How do we best meet the needs of the children and families we serve? This is a question that Community of Hope wrestles with everyday. One area in which we have found a great need is mental health especially for children. In August 2009, psychotherapist Rolando Fuentes, LICSW, LCSW who specializes in child, adolescent and family therapy, joined Community of Hope’s clinic staff. Fluent in Spanish, Mr. Fuentes brings a wide range of experience to his clients. His Peace Corps service in Paraguay and his Latino American heritage make him especially sensitive to the concerns of bicultural and bilingual patients. We were able to hire Mr. Fuentes thanks to a generous grant from the Health Coverage Foundation.
A child may come to see Mr. Fuentes because their parents express concern about the child’s behavior at school and home. When a child is referred, Mr. Fuentes always meets with the parents first. The goal is to help children and adults look at the child’s behavior and what’s behind it. “I find that the work has to be with the parents as well,” he said, “The biggest challenge is when you have a parent come and say, ‘Here, will you take my child and fix him?’ It’s only when we can work together that we can help you figure out what your child needs.”
Non-directed play therapy and sand therapy are the two main therapy models that Mr. Fuentes employs with children and adolescents, as they provide a way for young patients to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. His office comes equipped with shelves lined with plastic figures and its own sand box.
Laura*, a ten year old patient, was referred to Mr. Fuentes because her mother feared she would be expelled from her elementary school. Laura had been getting into fights at school and hitting and biting other children. When she would arrive for her initial appointments, Mr. Fuentes reported, she “destroys the room” – scattering plastic figurines and sand. However, in just a few sessions, Mr. Fuentes began to notice a change in Laura’s play and her mother reports an improvement in her behavior at school.
Mental health services for children like Laura are hard to come by, even without the recent closures of public mental health centers by the DC government. The expansion ofCommunity of Hope’s behavioral health programs comes at an especially critical time for our city’s most vulnerable residents.
*Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the patient.