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Parent Child Interaction Therapy at KidsPeace provides hope, answers for family of 4-year-old girl

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By Bevin Theodore


Brenna Berdini always knew her daughter, Sienna, was strong-willed.


But when her strong personality morphed into daily outbursts and meltdowns just before her 4th birthday, Berdini, of Easton, Pa., started to fear for her safety and knew they needed intervention. She called nearly 20 counselors in the Lehigh Valley, but no one would take a 3-year-old. Then, she discovered that KidsPeace offers Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an evidence-based, child-centered program geared to 2- to 7-year-olds and built around the idea that children love playing with their parents. PCIT is set up that each parent has one-on-one time with the child during which he or she provides positive feedback but does not give commands.


Berdini, her husband, Craig, and Sienna started PCIT in January, and over the course of four months of therapy, saw a drastic improvement to their daily lives. Berdini said they learned to change their approach as parents, focusing on the positive rather than the negative, which allowed Sienna to feel more confident that she was being noticed. After a few weeks, the number of outbursts was slashed in half, and Sienna started looking forward to the therapy homework, which was also structured play.


Berdini admitted to being nervous before signing up for PCIT, fearing it would lead to a mental health diagnosis or medication. But at the first session she was reassured to find it was a natural approach and exactly what their family needed. She raved about their clinician, Corinne Falgares, who worked with them at the outpatient center on Green Street in Allentown.


“Corinne is just wonderful. She has the perfect blend of being compassionate and sweet and caring, but when she needs to lay down the law, she lays it down. She just has such a nice way that when she has to be firm, it’s not confrontational, it’s not judgmental,” Berdini said. “I just can’t say enough about her approach and everything she did for us.”


Now that the family has “graduated” from PCIT, the Berdinis have a pact to remind each other if one is doing something that is not therapeutic. And they continue to be amazed at the progress their daughter made in such a short time.


“She’s just a completely different child,” Berdini said. “It was really just true behavioral modification, on our part as well as Sienna’s part.”


For more information on PCIT, call 610-799-8910. 


North Carolina woman proud of positive change she sees in foster daughter

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adams-kid-portraitBy Bevin Theodore 


When Marilyn Adams first took in her foster daughter in October 2012, the young girl was so wild that relatives questioned whether Adams would be able to handle her.


“When she first came, we didn’t go out to dinner; we didn’t go to church, not by myself. I would need to have someone with me, just in case she got away from me,” Adams said. “We went to Maryland to visit my sister who lives there and she said, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do this.’” 


But Adams, who has the support of KidsPeace’s Fayetteville, N.C., Foster Care and Community Programs office, knew it would be OK, and she was right. Today, the 8-year-old has shown considerable behavioral improvement, does well in school, sits still in restaurants and loves art.


Oh my goodness, she is so smart, and she absorbs everything. And she draws; you should see some of her drawings. She won first prize in her division in a county-wide art exposition,” Adams said. “She drew a pig. This child is so amazing, she really is. I’m proud of her.” 


Still, even on the best days, parenting is not always easy.


“She’s getting this attitude. If she decides she’s not going to do something, she’s determined,” Adams said. “I try not to have a battle with her.” 


adams-kid-flowerAdams’ biological children are grown, and she also has 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She loves having children in her home and has fostered several youth, but this is only the second young child she has helped raise.


“It’s so rewarding when you can see you’ve made a difference,” she said. “I can see the changes in her. At first I couldn’t, and everyone was telling me, ‘Marilyn, you have done so well.’” 


This girl is also Adams’ longest placement, but the future is uncertain as she is up for adoption.


“I wish I was in the position to adopt (her),” she said. “But I just feel with my age, physically and mentally, I just don’t feel like I would be a good candidate to adopt.” 

Helping foster youth as they age out of the system

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Dr. John DeGarmoBy Dr. John DeGarmo 


Each year 20,000 to 25,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own. Of the 500,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a disturbing percentage. For many, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member or even beginning a new life in an adopted home.  Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family, reaching 18 or 21 years of age (depending on the state where they reside) can be a tremendously frightening experience.


Research has shown that most foster children struggle with academics. After- school and college tutoring programs are helpful to those who have aged out, as they not only help the young adult with the material being studied, but also help to develop stronger study learning skills. Communities can also help by setting up a college fund for foster children wishing to further their education. School supplies or bookstore gift cards can be donated to local foster care agencies who work with children who will soon age out.


Along with school supply donations, household goods are also of great use to aged-out youth. Clothes, bedding, cooking items, electrical appliances and furniture can be donated to local foster care agencies. As most former foster children struggle with money, it is likely that they will not have cars or means of transportation, so volunteering to give them a ride to job interviews, school events or medical appointments is also helpful.


For those businesses who wish to assist aged-out foster youth, discounts on services and goods are most helpful. Discounts on clothing; groceries; computers, phones and other electronic devices; medications and even legal and financial services, can help former foster youth. Those who own a business or service may also wish to consider hiring former foster children and helping them develop workforce skills.


Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those who have aged out of the system is to become an advocate of change. By contacting lawmakers, politicians and publicity agents, one can bring attention to the needs of these young adults who are facing a series of challenges after leaving the foster care system. These advocates of change can also post information in editorial letters and on public forums. By lobbying for change, new laws can be introduced, and better information can be brought to the general public.


Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, and he and his wife have had more than 45 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including “Love and Mayhem: One Big Happy Family’s Story of Fostering and Adoption.” Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John. He can be contacted at , through his Facebook page or at his website . 



Servant leaders are key to organizational transformation

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By Geoffrey C. Ammerman, MS Ed. licensed psychologist 


Throughout my career there are specific methods of engaging the workforce on all levels that have led to transformation and growth beyond one’s wildest imagination.


The first step is providing vision of not only who we are and what we do, but how we get there and how we are with one another. The second is to always keep our eyes focused on the mission as the foundation of the organization. We cannot allow ourselves to be bridled by seeking rewards to the detriment of the mission. Third, in order to succeed at transformational change, we all must seek to be servant leaders, or in management parlance, practice “facilitative leadership.” We need to seek out those who are on the front lines and ensure they have all they need to do their jobs as successfully as possible. In keeping with this model, when problems arise, they should see them process issues not personal ones. It is about solving problems through the culture of the organization; not trying to find out who messed up, but instead seeking out what happened.


These concepts are the foundation all endeavors, personal and corporate, need for success. The answers to these questions, in my experience, determine happiness, opportunity, intuition, intelligence and certainly personal and corporate spiritual and physical wealth. Let me ask you: What are your thoughts about the above statements? How do you see you responses to these ideas affecting your personal and corporate life? How do you live up to the expectations that are present in your responses? How do you choose to prioritize your life? The same goes for any corporation, whether it is one that deals in human services or manufacturing; anything that is done requires this level of vision and mission.

So how do we prioritize? We are called by virtue of our existence to live by the Golden Rule. This implies that healthy self-respect and love is required to love others in a healthy way. This is true in treatment, and especially relevant in 12-step programs. The same is true for a work environment. How is this manifested? First, the person and organization settle on a mission-driven course to solve a problem. Next, they set out to fulfill that mission as best they can through a defined process that keeps these concepts in mind.


Recently, KidsPeace Mesabi Academy underwent the Correctional Program Checklist (CPC) audit, which is completed every three years to determine effectiveness in the treatment of the youth in our care. It is an evidence-based scientific assessment in which three people ask similar questions, review procedures, observe treatment and link these reviews to behavioral expectations. In essence, they are linking the implementation of the vision and mission of our facility to what we say our mission and vision is. Do we indeed provide to our clients and staff, “hope, help and healing to children, families and communities”?


With each review, we are focused upon improving by being open to what these reviewers, truly our partners in care, have to say. This review allowed us to once again demonstrate our adherence to our mission to include all stakeholders in the care of very needy children, their families and our community at large.


To bring everyone on board to seek change and develop treatment that is transformative, we need to understand and continuously define and implement these concepts to keep us on a path of service that enriches all who embrace it.


Hospital and Health System of PA shares KidsPeace's stories of Healing, Health Hope

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We recently shared how the KidsPeace Children's Hospital is using innovative programming to help children develop their inner strength.


That initiative, as well as two others, are now featured under the Hospital and Health System of Pennsylvania's stories of Healing, Health and Hope.


Check out the features on KidsPeace quiet carts and toolboxes as well as our Komfort Room, which is coming soon!



In the digital age, comunication is key to keeping children safe online

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Submitted by Amy Williams


Valaysha Colon uses rap to share what she learned at KidsPeace

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valaysha-colon-leidy-ocasioBy Bevin Theodore 


When Valaysha Colon first arrived at the KidsPeace Children’s Hospital, she was an angry teenager who could not understand why her mom was getting in the way of everything she wanted to do, namely smoke, drink and fight.


Today, the 15-year-old from Allentown, Pa., is immensely grateful that her mom cared enough to intervene and that the staff at KidsPeace showed her there was a better way. She shared her story through a rap song she wrote and delivered Monday evening at the 30th annual KidsPeace Golf Classic at Brookside Country Club in Macungie.


                                         Leidy Ocasio (right) of Allentown, attended the  

                                        dinner following the KidsPeace Golf Classic on June  

                                        15 to hear her daughter, Valaysha Colon, 15,  

                                        share what she has learned at KidsPeace. 


“KidsPeace helped me a lot,” Valaysha told the crowd before breaking into rhyme. “Before I came, I was heading down a really wrong path. I was putting my mom through anything and everything.” 


Valaysha recalled being restrained daily during her stay in the hospital. But something shifted in her mindset when she stepped down to the residential treatment program. There, she has gotten a second chance. She credits caring counselors for helping her realize that the actions that were causing her mom so much grief were also detrimental to her own future.


“I wouldn’t call them mistakes because at the end of the day, they’re lessons learned,” she said.


In being open to changing her life for the better, Valaysha has gained perspective. She is grateful her mom refused to give up on her. She learned to trust. She has a plan for her future, and she no longer makes excuses or lets circumstances detract from her goals and dreams.


“You may think you have the worst life, and you may think you’ve been through everything, but life is what you make of it,” she said.


She is looking forward to going home because she knows now that she controls what comes next.


“When I grow up I actually want to work at KidsPeace,” she said. “And I want to be a motivational speaker.” 


Judging by the emotional reactions from the crowd and the standing ovation that followed her speech, she already is. Here is Valaysha's story:


Ima just put it like this … 

Before I came here, I was heading down the wrong path. 

I guess you could say, I thought I had it bad. 

Until I heard all the stories here, it made me really sad. 

This girl was only eight and got abused by her dad. 

It opened my eyes and made me realize … 

That I have a good mom, and she will never leave my side. 

This place changed me. 

Before I came here, I was really angry. 

I was a little girl living in this big world … 

Tryna find who I am, I hope I can make you understand. 

I had poor self-esteem. 

Just wanted to live Marilyn Monroe’s theme. 

Curvy waist, good shape, with a pretty face … 

Man, she was livin the dream. 

So they put me in “Inner Beauty” 

Hoping that it would get through to me. 

And it did … 

It clicked like magic. 

I finally realized that life wasn’t so tragic. 

And that I may not be perfect, but I am worth it. 

Being here I found a new way to cope instead of using my fist. 

I picked up a pen and started writing like this 

Started thinking about life … 

This is my second chance, I gotta do this right. 

For my happiness and freedom, I will never stop the fight. 

Through all the pain I felt here, sometimes I’d sit back and laugh. 

To come and think about it, it was really all my staff. 

They were always there for me. 

They helped me find the part of me I couldn’t always see. 

I have it now, and I’ll never let it go. 

I’m strong, confident, and beautiful … 

And that will always show. 

Remember that time I had a bad family session. 

I was so angry, I couldn’t relieve the tension. 

Stormed to my room so I could be by myself. 

But staff were always behind me and pulled my feelings off the shelf. 

They always had my back, which built up my trust. 

Even when I got mad, slipped up and would cuss. 

But I learned from my mistakes … 

That’s the name of the game. 

But it’s really not a game ... 

I had to face all my pain. 

Staff always told me I was inspirational. 

And that my words were always gonna be motivational. 

That’s why I use my words … 

For days like today … 

To prove you that if you started where I did … 

In the end everything will be okay. 


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