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By Michael P. Kearns

The Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center opened in West Seneca in 1970. The center takes seriously emotionally disturbed children between the ages of 4 and 18 from Western New York.

Children who are admitted to the facility have lives scarred by trauma such as sexual molestation, physical abuse, bullying, death of parents, abandonment, neglect and intense family conflicts.

Despite the significant volume of patients, the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center has the lowest reinstatement or reinstitutionalization rate of any facility in New York State.

The image that keeps returning to me with regard to the Children’s Psychiatric Center is the children’s handprints and quotes upon the walls that you see when visiting the campus. Children who leave the facility put handprints on a wall with encouraging quotes to others still receiving treatment.

In the words of Sarah, a patient who was admitted to the facility suffering from severe depression, the handprints were a reminder that she “could do this,” she could get better because so many other children in similar circumstances received healing from this safe place.

For another former resident, Erin, the handprints were symbols of hope, at a facility with a staff like family, teaching essential coping skills for mental illness or physical or sexual abuse.

So many of us look to the accomplishments of athletes and their halls of fame in Canton, Ohio, or Cooperstown for inspiration, but in a greater sense these children have built their own hall of fame, highlighting their achievements in overcoming greater challenges within themselves. It is a campus no less worthy than the places we build to honor athletes, and the hands figuratively touch us and can truly inspire.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing that the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center be moved to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. Moving these children into an adult setting would not be therapeutically beneficial and may in fact be detrimental to the psyches of many of these children. The likelihood of reinstitutionalization and thus higher costs to New York would increase by moving this facility to an adult psychiatric center, as studies show.

Cuomo should allow the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center to continue to do the great work that it has been able to achieve at this facility for the last 43 years and into the future with the continued benefits for the children of Western New York.

He should not shutter this campus. Children and adolescents should be treated differently from adults in all areas of mental health.

Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, represents the 142nd Assembly District.