Interview With Thomas Watling

From the interview with Thomas Watling of Seattle conducted by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on February 25, 2014 by Clio Ward. Mr. Watling worked at the Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center as a social worker. Here he describes his duties:

“ My duties were to work with a group of boys, primarily in Columbia Cottage, and my duties were to provide therapy for the youth that I was assigned at that time and also to basically have contact with the field staff regarding to prepare for their release from the institution, usually to go back to their own homes. So we would provide the necessary therapeutic efforts the Fort had for our clientele.

I had some very good experiences. Those were optimistic times and we really believed we could provide some models of behavior for the young people and rather than saying ‘you shouldn’t do this’which from time-to-time we had to say that, we would want them to say ‘yes’ to something, something they could involved in, something that you could feel proud of what they were doing and in those instances, I felt that there was a lot of growth and a lot of kids who could basically take a look at their thinking, what has happened in their lives, but not be overcome by it but to utilize a painful childhood to what they could become. So there were a lot of good times there in which the kids could go camping, they participate in football and basketball and a lot of activities that we had. They were involved in schooling. In general,it was just trying to give the youth a new way of looking at life.

I can remember some of the kids from Native American heritage in which they believed that they shouldn’t go further than their father in terms of education and had to learn that it was okay to excel. It all came to being a part of something that their family of origin hadn’t been able to do. So there were a lot of situations in which the kids decided that they wanted to make something of their lives. They really didn’t want to live out their lives in institutions. So they utilized the mistakes they had made in terms of making new decisions. There were sometimes when the kids would run away from the fort and those were memorable times because usually the security staff and social workers would go out looking for the child and those could be some hairy times but in general, what we would do as the social work staff,is hand off the child to the juvenile parole counselors who would then work with the child in the community.

From time to time they would go into the pokey, often times when they ran away and they needed a place of isolation until the staff could sort of get to the bottom of why they ran and what we could do to alleviate the context of the runaway. So, the pokey, there the child would be my themselves. They were single person cells. Actually, we did not call them cells, they were single rooms.

As I recall, it would depend on the child. There was at least a mattress there and that was about all I can recall. I only really went there a couple of times with my particular clients because unless one of your persons who had been assigned to you for therapy, there was really no reason to go there.

(The intake staff) would try to group kids with similar needs and diagnostic categories together so if, well for one thing, there were assigned whether they were boys or girls. The girls went to one side and the boys went to another. Also, the age and temperament and particular problems that the kids had were all considered so that you wouldn’t assign some kid that was very shy and very small to a cottage with more aggressive kids. So we tried to eliminate kids getting picked on and kids being placed into a situation they could not handle. “

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