Q & A with Beth Bixby

Beth Bixby – Submitted photo

You are the CEO of Tides Family Services, and we’ll get into the many things Tides does momentarily. But let’s start with the co-founder, Brother Michael Reis, who passed in September. A book surely could be written about him, but can you give us a bit of his story? 

Brother Michael spent more than 40 years serving families and youth. In New York, Brother Michael started working directly with at-risk youth and families as a supervisor for three group homes in the Bronx and Queens. In the early 70’s Brother Michael was part of the Catholic Chaplain Team for Adult Corrections and the Juvenile Training School. In 1974, he co-founded Ocean Tides, a residential treatment facility where he was the first Chief Executive Officer.

Brother Michael was a visionary and pioneer in the work of family systems theory. He recognized early on in his career that if you worked with a child and their family at the same time, change was more sustainable. It was with this understanding, that Brother Michael left his work in residential treatment to create a program that worked with children and their families in the community.

In 1983, Brother Michael founded Tides Family Services with $15,000 in seed money and an office no bigger than a supply closet. Eventually, he helped grow Tides into an $11 million organization with over 140+ staff serving 500 youth a day. Brother Michael’s unwavering dedication to improving the lives of at-risk youth has left an indelible mark on the entire Tides Family Services organization and the countless young lives touched.

His compassionate spirit, tireless commitment, and boundless love for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children and families have been Tides’ guiding light. Brother Michael was a true advocate for children and his legacy will forever inspire us in our mission to offer hope for a brighter future to those we serve.

Do you have a favorite memory of brother Michael you can share? 

What we remember most about Brother Michael was his compassionate spirit, tireless commitment, and boundless love for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children and families.

Before coming to Tides, I worked at a community mental health center that had a business casual dress code. My first day working at Tides, I wore what I was used to wearing to work and Brother Michael told me I should go home and change because I was overdressed. Brother Michael felt strongly that how we dress conveys a message to the families we are working with and it was important to make families feel comfortable and not to create a power differential based on our appearance. 

Brother Michael was passionate about Tides staff embedding themselves in the communities we serve. He strategically purchased buildings in communities with the greatest challenges and economic disparities so our programs could be easily accessed by those who needed us the most. We used to joke that working at Tides meant you took a vow of poverty alongside Brother Michael because although we had large offices, they were sparsely furnished. We had the bare minimum of donated furniture to allow for team meetings because Brother Michael was adamant that staff belonged in the community with families, not behind a desk. As the founder of Tides Family Services, Brother Michael instilled the organization’s vision and values and his legacy lives on through the families whose lives he and Tides have touched.

And how about a brief history of Tides? 

Tides Family Services, Inc. is a non-profit social services agency that is focused on addressing the needs of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children. Since its incorporation in 1983, Tides has promoted family preservation and maintenance of youth within their communities through individual, family and group counseling; home visitations; educational and court advocacy as well as the networking of social services within the mission of the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Tides aims to provide the children, youth and their families with the services they need.

So that brings us to today. Tides provides many services. Can you give us a summary? 

Tides Family Services is dedicated to improving the well-being of Rhode Island youth through comprehensive home-based treatment interventions, which helps preserve and strengthen families and the communities where they live. 

Tides’ accessible services are available 365/24/7 and aim to empower underserved families, remove barriers to care and support, and promote healthy development in children and adolescents. Our team of qualified and trusted professionals offers compassionate, evidence-based interventions and personalized treatment plans to meet each child’s unique needs.

Some of the services we provide include an outreach program providing up to daily home visits with a goal of family preservation and school completion with youth and families involved with the state Department of Children, Youth and Families and the juvenile justice system. We also provide home-based clinical counseling programs with the goal of preventing hospitalization. Licensed Clinicians receive referrals from parents, court, probation officers, school departments, and other mental health or social service agencies.

Our website has a complete list of services: https://www.tidesfs.org/our-services

How many children and youth does Tides serve annually? 

We provide high quality education and expert behavioral health services to more than 500 children per day and more than 1,000 Rhode Island youth and their families each year.

And families are deeply involved, too, is that correct? 

Brother Michael recognized very early the value of compassionate, community-based interventions. Forty years ago, he reimagined the typical approaches to child welfare and juvenile justice. Br. Michael pushed a provocative concept at the time – to move away from residential settings and prioritize home-based services. His vision was not just to treat individual children but to transform entire family systems for long-term, sustainable change.

At the heart of Br. Michael’s philosophy was a deep understanding that to truly impact the lives of children, we must work hands on with their families. He believed in empowering families, recognizing their strengths, and providing the necessary support to foster growth and resilience. The idea was not just to address the immediate needs of the child, but to create a supportive environment within the family and community.

Daily home visits allow our teams to witness firsthand the nuances of their family life. Through open communication and trust-building, we gain insights into the challenges they face, addressing immediate concerns while fostering a supportive environment for lasting change.

Brother Michael would say, “It’s a privilege to be welcomed into a child’s home; if invited to their kitchen table, you’re in.” Personalized home-based interventions that involve families and the community in the treatment process create better outcomes for the clients, preserve and strengthen families and the communities where they live, reduce stigma, and can be a cost-effective approach to care.

Many are from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds. Tell us about that. 

Brother Michael believed all children deserve the best services, regardless of their circumstances. Understanding that a child’s well-being is influenced by various environmental factors, our approach extended beyond the home.

Tides embraced the family systems model brother Michael preached, recognizing that the issues faced by families are interconnected with broader family dynamics. Our teams, led by skilled professionals well-versed in the principles of family systems, begin working not just as individuals, but as a cohesive unit.

Our holistic approach, founded on the family systems model and ecological perspective, fosters lasting change that transforms individual lives. Tides collaborates with local schools, engaging with teachers and administrators to create a supportive educational environment and other community stakeholders to address broader social and cultural influences affecting the family.

The slogan on your website is “We never give up on a kid… Never!” Please explain. 

The slogan is obviously one of brother Michael’s most used phrases, but he lived by those words through the family systems model he envisioned and later implemented at Tides. Many times, families are referred to Tides by someone telling the family there is a problem instead of families seeking out help on their own. In many of those situations, families were not eager to engage in our services and were not eager participants.

It’s not unusual for kids to miss several sessions or test the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. Brother Michael taught us if a kid doesn’t show up for a session, to go find them and keep showing up to build a trusting relationship. Brother Michael could often be found advocating for families and the need for services outside of a traditional medical model. He would say “if a kid misses three sessions, they’re kicked out… that’s not what we do at Tides.” Particularly troubled clients would sometimes take their frustrations out on him, and he’d just say that this is how he knew that he was meeting with exactly the clients who needed our services most. 

Historically, Tides has enjoyed great success with people in its care. Is there a “secret” to achieving such good outcomes? 

Most of our clients do not end up needing greater involvement from child services or higher levels of care, like out-of-home or residential placements. We attribute our success to the family-systems model that Br. Michael created, and the buy-in that we’ve fostered over decades within the communities we serve.

At Tides, we don’t just intervene – we immerse ourselves in the narratives of families, recognizing that true transformation begins within the context of family and community. As we continue our work, we remain dedicated to empowering families creating a ripple effect that resonates far beyond our interventions.

Do you ever hear back from individuals Tides has served later in their lives? What do they say? 

We stay in regular contact with many of our former clients and we sometimes share testimonials from them on our website and social media profiles. Many of our former clients have gone on to lead very successful lives and often acknowledge that they would not be where they are today without the lessons they learned from Brother Michael and Tides staff.

People can view several testimonials:

https://www.facebook.com/TidesFamilyServices/videos/123322554136907

https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cw0jdYpPtY6/?igsh=MWNicm9kd3dvaGVkaA==

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CxDop4erk6_/?igsh=MWtrazl2OHVxYWE3bg==

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CxNvFses9Y3/?igsh=MXZyMnh3czZ1b3F5eg==

Now, what about Beth Bixby? What road did you travel to Tides? 

My direct service experience has been a canvas where the transformative power of personalized, home-based interventions comes to life. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of personalized, home-based interventions first-hand. In my role as CEO, I’ve dedicated my efforts to ensure that we remain true to the Tides mission—a grassroots approach that prioritizes the entire family-however that is defined.

When I first started at Tides, I worked on a grant from the Governor’s Justice Commission on implications of truancy, a societal issue that demands more than conventional interventions. What drew me to Tides is its non-traditional approach that’s rooted in direct engagement with families and goes beyond treating just the symptoms of issues like truancy.

At Tides, we delve into family systems and the web of social, economic, and educational challenges like intergenerational trauma and poverty in an effort to solve the root causes that contribute to issues like truancy. We have achieved real results working closely with families, understanding their unique dynamics, and addressing underlying issues. Truancy rates have plummeted, but more importantly, we instill a sense of empowerment within families who had often felt marginalized by the system.

What does the future hold for you – and for Tides? 

We are always looking for new and creative ways to expand our reach to more at-risk youth in need and have developed several new programs and initiatives aligned with the vision to make these critical services more accessible:

Expressive Arts Program for Incarcerated Youth

Recently, we received federal funding with assistance from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to launch an impactful expressive arts program for incarcerated youth. A central component of this program is the establishment of a state-of-the-art music studio, where hard-to-reach youth can channel their feelings and experiences into song lyrics. The music studio is not just a physical space – it’s a safe space for artistic expression, offering a positive and constructive outlet for emotions that may otherwise go unspoken.

Children’s Mobile Response and Stabilization Services (MRSS)

Our Children’s Mobile Response and Stabilization program provides immediate and personalized intervention, de-escalating crises without resorting to police or hospital intervention. This approach is rooted in the understanding that families facing challenges deserve support that is sensitive to their unique dynamics.

Intensive Outpatient Program for Adolescents with Substance Abuse

One of the most critical gaps we’ve identified is the absence of an intensive outpatient program that incorporates substance abuse treatment specifically designed for adolescents. To address this, we are in the process of developing an intensive outpatient program that will not only provide comprehensive care but also address the unique challenges that adolescents face.

NEXO BiCultural Clinic

Recognizing the systemic barriers that persist in accessing behavioral health services, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, we established a dedicated BIPOC behavioral health community-based clinic. This initiative is rooted in our core mission on dismantling systemic barriers and requires targeted, culturally competent approaches. Our clinic not only provides essential mental health services but will also serve as a safe and inclusive space where families can access the support they need.

Beth Bixby is a member of the Ocean State Stories Advisory Board.