Taylor Manor Hospital will offer intensive inpatient treatment services to children 9 to 12 years old as part of a reorganization of its adolescent treatment program.

In response to a growing number of younger patients with severe emotional problems, the Ellicott City psychiatric hospital will halve the size of its 40-bed adolescent unit and open an 18-bed unit for preadolescents Jan. 15.

"I think there are more severe problems that are occurring with a larger number of younger patients than we have seen in previous years," said Dr.

John DeFrate, a staff psychiatrist at Taylor Manor who will head up the unit.

"I think that's a function of societal changes in general. There's more awareness of the needs of children and recognition of abuse," he said.

Over the past two years Taylor Manor has received an increasing number of referrals for increasingly younger patients. The hospital accepted some of them in the inpatient adolescent unit, designed for 12- to 18-year-olds, but recognized that preteens needed a different setting for treatment, DeFrate said.

One of the main changes in the unit will be simplification the "behavior" point system.

Most inpatient psychiatric programs for children and adolescents operate on point systems in which patients "can earn different levels of activity," based on points they earn for their behavior and performance of daily chores, he said.

The younger patients' time will be more regimented and structured than that of the adolescent patients.

Sessions in the gymnasium and craft projects will augment traditional therapy sessions.

In addition, a two-bed room in the adolescent unit is being converted to a "therapy playroom" to provide a more relaxed setting for children to discuss their problems.

"You're less likely to sit down in a room with a 12-year-old child and have them open up," DeFrate said. "It's difficult with adolescents also, but more so with younger patients."

He expects that many of the children admitted to the new unit will suffer from depression, stress, suicidal tendencies and aggressive behavior --problems frequently associated with child abuse and growing up in a dysfunctional family.

"You don't very often see a completed suicide, but it does occasionally occur," DeFrate said. "And certainly the feeling that life is not worth living is something we take very seriously."

The unit will also treat children with "special needs," resulting from learning disabilities, hyperactivity and anxiety disorders.

When possible, parents of the young patients will be involved in the therapy process. A support group will be available for parents, and a social worker on the unit will provide family therapy services. How long a child might remain at the hospital will depend on the individual's progress.

"Very often we work with families that have had problems with functioning for one reason or another: illness, loss, death," DeFrate said.

"The parents sometimes had disruptive upbringings themselves, which they had trouble resolving."

The unit will work closely with area child support agencies, including Child Protective Services and the Juvenile Services Administration, to decide what type of setting will be best for a child after leaving the inpatient program.

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