A clinic in nearby Hempstead, run by the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology, is providing mental health care to disadvantaged students while teaching graduate students just how big a difference they can make in the life of a child.

The first-grader had misbehaved in class all year. He was suspended twice. One day, he threw books across his classroom. He threw desks. “He just lost it,” says Kirkland Vaughans, Ph.D. ’85.
The boy was at risk of being expelled.

He was referred to the Derner Hempstead Child Clinic. Staffed by faculty and graduate students from Adelphi’s Derner School of Psychology, the clinic provides low-cost mental health care to students and their families in Hempstead, Long Island, school systems, which have one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.

Through the clinic, the boy received counseling and individual psychotherapy. “He was dealing with a lot of family disruption,” said Dr. Vaughans, who is the director of the clinic and a senior adjunct professor at Derner. The boy is one of more than 200 low-income students and students of color who’ve gotten help from the Hempstead Clinic since it opened in 2015.

Dr. Vaughans was a driving force behind the clinic’s creation. He had seen the cycle known as the school-to-prison pipeline—a well-documented tendency for students of color and poor children to get harsher punishments in school than white kids who commit the same offenses—wreck kids’ lives during his years as a school psychologist in Hempstead schools, where the majority of the 7,000 students are low-income Latinos and African Americans.

Four years later, the clinic is providing disadvantaged children the mental health care they need to stay in school and teaching Adelphi graduate students just how big a difference they can make in the life of a child.

“Sometimes [the schools] will suspend kids for a year and send them home, where no one is there with them because the parent is working or absent from their lives,” Dr. Vaughans said. “The kids get pushed out of school and don’t finish their education.” And a high percentage of kids who don’t complete their education end up in the juvenile justice system.

The Hempstead Clinic sees children struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), abuse, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and learning disabilities.

“A lot of these kids come from a very traumatic background,” Dr. Vaughans says. “They walk into school already stressed. Their internal resources are tapped out as well as their financial ones.”

The Hempstead Clinic charges only what families can pay.

“A mother whose child was referred to us said there was no way she could afford therapy,” Dr. Vaughans said. “I asked her, ‘Can you pay 50 cents a session?’ She said she could, so we treated her child.”

There are eight Adelphi graduate students working with 33 kids through the clinic and two graduate students working as clinicians in the schools.

The Adelphi students assess the needs of the children and provide therapy. The clinic also collaborates with Adelphi graduate students from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the School of Social Work for screenings and refers kids and, often, their parents.

There are no hard numbers yet on the clinic’s impact, but collecting and interpreting data is planned for the future. Dr. Vaughans sees improvements one child at a time. “We’re keeping kids in school, we’re maintaining homes that have been fragmented, and we’re making a difference in their lives,” he says.

Adelphi students benefit from the experience, too. Jade Sanders, M.A. ’14, a doctoral student in her fourth year at Derner, is a therapist at the Hempstead Clinic. She says the experience has inspired her to provide mental health care to people who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise. She wants to be an advocate for mental health care in developing nations and other places with few resources.

“It will be hard work, but I want something bigger as a psychologist,” Sanders says. “I want to be a voice for people who have no services but need them.”

And that boy who was throwing desks and books? A year later, he arrived at his therapy session wearing a Most Improved Student badge from his class.

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Todd Wilson
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