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Holidays can pose emotional hurdles

Published Sep. 10, 2005

I want to tell you about a child who was with us for his 13th birthday last month. I'll call him James to protect his identity.

James came to the Brown Schools of Florida at Beverly Hills from a foster home several months before his birthday. He has been in 18 foster homes since the age of 2, when he was removed from his home because of abuse and neglect. James was diagnosed as bipolar and has conduct disorder; his treatment had been going quite well for weeks.

The Brown Schools of Florida at Beverly Hills is a residential treatment center providing therapeutic treatment and services to youths ages 10-17 with a psychiatric diagnosis. These diagnoses may include various types of depressive illness, such as bipolar, major depressive disorder or manic-depressive illness. Other disorders may include post-traumatic stress.

I happened to be in a classroom when James became very agitated and physically aggressive, requiring our staff to intervene. I went to talk with him to find out what was going on. He was angry and cursing, and as we talked he calmed down.

Twenty minutes later he was telling me that staff members had a birthday party for him the day before. His head was drooped and he was looking at the floor as he said in a very tiny, sad voice that he had received three birthday presents from the Brown Schools and staff, and his mother probably forgot his birthday again.

James has had no contact with his mother since he was 2 years old.

All too often, we take for granted the very simple gifts we've been given. I learn so much from these children each day. I am committed to provide the excellent services and treatment available to each of these kids, who truly deserve our help.

This time of year can be dreadful for a child who has no home to go to for the holidays and no one to bring holiday gifts. The staff members at the Brown Schools of Florida at Beverly Hills are very sensitive to each child's needs, and they schedule additional activities and counseling if necessary during this time of the year.

Many of our kids have experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment. For many of them, there has been little, if any, contact with immediate families.

_ Kirk Zeppi is a licensed mental health counselor and chief operating officer of the Brown Schools of Florida at Beverly Hills. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.