Therapeutic support staff may be the unsung heroes of children's mental health care. These dedicated professionals carry the directives of emotionally disturbed youngsters' treatment plans to homes, schools, other community locations—wherever they can do the most good. Working closely with therapists, medical care providers, parents, and teachers, therapeutic support personnel give personalized attention to the youngster with the goal of improving emotional health—and avoiding restrictive care and/or placement in a mental health facility.
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Duties of Therapeutic Staff Providers
The primary focus of a therapeutic support provider is to work one on one with a young client in accordance with his or her individual behavior treatment plan. The duties are varied: keeping the treatment plan in mind, the staff member assists the child or teen in avoiding unacceptable behavior, plays an emotionally supportive role, encourages social interaction and participation in group activities, and helps the child's family and caregivers promote acceptable behavior and more independence. To ensure that all those on the team are on the same page, regular meetings are essential. The support personnel (who are actually in the trenches) can act a liaison between educators, therapists, doctors, and parents.
Depending on the child's specific difficulties, the practitioner may need to assist the child with anger management, encourage him or her to eliminate harmful behavior, help the young charge refrain from distracting, disturbing, or hitting other children, or promote an increased attention span. The provider must rely on his or her discretion to know the best (and least restrictive) responses and support techniques to eliminate undesirable actions and encourage acceptable behavior. Keeping things positive is a must; therapeutic staff members should become a trusted guide. Developing a healthy relationship, providing stimulating activities to improve life skills, and giving incentives and rewards for success will go far in implementing the child's treatment plan. Teens and older kids may need help with obtaining jobs or finding community activities that fit their interests. The TSS provider, because he or she knows the young person well, is in a position to discover such opportunities and make them a reality.
Requirements for Therapeutic Staff Providers
A Bachelor's degree in education, psychology, or a related field is a basic requirement. Courses in abnormal and child psychology, psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, behavior therapy, motivational and learning techniques, and neurology are necessary.
In lieu of the above, a Bachelor's degree in another field supplemented by at least a year of paid experience with emotionally disturbed children may be acceptable. (Supervision by a mental health practitioner with a Master's degree is required.)
Details of the Job
TSS personnel may work for government or private agencies or go into private practice. They often receive pay determined by the number of clients they help, and these professionals are frequently employed on a contract basis. Support staff members work with a variety of children: those with psychiatric illnesses, autism, depression, and other emotional and behavioral issues. Such youngsters may develop sudden, violent outbursts; TSS members must receive training and have the ability to manage them.
Salary and Employment Outlook
Therapeutic support professionals earn, on average, $13.51 an hour or an annual salary of $27,500.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that necessary services be available without charge to every young person between the ages of three and 21 with a physical or emotional disability. During the 2013-2014 academic year, over 354,000 emotionally challenged young people were recipients of such individualized services. That translates, according to National Institute of Mental Health, to one in five American children with a current or past serious mental health condition. And a childfind.org report discovered that a whopping 80% of such disorders develop during childhood. Considering the sheer numbers of children and teens affected by emotional disturbances (the term used by the IDEA), therapeutic support staff personnel are an essential link in the chain of mental health. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase in demand for all healthcare support positions.
A therapeutic support staff professional can look forward to a rewarding career with a secure future. Those with a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of children most in need of help will find satisfaction in the daily positive changes they make in their young charges. They are the ones whose names will be fondly remembered by each child touched by their caring and concern.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics