Photo by John Sibilski
“For a long time, professionals did not think mental health problems could occur in younger children” Behavior Clinic counselors Joanna Love and Jodari Paulson consult with clients Juanita and her daughter.
“When we became licensed by the state as an outpatient clinic, the state evaluator said he had never encountered a similar clinic in the state,” Fox recalls. “I know of a handful of clinics that exist nationally, and I think this movement will only grow in the coming years.” The clinic receives referrals from at least 50 Milwaukee agencies and must work at top capacity to put a dent in the number of cases it receives each week. At any given time, 30 to 40 families are receiving help from Marquette counseling students and full-time clinic staff. And there is still unmet need. Their work is a clear example of how the Jesuit tenet of cura personalis — which calls for treating people with respect for their unique qualities, gifts and challenges as individuals — plays out in the work of the College of Education. In addition to making a difference in the lives of families, the clinic breaks down barriers between the university and community itself. Best of all, news of the Behavior Clinic’s work has spread across the country and world. “At least weekly, I get requests for our program or our assessment instruments from all over the world,” Fox says. “I just responded to one from India. And it’s going to keep expanding. If you put a little prevention up front when children are young, you save a lot down the road.”
Breaking Ground with a New Assessment Tool The children with whom the Behavior Clinic staff work come from low-income families. In most cases, it’s a single mother raising multiple children under the age of 5. The stress of day-to-day living, compounded by a child with severe behavior problems, can seem insurmountable. “If we can get a kid behaving better, it’s a tremendous amount of relief on the family,” says program founder Dr. Bob Fox. Fox noticed that the assessment tools being used in the field were lengthy and too complex for parents to understand. So he and a doctoral student developed a screening instrument that makes family involvement in the assessment process more fruitful. Written at a third-grade reading level, the Early Childhood Behavior Screen assessment was piloted with a lower-income, less-educated population in mind. It measures 10 pro-social behaviors that counselors try to increase, such as “eats well” and “cooperates in getting dressed,” and 10 challenging behaviors that counselors work to reduce, such as “kicks others” and “breaks things.” Fox reports that the development of the ECBS was lengthy, taking nearly five years to bring to fruition. The tool’s main author, Dr. Casey Holtz, was a doctoral student working Dr. Bob Fox, Behavior Clinic under Fox’s tutelage at the time. Their work was supported Founder by a small grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Holtz, Grad ’06, ’10, also used his research as the topic for his doctoral dissertation. The ECBS is now part of the Behavior Clinic’s normal protocol and is used at each session to measure how the child is progressing. “The tool helps the parent or practitioner see if the child is outside the normal boundaries of behavior, but it also allows them to see signs of progress as well,” says Fox.