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Social Distancing: Breaking Down the Barriers of Mental Health Stigma with KidsPeace

KidsPeacelogoKidsPeace came on our radar while we were researching organizations that offer family support for autism treatment. Little did we know how incredible and expansive this organization is and how they are serving all of the needs with their Behavioral Health services. Join Chis Ferry and Robert Martin for some awareness, some enlightenment, and some positive action towards reducing mental health stigma.


socialdistancingQuestions and Answers from KidsPeace:

Tell us about KidsPeace?

KidsPeace is a 134-year-old non-profit provider of mental and behavioral health services with over 60 programs spanning 9 states. Our mission is to give help, hope and healing to children, families and communities.

KidsPeace originally opened in 1882 as a home for children orphaned by a smallpox epidemic, and has since helped more than 230,000 individuals though our continuum of care.

How many kids benefit from KidsPeace’s programming each year?

In 2015, KidsPeace served 11,800 children and adolescents in its treatment facilities, and reached thousands more through outreach efforts. Additionally, KidsPeace operates Orchard Behavioral Health, programs specifically for adults, at three locations in PA and treated 895 individuals ages 18 through 65 last years.

What are the specific types of care that KidsPeace provides?

KidsPeace services can be broken down into four levels of care:

KidsPeace Hospital – located in Orefield PA, is a 120-bed freestanding inpatient hospital caring for children and adolescents ages 5-21 in serious crisis. It provides individualized treatment through a multidisciplinary team consisting of psychiatrists, social workers, nurses and therapists.

Residential Treatment – available in Pennsylvania (226 bed), Maine (44 bed), Georgia (60 bed), and Minnesota (123 bed). KidsPeace’s therapeutic residential centers treat children and adolescents in need of a comprehensive approach to a variety of conditions – including behavioral disorders, depression, sexual and physical abuse, family-based dysfunction and Autism Spectrum Disorders. The goal is to equip clients with the life skills and appropriate behaviors needed for their long-term success in the community and society. In Minnesota, the KidsPeace Mesabi Academy is part of the state’s juvenile justice system, addressing the therapeutic needs of delinquent and non-delinquent young males.

Foster Care – KidsPeace provides foster care services to children across the county, from Maine to North Carolina and Pennsylvania to Indiana. This department identifies, trains and oversees foster parents, as they provide therapeutic and intensive foster care to kids from birth to 21. In 2015 foster care locations admitted 1,031 clients and the majority find success after placement. 71.5% of KidsPeace foster care clients end up living in an equal or less restrictive environment and 13% are adopted.

Community-Based Services – has outpatient locations in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Maine. These programs provide assessment and treatment services in a variety of settings including:

  • Acute partial hospitalization, Autism day treatment programs, Targeted case management, Family and individual counseling, Medication and nutritional management, Walk-in assessments, & In-home therapeutic services and support.

What department do you oversee and how long have you been with KidsPeace?

Chris Ferry: I currently oversee PA Community Program which consists of 4 outpatient facilities, 4 specialized autism programs, and 3 partial hospital settings. I’ve been with KidsPeace for 18 years and have held every position from line staff and clinician, to manager and executive director, which is my current role.

Early in my professional career I made the decision to focus on mental health because I find human behavior interesting, wanted to be a service to the community and tend to be a helper by nature. Later in my career I’ve focused more on creating services and decreasing the negative stigmatism associated with mental illness.

Let’s talk more about the negative stigma associated with mental illness.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults and children in the US will experience mental illness in a given year. 1 in 25 adults (4%) will experience a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with their ability to function at home or in the community.

Yet, a staggering 60% of adults don’t seek help for a mental illness and just over half (50.6%) of children aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year. An estimated 46% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with a severe mental illness and/or substance use disorder. Adding to this is the sobering fact that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages, and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. More than 90% of children who die from suicide have a mental health condition.

And you believe stigma has a major influence…

Stigma is perhaps the biggest barrier to mental health care, and manifests in a phenomenon known as social distancing, whereby people with mental issues are more isolated from others. Harmful effects of stigma can include not only the reluctance to seek help, but also a lack of understanding by family, friends, and co-workers, along with fewer opportunities for work, and bullying, violence and harassment. Judgments typically stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognizing what you need to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others makes a big difference.

I often give an example of being diagnosed with a medical condition as a way to start a conversation around stigma. If your uncle is diagnosed with cancer, the family network provides empathy, support and sympathy; but if your uncle is diagnosed with schizophrenia would the same occur? Unfortunately, we still have a negative stigma associated with mental illness and the first step is recognizing that cancer and serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia are both a disease. No one wants to be diagnosed with either and our reactions, support or lack of support have a profound impact on the prognosis.

You alluded to creating services – what population is currently underserved?

The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder has grown over that past decade and is now at 1 in every 68 children in the US. Autism is a complex disorder of brain development characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors with the most obvious signs emerging between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age.

There is currently no cure for autism and no consensus on the cause, but research points to environmental, biological and genetic factors. However, studies have shown that early intervention services greatly improve development and outcomes.  Particularly, the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) which involves the application of basic behavioral practices (positive reinforcement, repetition, and prompting) is considered “best practice” in the development of language and social skills.

In the past 3 years I was able to create more services for children and adolescents with autism – with each program having a specialized ABA approach. My current focus is on providing treatment options for adults with autism because of the lack of resources.

What’s the current situation like for adults with autism in PA and what direction is KidsPeace moving to support?

The Bureau of Autism Services in Pennsylvania released findings from a recent report that indicated a shortage of providers for adults with autism. More than two thirds of adults with autism are unemployed because the necessary supports are not available. Caring for an individual with autism takes an economic and emotional toll on families. 85% of individuals with autism have a co-occurring disorder (ADHD, anxiety…), complicating the amount and type of services needed.

More than 1 in 4 adults with autism report that they need, but do not receive, vocational training, career counseling, supported employment and help with transition planning. KidsPeace is working on establishing programs that can help bridge this service gap and provide resources to adults with autism and their families.

Speaking of bridging the gap for services, some of your facilities in Pennsylvania are using “telepsychiatry” – what are its advantages?

Telepsychiatry is similar to telemedicine which has been around for several years. However, the doctor involved in telepsychiatry is a medical practitioner specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness (psychiatrist).

During a telepsychiatry appointment the individual sits at a computer screen in an outpatient location to discuss mental health issues with a psychiatrist at a remote location. The technology used meets all state and federal privacy laws and consumer feedback has been very positive.

Telepsychiatry helps decrease wait times for individuals. On average, the wait time for a face to face appointment is about 3 months while a telepsychiatry appointment can be offered within a week. With the world becoming more and more computer-dependent and the explosion of social networks, having an appointment with a psychiatrist via a video feed has been well received.

What other services does KidsPeace provide, outside of direct care?

KidsPeace shares information on best practices and children’s mental health issues in a variety of ways.

  • Over 26,000 copies of Healing Magazine were distributed in 2015 and can be found at
  • Net is an anonymous help-line website for teens that was developed by experts in teen counseling and professionally monitored.
  • Net is a place where parents can communicate with counselors and contains parenting information and tips, help lines and topics to educate and assist with parenting issues.
  • KidsPeace is also active on social media through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

You mentioned that KidsPeace is a not-for-profit organization. Where does its funding come from?

The organization is governed by a volunteer National Board of Directors, which oversees the management and sets the strategic direction. The organization is supported by Boards of Associates in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia and North Carolina; these dedicated volunteers help champion the mission of KidsPeace by locating and securing resources and raising public awareness.

KidsPeace receives reimbursement from insurances, both 3rd party and Medical Assistance (Medicaid). Most locations have an in-network agreement to provide the varying levels of care. Some programs receive grants or county funds to provide services.

Additionally, as a 501-C-3 non-profit organization, KidsPeace accepts donations – which are tax-deductible to the limits allowed. Donations to the KidsPeace Children’s Fund are unrestricted dollars used to improve facilities, programs, recreation, and care of the children we serve. Gifts can be made online at

KidsPeace also has various fundraising events each year including a Family Fun Mud Run, Golf Classic, 5k, Soccer Tournament, and an Angel Tree.


Chris Ferry, Executive Director of PA Community Programs has been employed with KidsPeace since 1998, holding numerous positions within the corporation. He received a master’s degree in agency counseling and is a state- and nationally-certified school psychologist. Chris has extensive knowledge working with juvenile delinquents, gangs and testing preschool children for Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has lectured and provided trainings to local colleges, universities, agencies and high schools on varying diagnoses, suicide prevention and developmental delays.

Chris Ferry, Executive Director of PA Community Programs has been employed with KidsPeace since 1998, holding numerous positions within the corporation. He received a master’s degree in agency counseling and is a state- and nationally-certified school psychologist. Chris has extensive knowledge working with juvenile delinquents, gangs and testing preschool children for Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has lectured and provided trainings to local colleges, universities, agencies and high schools on varying diagnoses, suicide prevention and developmental delays.

Robert J. Martin is Director of Public Relations and Communications at KidsPeace. He brings Robert Martin headshotmore than thirty years of experience in media, corporate communications and non-profit/community involvement to this role, and has experience in a variety of industries, including broadcasting, publishing and manufacturing,in addition to healthcare and non-profit management.  Bob lives in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania with his wife Deb, an author of several popular books on gardening, composting and bird-watching.

autism programs, autism spectrum disorders, autistic children, behavioral health, families, foster care, hope, mental health, residential treatment, specialized autism treatment, stigma

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