A CHILD’S HAVEN: Creating Therapeutic Environments for Children and Families Affected by Trauma

Five Forks Neighbors Charity Spotlight article written by Shanna Walker. Published July 2021

A Child’s Haven (ACH) is a Greenville based, non-profit organization that treats children with developmental delays as a result of limited resources, abuse, or neglect. They also provide support and education for the child and their families. Research from 2019 indicated that in Greenville County, nearly 60% of children under the age of five have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Approximately 20% of those children live in poverty, and about 12% suffer developmental delays.

For children with behavioral, social, or emotional challenges, success in a mainstream child care program or preschool can be difficult. ACH delivers therapeutic child care for victims of abuse and neglect, along with therapeutic interventions for caregivers, many of who have suffered similar trauma. Most of the children at ACH have been expelled from a typical daycare setting due to developmental delays or behavioral health issues associated with trauma. Lack of access to a regular early childhood development program severely impacts these children’s ability to transition to a traditional classroom setting upon entering the public school system. Their developmental and academic delays place them far behind their peers. Without early intervention, the vast majority of these children may never recover from such a poor start to their education.

ACH embraces new innovations in the childhood mental health field and wants to capitalize on the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors by transforming its outdoor spaces into Therapeutic Outdoor Environments (TOEs). Plans for the TOEs include four distinct spaces. The Pavilion is currently a paved and covered area for tricycle rides and playtime on rainy days.

The refreshed Pavilion will add a dozen species of new plants, a butterfly garden, and a beautiful pathway that crosses over a bridge and under a pergola. The Vegetable Garden currently on site
consists of a few raised garden beds where fruits and vegetables are grown. The new Vegetable Garden will include expanded planting beds with fruit trees, berries, and herbs. This new space will encourage healthy eating, teach patience and responsibility, and demonstrate teamwork. The foods grown here will be used in the ACH kitchen and distributed to the families they serve. The Retreat Garden is a totally new space that will be perfect for Individual Therapy sessions, de-escalation walks for children experiencing outbursts, or, simply, a calm and beautiful place for staff to recharge. A new Infant Playground will include plants, an acoustic play space, a play house, a paved walkway for wheeled play, and a shade sail to protect the little ones on hot days.

This inspiring plan doesn’t stop with just these spaces. Funds are being raised for a second phase which includes transforming three acres of unutilized land into a microfarm. “We are collaborating with local partners across sectors to bring this vision to life,” says Tanya Camunas, executive director of A Child’s Haven. “These environments are optimal for at-risk children and families to heal, learn, and thrive,” Tanya continues. “We’re excited that our organization could be on the cutting edge of what the standards for all early childhood developmental and educational programs should be.”

With so much activity and growth at the center, ACH is looking for additional staff to support their expansion. Interested applicants can find out more on ACH’s employment opportunities on their website, www. achildshaven.org/careers/.

For more information about A Child’s Haven, its mission, and the Therapeutic Outdoor Environments project, visit their website.

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