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Local program focuses on mental health for infants and caregivers

Some of the most influential years for setting the right foundation are for children ages birth to 5 years. 'Right Start' is dedicated to treating children in that age range when there are concerns about emotions, behavior or development.

DENVER — There were two things missing from Kaylei Hinkson's life: a personality of her own and the opportunity to just be a kid.

But that all changed after Kaylei was treated at Dahlia Campus for Health & Well-Being. Kaylei was part of the center's Right Start for Infant Mental Health, a program that treats children ages birth to 5 years when there are concerns about emotions, behavior or development.

Amanda and Greg Hinkson, who adopted Kaylei a few years ago, said they knew some type of neglect or trauma had occurred with her.

“In the beginning, we didn't see anything that would lead us to believe that she had any type of trauma," Amanda Hinkson said. "But you know something is there. They're in foster care for a reason."

Amanda and Greg Hinkson said they needed help if they were going to move forward as a family.

Right Start Program Manager Michelle Roy said the program provides outpatient and home- and community-based therapy services, called "play therapy."

“That's where they're most comfortable, and for us to intervene, we can't sit down and tell a child what to do or where to go," Roy said. "So we use what they're already putting out and giving to us, and looking for those pieces to connect. That's how they tell us about their world, so it's our job to listen to it and bring that to light and then magnify it and help the caregiver be the interpreter and translator of that play."

Amanda Hinkson said she sees Kaylei relaxing through the treatment.

“Through the playing they bring up that this is family, this is forever," Amanda Hinkson said. "She started talking -- and talking a lot."

The therapy helps new parents differentiate between trauma and normal behavior.

“We didn’t have kids, so we didn't know if this is typical behavior for a 4-year-old, or is it heightened because of the trauma?” Amanda Hinkson said.

The Hinksons are one of hundreds of families undergoing the Right Start treatment program. 

“We say a lot of the time, it's some of the hardest work," Roy said. "We see families when they're at their lowest, but we're also fortunate and blessed enough to be able to see them at some of the best points too."

The ‘Right Start’ program was awarded a $2.5 million dollar grant in late 2018, which will help 150 more families in Denver have access to infant and early childhood mental health services. 

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