In the bright, orderly therapy rooms at A Child’s Haven, Sandra Casanova plays with preschool-aged children, most of whom have been expelled from a typical child care setting. All have a mental health diagnosis and many have suffered abuse, neglect, poverty or other adverse childhood experiences that lead them to outbursts that mainstream child care providers can’t manage.
Using an evidence-based intervention model called Incredible Years, Casanova and the center’s other therapeutic providers create an environment that facilitates optimal development, with predictable routines and activities that promote social, emotional and behavioral learning. They teach and reinforce coping strategies for managing anxiety, giving children skills needed to deal with overwhelming emotions.
Casanova’s bilingual clinical treatment provider position was created last year to provide more services for Spanish-speaking children and their families. It was made possible with the help of a grant of $40,000 a year for two years from the Community Foundation’s Margaret Linder Southern Endowment.
“Adding Sandra to our staff has made it possible for us to provide behavioral-health services to our growing at-risk Spanish-speaking population in our community,” said Tanya Camunas, executive director.
Children with social or emotional delays and behavioral challenges are referred to A Child’s Haven by the Department of Social Services and other agencies, or families can self-refer. A licensed therapist performs a mental-health evaluation onsite, and once enrolled children receive four to five hours of therapeutic child care each weekday. But therapeutic child care is only part of the center’s multigenerational continuum of services. A Child’s Haven is the only facility in South Carolina that also provides center-based individual psychotherapy and in-home family psychotherapy.
“We include caregivers in the treatment process because we know having responsive caregivers is essential to overall child well-being,” Camunas said. “Many parents have had the same traumatic experiences as their children. We equip them with tools to respond to their children’s behavior in a way that nurtures success and strengthens bonds, so they don’t have to resort to counterproductive reactions.”
This child- and family-focused program’s goals include preventing re-abuse and neglect, improving health and education, and promoting economic well-being by helping parents gain or maintain employment. A Child’s Haven staff refers families to outside agencies to further these goals when needed.
Camunas joined A Child’s Haven in 2017 as director of quality assurance and program evaluation, charged with tracking program data to position the program for statewide replication. In 2018, she became senior director of program and strategy and was appointed executive director in January 2020. Under her leadership, the center employs results-driven, data-informed programming to help the most families possible.
Recent data show real benefits for the children: For the fiscal year ending in June 2019, 100 of 114 children served demonstrated improved functioning as measured by meeting 85% to 100% of their treatment-plan goals, and 98% of them successfully transitioned to a mainstream child care center or school.
The results for families are heartening as well. On completion of the program, 96% of caregivers reported being able to deal more effectively with daily challenges. None of the families successfully discharged from A Child’s Haven became re-involved in the child-welfare system. The majority of unemployed caregivers reported gaining employment, improving the economic well-being of the whole family.
The center will break ground soon on a renovation that will allow it to optimize existing space to serve more children, growing from its current capacity of 75 to 95.
“A Child’s Haven is committed to providing at-risk children and families with therapeutic services they need to thrive,” Camunas said. “Our hope is that our clinically proven model will be replicated in other communities.”