this idea. It's a community based organization. They have a history of having staff get involved with existing community orgs, then partnering with them to make it accessible for our client population. The result includes things like group outings, a public spraypainting wall, and similar clubs. That way, once the clients are stable enough to leave our services, the organization is still available to them.
And while it was a tough pill to swallow, and means that my simple plans turned into one that is riskier and creates a lot more work, it represents a better solution. A much more difficult one, I think, but one that is more flexible for our client population.
So now I am at a place where I need to figure out how to do this. (And honestly, any advice on doing things like this would be appreciated, as well as other organizations I can partner with.)
My dream at this point is to secure a location, and start running games that are oriented towards special needs kids in a way that is consistent and self perpetuating. And then, it hit me- I've done this before. Years ago, before I started running social skills group, I set up a series of random gen one shots at my FLGS, and word got out that I had worked in foster care, so a bunch of foster parents started taking their kids to my games, including several autistic kids. They were an absolute hit, and the foster parents would tell me afterwards that they had never seen their kids so animated and happy, and they were planning on picking up some dice and books so they could play at home.
So ironically, it feels like I've come full circle. Back when I was running the one shots I was just having fun, but now I have a plan- A plan to either partner with an organization, or start my own where I run regular D&D one shots oriented towards kids with special needs, with the goal of expanding it so that others with solid backgrounds in mental health can take over DMing. Then we can start letting our clients know about the groups, as I've had several clients tell me they've tried to play D&D but didn't feel welcome, and they would prefer to play in a group with more people like them. And then, see where that goes.
So that's where my plans are. I don't know what the timeline on this is, as I work full time and already run social skills groups on weekends. But if I'm successful in doing this, hopefully I can document what I did and what made it successful so others can emulate it, and the dream of increasing D&D's accessibility to kids with significant mental health needs can come true.
As always, if you have any thoughts or advice, I would love to hear it on twitter at @rollforkindness. Thanks for reading!