Local organizations promote mental health awareness for children News, sports, jobs


Children’s mental health has received more press coverage in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of suicides among children between the ages of 5 and 11 increased by 15 percent each year from 2012 to 2017.

Dr. Patrick Ward of Ward Therapy Associates LLC in Williamstown recommends several warning signs of a child’s mental health.

Sudden changes in normal daily activities such as sleeping, eating, sexual behavior, socializing, or toileting.

Social isolation

Game style change

Change in emotional stability or response to different situations

School is missing more than usual

Increased complaints about pain such as headaches and stomachaches.

Ward said if a parent suspects a child is having a problem, they should talk to them at a quiet time, such as bedtime. Then the parent and child can talk to another adult in their life, such as a teacher, school counselor, or family doctor.

“I get referrals to see all the time from school counselors and family doctors.” he said.

A vibrant, sea-creature and ocean-themed mural greets visitors to the North Star Children’s Advocacy Center in Parkersburg, W.C. (Photo by Christine Heinkel)

In serious situations like abuse or neglect, a local organization aims to make the painful process easier.

The North Star Child Advocacy Center is a non-profit organization that brings together local law enforcement, mental health providers and forensic interviewers under one roof to ensure a child never repeats their story again and again.

According to Assistant Director Julie Nutter, North Star staff conducts entrance interviews after referrals are made to the center by either law enforcement or child protective services. A group of experts from the previously mentioned bodies will decide what kind of treatment to take next.

Nutter said the Child Advocacy model was designed with the patient in mind.

“Before the Child Advocacy Center, a child had to tell their story many times. They get tired and their story can change. This model allows the child to tell their story once. More of a chat with our ladies if you have a comfortable room.

To avoid the need for intervention, executive director Greg Collins has taken a proactive approach.

“We’re trying to get more on the pre-stimulus side.” he said. “We have been going to schools in our region and teaching children about issues that may pass. We have noticed a high rate of disclosure after these presentations.

Collins added, “I came from a law enforcement career. You must go first to stop the crime. Every time you go to school, you can create awareness.

According to Collins, 618 children were referred to the North Star Child Advocacy Center in 2022. 461 were from Wood County. Their service area includes Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wood and Wirt counties.

In the name of prevention, Ward offers a list of activities that aim to increase a child’s mental health:

Limit screen time

Create or listen to music

Artistic expression

Free play—unstructured playtime so a child can be creative and self-directed

Meeting with friends

15 to 20 minutes of undivided attention for parents

Responsibility – Giving a child something to do

Spend time outdoors

Ward said it’s important for parents to monitor their child’s mental health.

“I think it’s important because children want to come to adults, but they don’t have the words to describe the challenges. They don’t have an understanding of themselves yet.” he said.

He added: “Kids need to know they are not alone in their struggles.”

Collins added that adults should be mindful of who is with their child.

“One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in my career is that parents are afraid to look at people they know with suspicion.” he said. “People think doubt makes you a bad person, but it doesn’t.”

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