Advocates for Children Paper

Matt Alspaugh

Advocates for Children
College Park Scholars
University of Maryland at College Park

The early years of a child's life are the most important ones. It is during this time that children develop the rudimentary physocal and social skills necessary for social interaction later in life. The environment that a child exists in for his or her early years plays as much a factor as anything in their early development. It is reported by the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) that, "one in ten family child care homes are of good enough quality to enhance children's development" (Children's Defense Fund). The CDF also reports that it costs an average of $4,940 per year to serve on child in a child care center. There is a place called the Children's Developmental Clinic that offers a place for children to interact and develop with other children at no cost.

The Children's Developmental Clinic has been helping children for the better part of the last thirty years. Since the 1950's the clinic has received numerous awards for their excellent work with children. The clinic provides a place for children with learning disabilities to go to every Saturday and work one on one with a clinician. They work on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and academics. Most importantly it gives children a loving environment to work and play in, an environment that they are not necessarily given in public schools.

Founded in the later half of the 1950's by Warn Johnson, a professor of Health Education the clinic was initially held at the University of Maryland at College Park. In 1968 another clinic was opened at a community college in Prince George's County. Paul Hahn, now Dr. Hahn joined the clinic in 1965. When Professor Johnson became terminally ill and died in 1981 Dr. Hahn took control of the clinic and has run it successfully ever since.

Presently the clinic serves children between birth and age twelve, the majority of which are boys between four and nine. Clinicians donate approximately 42,000 service hours annually for this program that is the only one in its geographical area that works one on one with special needs children. Approximately 275 clinicians serve 250 children for a 9 week period during the fall. These clinicians go through two, four hour long training courses prior to any work with the kids. These courses provide clinicians with the skills to work with and help the children who come to the clinic. The Children's Developmental Clinic is a non-profit organization and is funded by the College Park Rotary Club who annually donate between five and seven thousand dollars. The excellence in which the clinic serves children has been noticed by many organizations because it offers one of the leading volunteer services available to special needs children.

When children go to the clinic they work one on one with a clinician who they are scheduled to work with for the following nine weeks. There many options for the children beginning with the fine motor skills room. This room features arts and crafts and other various activities that children can use to develop their fine motor skills. In public schools children who have fine motor lags are not given the chance to improve and they are made fun of when it comes time to write or paint something. They become discouraged and do not want to participate anymore. The Children's Developmental Clinic provides a place for them to work on these motor skills without the worry of their peers making fun of them. One of the other rooms they can go to is the trampoline room where they work on motor skills of a different kind, gross motor skills. Bouncing on the trampoline develops balance and gives the child self confidence. Perhaps more importantly it develops a bond between the child and the clinician. By spotting the child when they are bouncing the clinician is showing that they will not let the child get hurt. It is quite difficult for this bond to occur in a public school setting because the teacher can not always look after every child. A certain level of trust is developed between the child and clinician when they use the trampoline. The third room that is available for the children to use is the mat room. The floors to the room are covered in wrestling mats so the kids can run and play. On one side of the room is an air mattress where numerous games can be played to improve the child's physical skills such as the balloon toss. Children can build forts together with mats and parachutes and play together inside of them. While the activities performed in the mat room do help the children with fine and gross motor skills it is more of a place for them to just have fun with each other.

The awards given to the Children's Developmental Clinic have been numerous over the years. The most recent ones the clinic has received include the Governor's Award for Volunteer Service and the Prince George's County Volunteer of the Year Award, both received in 1995. It has also received the J.C. Penney Helping Hand Award for excellence in working with children. The clinic has been recognized by the American Alliance of Health and Physical Education as one of the greatest clinics in the country that works with disabled children. The clinic's excellence in serving children has also been recognized by the College Park Rotary Club who presented it with the Paul Harris Fellowship Award. The Children's Developmental Clinic has also been given numerous awards from such organizations as the American Legion and the Special Olympics.

Held in the North Gym at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Prince George's Community College has served disabled children for more than thirty years. The clinic provides disabled children with a place to learn, grow, and flourish one on one with their own clinician. Skills that are not developed in public schools are improved at the clinic which helps the children to function better in that system. The numerous awards that the clinic has received show that not only does it provide a service for children but it provides that service with a level of excellence attained by very few other organizations. However, while the Children's Developmental Clinic is recognized by these organizations it is not recognized by the rest of society as much as it should be for its superb work with children. The lack of praise from the private sector is due to a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of respect for the clinic's work. I personally commend all of the people involved with the Children's Developmental Clinic. They are giving an opportunity to children who, without them, would otherwise be denied such a chance to grow and learn.


This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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