24th Annual Children’s Mental Health and Policy Conference
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03/21/11 Dawn Morgan Elliott
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Keynote Speaker Geoffrey Canada


photo by Dawn Morgan Elliott

30 years ago the field of mental health care for children barely existed. But yesterday in Tampa over 700 researchers and child advocates came for the commencement of the 24th Annual Children’s Mental Health and Policy Conference to share their work and open their minds to innovations in mental health care.

“People did not recognize the seriousness of the problem. People did not recognize how many young people had emotional and behavioral disorders.”

Dr. Robert Friedman is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Children and Family Studies at the University of South Florida. When he began his career as a clinical psychologist and professor in the late 60’s, he said there wasn’t much research on mental health care for children and young adults. When kids got into trouble, the parents were seen as the cause.

“Sometimes through a combination of bio, neurological, environ factors, traumas that’s occurred, kids need special help. And that the families are the resource to help us to work with professionals and addressing those problems. They’re not the cause, they’re not the blame.”

Christina Kloker Young is a child advocate and one of the original board members for the conference.

“We started out not knowing if we’d have 25 people come. We didn’t have young people coming to be researchers. So we looked out and said, where are we going to get the people who say, ‘Where are these kids, what works, what can we do, what kind of programs can we out in place for kids who are having depression, autism, whatever it might be. How can we work with those kids?’”

The Annual Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy Conference was born and because of Friedman and Tampa’s balmy spring climate, the University of South Florida has served as its host ever since. Again, Dr. Freidman:

“One of the things we’ve made progress in is helping people understand the seriousness of the problem. We’ve also worked to help people understand that to solve the problem it will require partnerships. It’s going to require mental health people working with juvenile justice people working with school people and child welfare people, and there’s been tremendous progress there.”

Conference attendees come from all over the United States and several countries. Attendee Irina Vainer came the farthest and with a translator.

“I’m from Russia. Novosibirsk, Siberia.”

Translator: "She works with children who have developmental disabilities. This is her first international conference and unfortunately she doesn't know much English!"

Vainer’s work looked at children who were considered uneducable, and says that through their original methods and non-standard practical tricks that more than 76% of their clients became schoolable and teachable.

Veteran educator and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada was the keynote speaker. He requested that his lecture not to be recorded, and said in his address that “If the kid wasn’t learning, it was because we didn’t know enough.”

The conference continues through Wednesday, and we will continue tocover the highlights this week.

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