Category Archives: Mental Health

The Difference

Guest post by Brandy Ingram, youth coordinator at Federation of Families.  This is part one of her blog post series. The FOF is an organization focused on the issues of children and youth with emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs and their families.

All the youth in the leadership program I coordinate have powerful, emotional stories. They have gone through things no child should even know about.  After sharing my story and hearing their stories, the outcome was empowering for not only them, but for me as well.  One thing, I’ve shared with the youth, is that you are not your diagnosis, it is only a part of you and how you deal with it and live with it is what makes the difference between being a productive citizen and not.

Here is one child’s story:

Sarah*, 13 years old

I got taken away from my birth mom; she had me and my twin brother at 13 years old.  She had been in human trafficking since she was a little girl; in my country that was very common.  My mom is from Panama and my dad is Puerto Rican.  My dad was in gangs and that was the only family that he had.  I always wondered if my family knows that I still exist, that I’m still alive.

I was separated from my twin brother at age 5.  He was still at the orphanage when the people who adopted me took me away.  I screamed and I would not stop crying because he was basically the reason why I survived.  I wish that I could see him and my mommy and daddy. I ain’t gonna lie, every time I see a family I cry and every time I see twins I get upset and cry.  I always wish that I could have a good family.

When I was 6, I was brought to the U.S. by this adopted family.  By age 7, I was being abused by the family, my dad would hit my mom and my mom would hit me and then put makeup on me and tell me that I looked beautiful.  I have been raped, abused, I have abused heroin, which my adopted dad started me on by shooting it into my arms.

For five years, I did not say anything, but then my best friend called the police and helped to save my life.  DCF took me away.  I admit that I don’t miss them, but I do miss being with a family, because that is all I ever wanted.  I have a lot of trust issues, but I’m learning how to try and trust people, but every time I get close, I have to go.

When I got into foster care, I did heroin; I was addicted. I got into a couple of programs, but I started fighting and running away.  The longest I stayed away was a month.  When I went back to the group home, they ended up sending me to a commitment program.

I got out July 19, 2013.  I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and it’s really hard to deal with things.  I want to change and live a better life.  I know that there are going to be bumps in the road, but as long as I have God, I’m okay.  I’m trying to learn how to open up, instead of holding everything inside and it is very hard, but I will try.

*Name changed for privacy.

Our motivator and peacekeeper

Guest post by a mother and father of two children. The family receives trauma therapy from Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) in Panama City. CAC was chosen as a featured “Hope for the Holidays” organization and is in need of toys, clothing and shoes for children of all ages and sizes:

Our 5-year old daughter came to us and told us she had been sexually abused. Not only was this news the most devastating ordeal we have ever been faced with, but the additional factor was that the accused was her grandfather. Abruptly, and rightfully so, our children lost their grandfather as though he had passed away.

Immediately following the release of this information to the CAC, we were assigned a therapist to assist our daughter in dealing with this situation. The therapist befriended my daughter from the first “Hello!” and has encouraged her to be strong and confident. It was an extremely hard road trying to maintain the status quo of our lives while knowing there was a whole other dimension of destitution to deal with. But our therapist comforted all of us with very thoughtful ideas on how to adjust to what we were living with, not just to ignore it.

Our daughter had frightful nightmares; our therapist recommended a toy wand, which was a huge success! When my kids get home from school every Wednesday afternoon, they want to know, “Do we get to see the therapist today!?” It’s comforting knowing that my children are excited to talk to her about the things they are experiencing as a result of this tragedy, instead of them feeling like they are re-living it with every session.

My son was traumatized by the absence of his grandfather, who was like a second father to him. But again, our therapist has helped find the words to let him have that same relationship with his father. Our therapist uses extremely intelligent methods, words and activities to help my children find peace with what they have been through. She gives the children techniques and ideas on ways to avoid ever letting this happen again. More than just a therapist, she is a motivator and peacekeeper of our family. I will be sad when the day comes that she feels our family no longer needs her assistance. This tragic event will stay with us forever, but she will always be the one I remember who helped us through it.

Note: CAC was chosen as a featured “Hope for the Holidays” organization and is in need of toys, clothing and shoes for children of all ages and sizes. Visit “Hope for the Holidays” to help them this holiday season. 

Pics from recent CAC event:

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Leaps and Bounds

recoverypicRecovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness that emerges from hope and gratitude. This principle lays the foundation to DCF’s SAMH program office. DCF received the Access to Recovery (ATR) grant in 2010 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. This substance abuse treatment grant continues through September of 2014 and emphasizes client choice. The grant allows individuals to choose where they receive clinical treatment and recovery support services in the community among a network of community-based and faith-based providers.  Research has found that client choice in treatment is crucial to a successful recovery. 

Our clients put a real face on ATR:

I came to New Beginnings Women’s Program in April 2013 after I lost my job in January and became homeless. I have a long history of severe Depression and Bipolar Disorder. The devastation of my situation caused my depression to worsen severely and I was hospitalized.

The New Beginnings program has been a godsend to me and the ATR benefits I received allowed me to settle into the program the first month I was here. I wouldn’t have been able to pay for my housing, transportation or counseling had I not received assistance from Access to recovery.

I am extremely grateful to ATR and am now working for the church. My life is improving by leaps and bounds!

Thank you so very much!



When I entered the New Beginnings recovery program, I was homeless, broke, badly addicted to cocaine and fresh off a week-long binge. I had nothing but a small shopping bag with a t-shirt and pair of shorts in it. The last thing I was going to be able to do was find a job to pay for my program fees. ATR funding gave me an opportunity to be able to focus on getting clean and staying clean for my first couple months in the program. I’m not sure I would have made it otherwise. Now I have about 16-months clean and independent and have reconnected with my family. Thank you for the help! It was much needed, and much appreciated!



I am 59 years old; the second oldest in a family of four children. We are second- generation Ukrainian-Americans and our family did not have much addiction. I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church with a devoted family until I still resorted to alcohol and drugs for 20 years. ATR was a gift from God on my second month of recovery when I came to New Beginnings’ Women’s Program. ATR’s assistance took the pressure off me worrying about rent and finding a job right away in order to afford the program at NB Faith House.

The ability to jump start my recovery has been a huge gift! I hope and pray that more needy people will be able to benefit from the services provided by Access to Recovery. I am safe and secure in the women’s house I live in, which provides the needs necessary to get my life together.

I volunteer in the church office, which makes me feel like I’m giving back. I thank ATR and pray that you keep helping New Beginnings’ clients and many sick and needy people in the Tampa Bay area.

Sincerely with love,


Back-to-school: Focused and calm

Guest post by Jennifer Evans, a licensed mental health counselor at DCF who specializes in child trauma.

Young Boy LearningNow that school has begun and the children are settled into their routine, you might be noticing that a child suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) might still be having difficulty when they get home.

Here are some good tips for helping you child stay focused and calm while at home (they may even be helpful for all children!).

  • Create a place for homework. Creating a secluded space helps your child stay focused.  This place should be free of clutter and distractions.  Try finding a quiet corner in the home away from where the other family members could distract the child. It is important to stock this area with everything your child will need for homework projects and nothing more.  Even the smallest things, like needing a snack or drink will send the child into an escape from focusing.
  • Use rewards and structure to keep your child motivated. Create a calendar allotting the amount of time needed for your child to finish homework and the activities to do after homework is complete.  Go over the homework with your child and make sure there are no careless errors that can easily occur withchildren diagnosed with ADHD.  Encourage them to “slow down” and re-read the directions for clear understanding and enhancing focus.
  • Use a point system or stickers to encourage positive behaviors over the school year. If the child has had trouble in school in the past, creating a point system to reward the child upon advances can help encourage good studying and behavior. Create a chart with the subjects in school on it; give stickers or check marks to indicate when the child has reached an obtainable goal. Whether getting A’s in a certain subject, or completing homework without a distraction, obtainable rewards are important for the child to buy-in and build confidence. The important thing is to make these goals realistic and reflect your child’s needs.  Goal setting should start off simple and work towards the greater goals.  The chart should be placed in the study area for your child to continue to reference and encourage positive behaviors.

For more information regarding study tips for your child checkout these websites.


With Hurricane Season in full swing, here are tips for talking to children about disasters

traumaWithin seconds, a peaceful summer day can be turned upside down by traumatic events close to home or beyond state lines. For a child, a terrorist attack in Boston or a tsunami halfway around the world can leave them confused and worried about their own safety. In the summer, children who are home from school are more likely to hear about them. Also, in Florida, hurricane season increases the likelihood of a disaster striking close to home.

Here are some tips for helping children deal with trauma:

Be Clear: Talking about tragedy, injury and death can be very difficult for anyone. Being clear and only answering what the child is asking will help them to understand without getting into too much graphic detail. Try using dialogue like, “When people die, their bodies stop working.”

Be Available: Let your kids ask the questions. Start by asking them, “What do you think happened?” Allow them to guide the conversation where they need to go to help them cope.

Stay Calm: Children learn emotional reactions and coping through adults. The way adults react to events is often the way the child perceives and reacts to the event. It is okay to cry and show concern and emotion, and then to show appropriate ways to cope and heal. Try using dialogue like, “It is okay to feel confused and hurt. Sometimes people cry to show how sad they are. This allows their body to feel better.”

Normalize Their Feelings: When a tragedy happens it can be confusing and often kids are uncertain of the emotions they are feeling. Use this opportunity to discuss emotions and the way kids are feeling and explain how you can cope. Try using dialogue like, “Often people feel sad when something like this happens. It is hard to understand why someone would do something like this.”

Understand How Children Cope: You may see your child try to act out the traumatic event through their dolls or other toys. This can be scary for a parent to see, but kids will often replay the event as a way to cope. You can use this opportunity to discuss their play and their memory of the event. This is a great time to clarify and normalize their reaction again. Try doing an activity to help provide closure for your child.

Notice Changes in Behavior: Often the effect of trauma on your body does not happen until weeks after the event. This is a normal process of coping. If your child’s behavior dramatically changes for an extended amount of time, consult a professional. Common symptoms of trauma include sleeplessness, over/under eating, extended sadness for no immediate explanation, extended traumatic play, lack of focus/concentration, and nightmares.

More info at