This article was written for the Herald News by:
Staff Reporter Deborah Allard
For the past five years, Saint Vincent’s has been quietly operating a mental health clinic open to the community, a place dedicated to kids who have experienced trauma in their young lives.
Executive Director John T. Weldon said Saint Vincent’s, long known as an orphanage, is today an agency that cares for children in a number of ways, including in its expansion of mental health services.
“We’re here and we’re available,” Weldon said. “We’re not just ‘the home’ anymore. We’re a multi-service agency.”
The Mental Health Clinic has mainly operated on referrals, having not promoted itself until now.
Last year, Saint Vincent’s Mental Health Clinic treated 840 clients, including both residential kids and those in the community.
Their young patients suffer from physical and sexual abuse, neglect, substance abuse, and parental substance abuse. They are treated for a variety of needs like anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, grief, mood disorders and more.
The kids work on things like adjusting to school or home and issues with family for as long as is medically necessary.
“All have experienced complex trauma,” said Chief Operating Officer Kristen L. Dutra, who was formerly the long-time clinical director. “Our clinic is very specialized.”
Weldon said it’s what makes Saint Vincent’s Mental Health Clinic unique to the area.
The clinic in 2011 started offering mental health care to residential patients when it ended services with an agency that was providing those services.
Saint Vincent’s was licensed by the Department of Public Health, and soon expanded and diversified its program “according to community needs,” Dutra said.
Mental health services are offered at Saint Vincent’s, 2425 Highland Ave., on an outpatient basis. Some services are given in childrens’ homes and in school.
It employs 14 clinicians, a psychologist, and a full-time and part-time psychiatrist.
Clinician offices are geared toward children, decorated in bright colors and themes, each with a working area and comfortable area. One office had a tent in the corner; another a doll house. Stuffed animals were perched on couches for hugging, and kids’ artwork lined the walls.
Weldon explained that the space helps kids open up and express themselves.
“Often, kids don’t put their feelings into words,” Weldon said. “We use different modalities.”
He said kids learn to express themselves in appropriate ways that help them get the support they need from adults.
In offering out-patient mental health care, Weldon said it keeps kids at home, rather than in residential facilities.
Saint Vincent’s opened in 1885 as an orphanage by the Roman Catholic Diocese and Sisters of Mercy. It operated as such on North Main Street until the 1960s or 70s.
Its current building opened in 1972.
“We haven’t been an orphanage for decades,” Weldon said.
Today, Saint Vincent’s offers a wide scope of programs to its residential children, all involved with the Department of Children & Families, as well as in-home, and out-patient services.
Some 90 children reside at St. Vincent’s, ages birth to 21. The Fall River Diocese operates as an umbrella organization over non-profit St. Vincent’s and on its Board of Directors, though St. Vincent’s runs its own day-to-day activities.
Two Sisters of Mercy nuns offer pastoral care on site.
Weldon said the mission of Saint Vincent’s is to reunite children with their families, whether that be biological, foster, or adoptive parents, as soon as is possible.
“That’s the goal of all of our services,” Weldon said.