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New mental health services for kids removed from homes

New mental health services for kids removed from homes

SAN ANTONIO – The Children’s Shelter is about to open a new facility to help kids as young as two years old heal from trauma, shining a spotlight on the mental health of children who have been removed from abusive and neglectful homes.

"San Antonio continues to be a community, unfortunately, that has high rates of abuse and neglect,” says the shelter’s chief clinical officer Diana Ochoa-Johnson.

The Harvey E. Najim Hope Center is the area of the shelter where kids learn to heal. With time, they open up about what they’ve seen and what makes them scared.

"Some of them will tell us what they've seen their parents do. Some of them will talk about alcohol consumption and drug consumption,” Ochoa-Johnson says. “They don't necessarily know what it is, but they can describe what they've seen in the home. Sometimes they tell us if they've been hurt. Some of them will be very clear and honest about the fact that the grownups have hurt them."

The Hope Center opened just two-and-a-half years ago, and every counselor is booked solid.

That’s why the shelter’s now building a second Hope Center, and this one will be just for toddlers.

"The sooner you intervene with trauma, the better the outcome is going to be,” Ochoa-Johnson says.

She says little ones have a hard time verbalizing pain, but the impact is clear.

"They're going to struggle in school. Sometimes we're going to see some delays,” Ochoa-Johnson says.

The impact on their mental health sends a ripple effect into the whole community.

"Children that are hurt as children and don't get what they need, they're going to be hurt and damaged adults who are not going to be able to be fully productive,” Ochoa-Johnson says.

The new facility opens this summer. Counselors also plan to work with new moms and dads on parenting skills and building better homes for their kids.

By EMILY BAUCUM

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