Program helping children cope gets a home

Youngsters amid violence receive care from police, therapists and activists

October 26, 1999|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

While much of the city reels over the police-involved shooting death of an African-American man in the Barclay neighborhood, a unique program aimed at helping children cope with violence dedicated its headquarters in East Baltimore yesterday.

About 100 people celebrated the first permanent home for the 2-year-old Baltimore Child Development/Community Policing Program, a collaboration of therapists at the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, East Baltimore community leaders and city police.

The program, based at 1819 E. Preston St., provides free mental health services in East Baltimore and uses police officers, who receive training in the impact of violence on children, to be the first wave of care in the field.

After responding to a crisis, police call on the program's network of psychologists and community activists, who frequently arrive at a crisis scene within minutes to begin comforting children who have witnessed violence. The program also tracks children, providing continuing services -- one-on-one and group therapy sessions, for example -- to help kids through the long process of dealing with pain and grief.

A bevy of speakers took to the podium yesterday, with the keynote address made by Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She announced a $60,000 state grant to help the program and hailed the focus on treating children early, a method she said would help keep kids from repeating cycles of violence.

Time of need

Dr. Phil Leaf, the executive director of the program, said the new headquarters is needed more than ever, nearly three weeks after the police shooting of Larry Hubbard in Barclay.

"You might have 50 kids that see something like the Hubbard shooting and they are all affected adversely," said Leaf, who noted that it will cost about $250,000 in public and private grants to keep the program afloat each year and pay for rent in the roughly 3,000-square-foot headquarters building, which had been abandoned.

Therapists and specially trained police went into the Barclay neighborhood immediately after the Hubbard shooting. "The tension, the pain, was tremendous down there," said Sgt. Richard Hite, the program's police coordinator. He said it was his task to "make the community know the police are on hand for healing."

Letting it out

Lorraine Eubanks, 38, had never heard of the program until yesterday. The mother of three, who lives in East Baltimore, saw a sign announcing the dedication as she walked the neighborhood with her 3-year-old daughter, Laisha, and decided to come inside.

Perhaps because she lives within the six-mile area patrolled by police in the Eastern District, where 64 killings were reported last year, Eubanks offered the afternoon's most heartfelt observation on need for the program.

"A lot of the kids here, they can't talk about their problems because they may not have a good home life, or nobody else to talk to, or they are just scared to show feelings because it makes you vulnerable," she said. "But Lord knows, we need to get things off our chest. If you keep it all bottled in tight, it can come out in bad ways."

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