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San Diego Center for Children tends to kids' emotional, behavioral health

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To Edwin Kofler, a fundamental cornerstone of a healthy society is that the behavioral health and emotional well being of every child and adolescent in the community are ensured. Kofler is the CEO of the San Diego Center for Children, an organization he came to 10 years ago after 17 years in administration at Scripps Health.

The San Diego Center for Children provides comprehensive programs and services for kids with behavioral, emotional, social and educational issues. With a staff of more than 300 people serving about 1,000 children and families in eight locations countywide, the center helps kids adjust, adapt and change their behavior so they can succeed at home, in school and in the world. Founded in 1887, The San Diego Center for Children is the community's oldest accredited nonprofit organization serving children, youth and families.

Edwin Kofler

Nearly one in 10 children suffers with severe emotional and behavioral challenges that often require a change in school placement or even removal from his/her home or community. The struggle is compounded by the stigma of mental health issues that are widely misunderstood. For children who cannot function in their homes, the San Diego Center for Children campus serves as their home away from home, where they receive the treatment and guidance to learn coping tools so they can return to their home and community. Some center children receive day treatment, while others achieve stability through the center's foster care program.

"We meet our challenge every day for the kids in our care," Kofler said, "and the center does this even though government at all levels has dramatically cut funding for mental health services across the board. I certainly recognize the challenge of prioritizing massive budgets. But I believe that first we take care of our own, and our children should be at the highest level."

It's a tough sell at the county, state and federal levels, where funding for the kind of programs and services offered at the center fall far short. "Our commitment to serve each child that comes to us keeps us constantly fighting for support," said Kofler. "Each year the reimbursement for the care of our children decreases and we have to compete for the kind hearts in the public and private sectors to compensate. There is no room for compromise. We're talking about our children."

The center contracts with San Diego mental health services and many school districts in San Diego County. The scope of its work, noted Kofler, is dramatic.

"We work with children at the highest level of care before hospitalization, as well as with families that are experiencing behaviors or family dynamics that concern parents, teachers and counselors. As children mental health advocates, we can provide immediate and thorough assessment, an accredited non-public school, therapy and outpatient services and residential care for kids who need help outside the home."

The San Diego Center for Children also has programs to assure that the child's return to family and community is successful and that families have the tools and support to help the child succeed.

When the behavioral and emotional needs of children go unattended, Kofler emphasized, the results can be devastating to the child, family and community. "You don't have to go far beyond the headlines to see what happens to troubled kids when there is no assertive intervention and long-term programs to help to them cope."

"As costly as it might be to treat a youngster for behavioral and emotional turmoil early, the cost later is even more dramatic," he added.

Kofler's mission at the San Diego Center for Children is to make sure that all children receive care regardless of reimbursement.

"We have built a strong donor base of individuals and corporations who have shown a strong commitment to the health and well being of our children. We are also looking into offering parents the opportunity to pay directly for services at our Counseling Center, for example."

The goal, according to Kofler, is both simple and complex: "We need to do whatever it takes."

The San Diego Center for Children will host its annual dinner on Saturday, June 23 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. Rana Sampson, "the First Lady of San Diego," is the special guest speaker at the event. For information, contact Nicole Ring at (858) 569-2148.

Heald is principal of Beck Ellman Heald.

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