Greenville News Opinion: How ACH seeks ‘transformative outcomes’ for abused, neglected children

Mental health issues affect all ages, and the mental health issues of our youngest children require serious clinical interventions to both heal the child and prevent potential deterioration of the entire family. The term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) encompasses all types of abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences suffered by children under 18.

These experiences, if not treated, very often lead to risky behaviors, chronic health conditions, and early death. The level of exposure to ACEs severely hinders economic mobility and eventual prosperity of victims and their families. That, in turn, hurts our entire community. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates report that child abuse and neglect costs America approximately $124 billion per year.

A Child’s Haven serves young victims of abuse and neglect in specialized classrooms staffed by trained educators and clinicians. Many of our children also reside with adult caregivers who suffered abuse and neglect when they were young, and A Child’s Haven treats those families in their homes. We are unique in the Upstate, and our innovative, multi-generational approach to counteracting negative effects of ACEs with therapy distinguishes us in the field of behavioral health.

Nearly 1,000 of Greenville’s children under age 5 are confirmed victims of neglect or abuse each year, and more than 9,000 statewide. Infant victims miss important developmental milestones and grow up to be young children who act out. Many are suspended or expelled from child care centers. Across America, approximately 250 preschoolers are suspended or expelled each day.

A Child’s Haven is not a typical child care center. We work with young children and families who lack access to high-quality behavioral health treatment. The children and families we serve have high ACE scores that require intensive therapy to reshape their futures.

A July 2019 congressional hearing on childhood abuse and neglect reached three important conclusions: “Childhood trauma is a pervasive public health issue with long- term negative health effects that cost the United States billions of dollars; we need a comprehensive federal approach that…prioritizes prevention and treatment; some states and localities are implementing promising programs…that can inform federal solutions – but they face resource constraints that limit their ability….”

A Child’s Haven is one of those local resources. We invest in our direct service staff and evidence-based programs to deliver highly effective treatment. We recently hired a bi-lingual clinician who works with Spanish-speaking children. The high quality of our staff and services is critical to achieving desired outcomes.

University of Chicago economist Dr. James Heckman found in research conducted in and around Chapel Hill that high-quality, birth-to-5 early childhood education for disadvantaged families generated a 13% return on investment for each year of a child’s life. The return for those also suffering from abuse and neglect undoubtedly is even higher.

A Child’s Haven is one of only two organizations in South Carolina, along with Children’s Place in Aiken, that provides classroom-based Therapeutic Child Care. It is a child-focused, family-centered intervention that targets the relationship between the child and the parent. Our children receive classroom-based and individual therapy within an evidence-based curriculum called Incredible Beginnings.

This year we will add Child-Parent Psychotherapy as an evidence-based family therapy in the home with caregivers and the child. Services are relationship-based, developmentally appropriate and trauma informed. Our three-core service model of child and family services will become the first evidence-based behavioral health program of its kind in South Carolina. We then will replicate it with confidence to reach families beyond Greenville County.

A Child’s Haven has a 28-year legacy of improving the lives of at-risk young children and their families in Greenville County. Our therapies aim to keep children in their homes and communities, rather than displacing the child into foster care, and they promote behaviors and skill sets that preclude future interventions.

We yield transformative outcomes for children and families. Children move on to successful years in traditional classrooms, and caregivers find the stability that allows them to live and work productively in our community.

We invite you to learn more about the effects of abuse and neglect and our work at A Child’s Haven by visiting www.achildshaven.org. We welcome guests by appointment, and if you know someone who might benefit from our program, please contact us to talk to a clinician.

Tanya Camunas serves as Executive Director at A Child’s Haven and can be reached at [email protected]

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A Child's Haven has suspended all in-person services due to COVID-19 concerns, but we continue to provide our families with support through phone calls, text messages, and emails.

Despite these efforts, the COVID-19 crisis puts additional strain on our children and their caregivers, both financially and mentally. Learn how you can support ACH families during this time.