Director of the Children’s Institute JoAnne Pedro-Carroll received the National Program Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This award was given in recognition of the success of the Institute’s Children of Divorce Intervention Program. The Children’s Institute is a non-profit organization based in Rochester.

“I developed this program as part of my doctoral dissertation in 1984 at UR,” Carroll said. “I worked as a child psychologist in schools, and it became apparent to me that children needed a place where they could come together. Our program helps these children learn that divorce is hard, but not impossible. There are many children who come through it with resilience and are very well-adjusted.”

Carroll is also an associate professor at the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at UR.

She is one of the leading experts on the effects of divorce on children.

She developed the Children of Divorce Intervention Program, which has met with widespread success since its creation in 1982.

“Part of the process we go through is making sure the children know they’re not alone,” Director of the Children’s Institute Community Services Deborah Johnson said.

Eight studies conducted since then have demonstrated that the program has indeed helped ease the impact of divorce.

This is done by working with children’s natural inclination to adjust to changes in their surroundings.

The program focuses on researching the findings, testing the outcomes and continuing to make changes.

“We have been developing this program for 20 years,” Carroll said. “It is now a model program through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Model Program.”

The program is keyed for children in kindergarten through eighth grade and is distributed as a $30 kit – including a manual and a board game – to any school in the country wishing to participate in the program.

Each manual contains a specific curriculum to follow, based on the age of the children in the support group.

“The focus of our program is on group-based support,” Carroll said. “We help children develop a strong bond with one another. We also focus on skill-building to develop their coping skills and clarifying common misconceptions. We teach them that the breakup was not their fault or responsibility.”

Each curriculum was tested by the Children’s Institute on individual age groups to determine the most effective way to address different emotional responses.

“We tested children in what we determined to be a very stressful time for them,” Director of Development, Marketing and Communications McKenzie Keenan said.

The support groups are made up of children who have been identified as showing signs of emotional distress as the result of divorce.

They meet for 15 sessions, during which time the children get social support and the counselors help them learn to address their feelings.

“The Department of Health’s recognition of the intervention program will help the Institute and the Children of Divorce Intervention program a great deal,” Keenan said. “The more people who are aware of this program, the better we can help.”

Additional reporting

by Emily Paret.

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