ChildWise helping to bring attention to at-risk youth

May 16, 2012 12:00 am – By PEGGY O’NEILL Independent Record

At-risk youths have a new team on their side. The Helena-based ChildWise Institute is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of vulnerable children through education, awareness and advocacy.

The ChildWise Institute was created by Intermountain but operates with its own staff and board of directors. The organization helps children by providing parents, policy makers and healthcare and education professionals tools they can use to help better the lives of those in their care.

ChildWise recently presented a conference in Helena, “Structural Family Therapy,” which drew more than 80 attendees from around Montana. And in September, ChildWise will hold a conference on autism and Asperger’s disorder, which will feature speakers Patricia Wright, the national director of Autsim Services for Easter Seals, and Ellen Notbohm, author of “Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.”

According to Todd Garrison, the executive director of ChildWise, Intermountain was looking for a way to increase awareness of at-risk youth and tools and training available to people who care for them.

“Relational poverty is a nationwide epidemic,” Garrison said. “There is a lack of leadership to address it. We’re hoping to be the catalyst of change. We’re choreographing what needs to be done.”

Garrison said that ChildWise would like to pull together a model of best practices and treatment for at-risk youth for Montana that could eventually be used nationwide.

“Mental and physical health issues have no borders,” Garrison said. “ChildWise has no borders either.”

In addition to Garrison, the ChildWise staff includes Morgan Adams, who manages the permanency program, which is a project focused on reducing the disruptions foster and adoptive children experience when placed with caregivers. The program provides training curriculum and support for foster and adoptive parents to increase the probability of permanent placement of a child.

Beginning this fall, an online course through the University of Montana will be offered called relational development. The course will cover strategies that help children who, because of early childhood experiences, find it difficult to connect with others.

Also part of the small ChildWise staff is Cathy Huntley, who handles communication and conference organization.

“You don’t need a huge staff to do what we want to do,” Garrison said. “It just takes the right people.”

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