The Behavior Clinic: Improving the Lives of Children and Families in Milwaukee

Ava 3By Sara Peronto — At 6 years old, Ava is an outgoing, talkative and friendly little girl.

She listens to her parents, plays well with her little sister and brother and thinks before she acts. Spending time with Ava now, you’d never guess that a little over a year ago, she struggled to get through the day without having a meltdown.

Growing up in a big family, Ava began her life as the only child in a large household of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. She knew at a young age how to get what she wanted from multiple family members and when her little sister was born 11 months later, she wasn’t used to sharing the attention.

As Ava got older, her behavior began to worsen significantly. She had the tendency to run away when she got upset, whether in a public place or out the front door of her home. She threw herself on the floor in a tantrum if she didn’t get what she wanted and seemed angry all the time.

As Ava’s behavior worsened, her parents knew that the best thing for her and their family was to ask for help. Their doctor referred them to the Behavior Clinic, an outpatient therapy program through Penfield Children’s Center and Marquette University that serves children under the age of 6 with emotional or behavioral disorders.

Ava and her parents started an eight week therapy session with Jessica, an in-home therapist for the Behavior Clinic, and almost immediately, Ava’s behavior started to improve. Through her sessions, she learned how to express her thoughts and feelings calmly instead of throwing a tantrum. She began to think about her actions and realize that she can be a positive role model for her younger siblings. She knows now that listening to and respecting her parents is the best way to get the attention she desires. Ava’s parents, too, have learned a great deal from therapy. They better understand how to effectively communicate with their daughter and how to engage with her through child-led play. They have struck a good balance between allowing Ava the freedom of choice, while still giving her the structure and discipline she needs. The Behavior Clinic has not only helped Ava, but brought her entire family closer together.

Ava’s story is just one example of how the Behavior Clinic changes the lives of children and families in the Milwaukee community every year. The only home-based counseling service in Milwaukee that addresses the mental health needs of very young children, the Behavior Clinic served 335 children in 2012 and is on pace to serve more than 500 children this year. In addition to providing direct service, the Behavior Clinic specifically trains graduate students in best practices, filling a gap in the community and breaking ground for new and innovative research on infant mental health.

This year marks the Behavior Clinic’s 10 year anniversary and the need in the community is increasing every year. Penfield Children’s Center is looking for your support to make this exceptional care possible. Thanks to a generous donation from the Weiss Family Foundation, every dollar given between now and August 31 will be matched up to $5,000.

On August 16, Penfield and Marquette University is hosting “Give 4 a Day” on Twitter in an effort to raise awareness and online donations for the Behavior Clinic. To learn more about Ava’s story, #Give4aDay and how Penfield is working with Marquette University to improve infant mental health outcomes in the community, visit penfieldchildren.org.

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Sara Peronto is the Marketing Manager for Penfield Children’s Center.  She currently manages marketing and communication efforts for the organization including website, newsletters, annual report and e-communications.

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