News

Published:

September 14, 2016
 
Tagged: Derner School of Psychology, Adelphi University

A Safe Haven for Hempstead’s Struggling Students

News


by Bonnie Eissner

HandprintsAs a school psychologist at the high school in Hempstead, New York, Kirkland Vaughans, Ph.D. ’85, saw a troubling trend: students in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten were being suspended and expelled at a very high rate. “Unlike others who see the school-to-prison pipeline as beginning in high school or middle school, I saw it beginning in the pre-K,” Dr. Vaughans said. He knew that the children and their families—who are largely African American and Latino/a and low income—needed access to better mental healthcare, and he took action to start a low-cost clinic for children and their families.

Dr. Vaughans first lined up the support of Adelphi University’s Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, where he serves as a senior adjunct professor. He approached the dean, Jacques P. Barber, Ph.D. “I went and told him what I wanted to do, but it would require his backing a 1,000 percent—not 100, a 1,000,” Dr. Vaughans said. “And he said, ‘You got it.’ And he was good to his word.”

It took another two years to secure the buy-in needed from community partners, but with persistence Dr. Vaughans won over the Hempstead school district, the Mental Health Association of Nassau County and the New York State Office of Mental Health. In February 2015, the Derner Hempstead Child Clinic opened, and, in May 2016, the FAR Fund of New York City granted Adelphi $153,000 over three years to compensate the faculty and students who work there.

Now, Hempstead elementary school students who are struggling due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities and other conditions have a place to turn. Students from Derner’s clinical psychology doctoral program and its school psychology master’s program evaluate and treat the young clients. Four Derner faculty members who have expertise in child psychology provide close supervision. They are Laura Brumariu, Ph.D., assistant professor; Karen Lombardi, Ph.D., professor; Ionas Sapountzis, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the school psychology program; and Dr. Vaughans.

Until last spring, when she left to become dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Francine Conway, Ph.D. ’99, a former professor and department chair at Derner, served as the clinic’s administrative director. She also collaborated with Dr. Vaughans to establish the clinic’s psychodynamic treatment approach.

“I counted on her as I was gathering the political support,” Dr. Vaughans said, adding that the clinic would have been “nothing” without her leadership on the clinical side.

“The clinic is well on the way to becoming a refuge, for not only the children but for their parents as well,” Dr. Conway said.

She and Dr. Vaughans also credited Catherine Holder, a Derner doctoral student, with helping them get the clinic up and running. 

Beyond benefiting the community, the clinic gives Derner students crucial hands-on experience treating an underserved population. Derner students “need to know that what they’re learning can benefit those who are in need,” Dr. Vaughans said. “What these students are doing with these children is changing the trajectory of their lives.”

The FAR Fund grant provides stipends for the students and faculty supervisors and additional money for operating expenses. Denise Hien, Ph.D., professor, and Jonathan Jackson, Ph.D., director of Derner’s Center for Psychological Services and field training and director of the Derner Internship Consortium, prepared the grant fund proposal and are the co-principal investigators.

Dr. Jackson described the clinic and the FAR Fund support as the results of true collaboration and community partnership.

 
Tagged: Derner School of Psychology, Adelphi University