|Home News Tribune Online 12/21/07
Rick Malwitz, Staff Writer
PISCATAWAY — A reward for working at the Children's
Transitional Residence can be quite simple.
"We had one boy, when he left he thanked his supervisor
for teaching him how to tie his shoes," recalled Joyce
Clark-Addison, the program director at the residential treatment
program, where the population of children, who range in
age from 5 to 10, is limited to eight.
At a Christmas party yesterday, six of seven young residents
here acted out scenes from " "Twas the Night Before
Christmas." They sang traditional Christmas songs and
had a surprise visit from Santa Claus, who, when asked by
one child where his reindeer were, said they were stranded
Each of the seven children was given two wrapped presents
by the visiting Santa, and they tore into them as children
"It is our hope that today they will feel like normal
kids," said Chris Kosseff, president of University
Behavioral HealthCare, a part of the UMDNJ which operates
the residence under contract from the state.
While the kids look quite normal ripping into Christmas
presents, their backgrounds are anything but normal.
"They have significant mental illnesses, and no one
competent to care for them," said Kosseff.
They have proven to be too difficult for their natural parents
or foster parents. They enter the program here with referrals
from inpatient hospital units in New Jersey.
"Often the parents are in drug treatment, or incarcerated,"
said Kosseff, who cannot be more specific about the children
and their stories.
The children singing for about 20 staff and visitors could
not be identified or photographed by outsiders, under strict
confidentiality guidelines established by the state Division
of Youth and Family Services. The staff was able to photograph
them posing with Santa.
After six of the children acted out parts of the famed Christmas
poem by Clement Moore — read with proper animation
by staff member Christine Lucyk — one of the six ran
from the room in tears. The seventh child simply watched
the goings on.
The boy in tears eventually returned in time to participate
in the finish of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."
Following "Jingle Bells," and "Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer," they sang "Santa Claus is
Coming to Town," and that song served as a cue for
Santa Claus who, as if by magic, suddenly appeared behind
sliding glass doors, loaded with gifts.
The one child who did not participate in the singing, and
the one briefly in tears, are the newest residents, explained
Dr. Elaine Herzog, a UBHC director. "The children are
usually overwhelmed when they get here. They haven't learned
to trust adults," she said.
The contract the UBHC has with the state permits children
to be in this setting for six months, and the task from
day one is to prepare them to leave.
"We work on their discharge from the beginning,"
One indication of how vulnerable the children are when they
arrive is a common concern.
"They want to know what happens at night, what happens
when it's dark," said Clark-Addison.
Many of the children arrive having suffered from physical
and sexual abuse, she explained.
The children sleep on the first floor of the house on Hoes
Lane, opened in 1992 and built to resemble a somewhat typical
To allay the nighttime concerns, two staff members spend
the overnight period awake in a common area outside the
bedrooms, ready to deal with fears, nightmares and episodes
of bed wetting.
During the day, the children are taken to adjacent UMDNJ
facilities for their schooling.
Within the common area are bookshelves, with books for the
children to read or have read to them by a supervisor.
"We get children from homes where there are no books,
where no one has ever read them a bedtime story," said
"We emphasize one-on-one treatment, teaching them social
skills and helping them to begin trusting adults,"
Asked to explain the perks of his job, supervisor Charles-Omar
Sutton said: "You really get involved in their lives.
You heard what they said when I came into the room, "Mister
Omar, Mister Omar.' That's my reward."
Among the guests at the Christmas party was Dr. William
J. Owen Jr., the new president of UMDNJ, who was making
his first visit to the facility.
"There are two components of what we do at UMDNJ —
we're a school and we provide a service. We have both school
and service components here, and both are spectacular components,"
All potential staff members, said Clark-Addison, "come
here hoping to make a difference. But it's not for everyone.
It takes special people to stay."
Clark-Addison, who has been with UMDNJ for 23 years, appreciates
their youthful enthusiasm of the staff.
"Thank God for young people," she said.
She said she received her most meaningful reward when a
young man who had spent time here in the 1990s returned
to visit, after having joined the Marines.
"He came here to thank us for what we meant to him.
Without this place, he said he would never have been a Marine,"