The Behavior Clinic was founded in 2003 by the College of Education and Penfield Children’s Center, a large community-based agency serving inner-city families with young children with developmental disabilities.

The Behavior Clinic offers mental health services for children who are experiencing significant behavior and emotional problems. Graduate students receive specialized training and gain supervised clinical experiences working directly with children and their families. The clinic also has an ongoing applied research program that regularly contributes findings to the relatively new field of pediatric mental health.

 

The Role of The Behavior Clinic

Raising a child can be a difficult task. But raising a child with significant behavior and emotional problems, including aggression, major temper tantrums, high non-compliance, hyperactivity, separation anxiety or self-abuse can be overwhelming. This is particularly true for poverty-stricken families. Early identification and treatment of these challenging behaviors help prevent more serious issues from developing in and improve the families' quality of life. The Behavior Clinic provides proven treatment strategies to help parents improve their young children's mental health.

The need for the Behavior Clinic quickly became clear through Marquette's partnership with the Penfield Children's Center. Ninety-five percent of the families who seek help at Penfield live at or below poverty level, and three-quarters of the parents are single mothers, many of whom have less than a high school education. Nearly 80 percent of the children at Penfield have been diagnosed with a developmental disability, and approximately 70 percent who are seen at the Behavior Clinic also meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis.

When the Behavior Clinic was established in 2003, the original goal was to run it as a one-year pilot project to gain information about its need, viability and success. During the inaugural year, the clinic served 23 families — enough to justify a second year. In its second year, the clinic served 58 families, with more than 350 clinical visits made to families' homes.

The clinic now routinely serves several hundred children each year, including literally thousands of in-home treatment sessions.

Clinic Goals and Objectives

The Behavior Clinic has three primary goals: service, training and applied research.

  • Service
    The Behavior Clinic offers mental health services for low-income families with toddlers who are experiencing significant behavior and emotional problems and developmental disabilities. Clinic services begin with a comprehensive intake evaluation to evaluate each child's referral concern. After the intake evaluation, parents are encouraged to participate in the clinic's in-home treatment program that directly addresses their child's behavior and emotional problems. A behavior plan is developed for each child. Parents are taught effective strategies to improve their child's behavior during an average of 8 to 10 in-home treatment sessions.
  • Training
    Training is a central activity at the Behavior Clinic. Graduate students become involved in the clinic through their university's clinical practicum and internship courses. Graduate students receive specialized training to fully participate in all aspects of the Behavior Clinic. After an intensive training program that introduces Penfield and the Behavior Clinic's procedures, new students are paired with veteran clinicians to begin work with children and families. Graduate students learn the clinic's procedures through training seminars, observation, shadowing and by gradually assuming the role of a case manager. All students receive regular supervision.
  • Applied research
    The Behavior Clinic routinely collects outcome data to assess the effectiveness of its clinical services and develop effective clinical procedures that can be taught to other students and professionals around the country. Beyond applied research efforts, graduate students are encouraged to use the clinic for their doctoral dissertation research.

Clinic Services

Founding director, Dr. Robert A. Fox, professor of counseling psychology and a licensed psychologist, is the consulting psychologist for the Behavior Clinic. The clinic is staffed by doctoral- and master's-level graduate students enrolled in counseling or psychology programs at Marquette and other local universities.

Intake

Each family referred to the Behavior Clinic goes through a two-hour intake evaluation that includes the following:

  • Direct observation of the interactions between a parent and child during play
  • Administration of an intellectual screening test to assess the child's level of cognitive development
  • A comprehensive parent interview to evaluate the referral concern and the parent's willingness and motivation to participate in the treatment program
  • Administration of several instruments, including the Parent Behavior Checklist, which measures parent expectations and responses to the child's behavior problems; the Early Child Behavior Screen, which measures the frequency of the child's behavior problems; and the Parent-Child Relationship Scale, which evaluates the quality of the parent- child relationship
  • A staffing to share the intake results with the family

In-Home Treatment Program

 

Families are visited weekly in their homes for an average of 8 to 10 sessions. A day before each visit, a clinician contacts the families to remind them of the appointment. At the first session, specific rules are established regarding how the home visits are to occur (e.g., the child and parent must be present; distractions such as visitors and TV must be kept to a minimum). The first part of the treatment program involves strengthening the parent-child relationship. This goal is achieved by teaching parents nondirective play strategies to use with their children every day.

The second part of the treatment program addresses the original referral concern. Parents are taught specific techniques to strengthen their children's prosocial behaviors, such as following parental requests, playing appropriately with siblings and picking up their toys. As this treatment component is implemented, parents also are taught how to provide effective consequences for their children's challenging behaviors, such as tantrums, aggression and property destruction. For these consequences, the clinic relies on proven strategies from professional literature, such as ignoring, timeouts and redirection. Parents are instructed to use the strategies every day and document their effectiveness.

In addition to the in-home treatment program, staff members routinely refer other services, such as early education programs for children and counseling for parents.

Early Pathways Training Program

 

The Early Pathways Program is an online evidence-based training program for mental health professionals who serve families of young children with behavior problems. In November 2015, SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices awarded this program its highest rating for effectively addressing serious behavior problems in at-risk young children.

Based on the proven treatment strategies of the Behavior Clinic, the self-paced program provides a comprehensive and integrated assessment and treatment protocol for addressing significant behavior problems in children five years of age and younger including serious tantrums, aggression, property destruction and self-injury.

Get more information or sign up for the course.

Summary

The Behavior Clinic makes a significant impact locally and nationally. Graduate students and area professionals gain valuable experience by working with children and parents, learning new ways to understand early child behavioral and emotional problems and help parents interact positively with their children. The research that results from this program provides valuable knowledge in the field and is disseminated to others. Furthermore, the Clinic helps children and parents who have a very great need but limited resources, providing services that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

For more information about the Behavior Clinic, training opportunities for graduate students and the clinic's research, contact Dr. Alan Burkard.

Behavior Clinic Staff

Behavior Clinic Staff
  • Amy Beschta, LPC; Senior Family Counselor
  • Emily Doyle, Marquette Master's Student Intern
  • Courtney Ernst, M.S.; Counselor-in-Training (LPC-IT)
  • Meagan Langfield, M.S.; Bilingual Counselor-in-Training (LPC-IT)
  • Kim Marcin, LPC; Licensed Family Counselor
  • Michelle Rosenwald, LPC; Licensed Family Counselor
  • Heather Rotolo, LCSW, Director of Behavior Clinic
  • Kari Walters, Master's Intern & Evaluation Coordinator
  • Sarah Wittmann, LPC; Senior Family Counselor

Contact Information

 To contact the Behavior Clinic, please call (414) 345-6351.