Oct. 10, 2019 – Today I visited with the staff of the Polinsky Children’s Center, a 24-hour facility for the temporary emergency shelter of children from birth to 18 years old who must be separated from their families for their own safety, or when parents cannot provide care. The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency operates the facility and Rady Children’s is contracted to provide medical care.
As Rhonda Sparr-Perkins, director of care management and redesign, told me, the center opened in 1994 as a shelter for abused and neglected children, but now sees more children and adolescents with psychological issues and significant developmental delays such as autism spectrum disorder, along with those in foster care who have had multiple placements or had challenges living in group homes. County employees oversee each child’s case, and Rady Children’s medical staff provides comprehensive medical and mental health assessments, ensuring children receive appropriate care, treatment and stabilization towards a safe return to their family or successful transition into placement with relatives, a foster family or group setting.
My visit began at intake, where children are admitted to the facility. This can be a scary time, so staff members are on hand to offer kids comfort, food and guidance on what to expect during their stay. Sometimes this involves looking through a photo album of the center so kids have an idea of where they will be staying and some of the amenities available to them, which include a gym, playground, swimming pool, craft and game rooms, a library, an athletic field, and basketball courts. The facility is brightly decorated with artwork and seasonal décor (during this visit it was all about Halloween). The center admits about 130 children every month, with an average stay of 10 days or less. During my visit, 50 children were staying at the facility. After each child is admitted (which can happen at any hour, day and night) Rady Children’s nurses give them a head to toe assessment, triage their needs and coordinate medications.
The center sits on 10 landscaped acres and offers safe housing in a friendly, healing environment, which includes six residential cottages, an infant nursery, a cafeteria and an onsite school operated by the San Diego Unified School District. The K-12 school enables children to continue their education while in residence. If the child or adolescent is not a safety risk, center staff coordinates transportation to the child’s home school.
Next on my tour, we checked out the toddler cottage, where the youngest children stay. It’s a home-like environment with individual rooms and plenty of toys and activities available. Sometimes these kids will receive medical services, such as feedings through gastrostomy tubes. There are also rooms reserved for teen mothers to stay in with their babies.
We then visited the large cafeteria (which pulls out all the stops for holiday meals!), peeked into the library, and checked out the swimming pool and playground. It’s a peaceful, yet interactive environment that serves these kids well as they navigate through often challenging circumstances.
I was so impressed with the center staff. They teach these kids how to care for themselves and others, acquire important skills and learn to make good decisions during what could be one of the most difficult times in their lives. Thank you for your impressive dedication and for making a difference!